Robert Haydon Jones and Greg Lippert

Perfect Breasts
by Greg Lippert
Response

The Facts of Life
by Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration

Randy’s wife Helen was a low level assistant producer on one of the six teams that reported to me at a big advertising agency back in the day and, frankly, the only distinct memory I have of her before she came down with breast cancer and we all became involved in her treatment was that she had astonishingly beautiful breasts.

Helen’s breasts were full, perfectly formed with a slight upturn as if they had been sculpted from a wet dream. They were made all the more exquisite by the fact that she was a drab, mousey, woman with very thick eyeglasses and a thick Brooklyn accent who excelled at the humdrum administrative tasks most producers despise.

It was common knowledge at the agency that I had survived lung cancer. I had been saved by a special “last-ditch” team at Sloan Kettering. They cut out the upper lobe of my left lung – and then pumped me full of God-awful chemo. I survived a cancer almost everyone died from. That’s why Helen thought of me as an expert on cancer. Anyway, she told Randy I was real knowledgeable and he called me and asked if he could meet with me and discuss Helen’s treatment.

I was busier than a one-armed paper-hanger, but I cleared an hour at five the next day and Randy and Helen came to my office – and they told me what they knew about her cancer – and I told them the only advice I could give them was to go to Sloan Kettering and follow the directions they got there.

I had called my oncologist at Memorial, as Sloan Kettering was known then, and he had told me who the best breast man was there – and he promised me he would help get Helen in to see him.

So that’s how I met Randy. With Helen that evening in my office. He had a dazzling smile and a hard athletic body. His hair was lush and curly and going gray nicely in stages like it had been planned. He was a lot older than me — in his sixties, but in great shape. Like me, he had been a Recon Marine — he had been wounded and discharged, nine years before I served.

It was intense being with them. They were such a two. They were terrified.
I remember being very surprised that he was as frightened as she was.

They were so unabashedly grateful that I had gotten her a guaranteed entre to the best breast man at Sloan Kettering that I felt like a genuine big shot. It turned out that no Doc on the planet could have saved Helen – but we didn’t know that then.

As Helen’s treatment progressed, Randy and I met quite often. Helen may have been the ostensible reason we got together – but we had a lot in common. We were both former Marines. We were both following 12 Step programs as recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

My years of addiction had cost me my marriage. My former wife had gone on to a very happy union with a good guy. I was lucky she had encouraged our children to keep seeing me on weekends when I was available. I stayed connected to them all the way through into recovery.

Even so, when I met Randy, I was living a solitary life. I was a smashing success in advertising but I was still on a learner’s permit at the business of living.

Randy was happily married to Helen and very successful. After the Marines, he had gone down the tubes like so many of us – but he went to rehab, found his way to the rooms and got straight.

Then he used the GI Bill, got an advanced degree and became a psychotherapist. Shortly after he started his practice, he treated a lot of young actors and it turned out that some were on their way up to stardom — so over time, he’d become the therapist of choice for the Broadway crowd. His calendar was full. If you wanted to become his new patient, you had to wait two or three months.

Randy and Yours Truly became very close. We attended 12 Step meetings together. Each of us had a lot of really dark history from our time as Recon Marines. We didn’t talk much about it – hardly at all in fact. You could say Randy and I shared silence about that phase of our lives.

We were connected that way and, of course, Helen also connected us. At first, it looked like we had gotten Helen to Sloan Kettering in the nick of time. It was a small tumor and they dug it out and the margins looked clean. But then they ran her through a course of chemo – and it was all downhill from there.

Helen hadn’t looked sick at all – even after the surgery – but after the chemo, she was a mess. She lost her hair. Suddenly her skin had a yellow tinge. She had wanted to keep working – even though the agency had her on sick leave – but now she was too weak.

They kept asking me for advice even though I kept telling them I didn’t know much. I was just a survivor of cancer.

Randy was horrified when I told him that when I was diagnosed, my then girl friend, Beverly, told me she couldn’t stand the idea of me struggling with lung cancer. She moved her stuff out while I was at my last day of work before my surgery. I haven’t seen her since. I heard she paired up with a rich guy from Greece and is living in Paris.

I didn’t harbor any resentment against Bev. Half of my friends and acquaintances dropped out of my life after word got out I had cancer. I understood. It’s like a hold over from the plague years. Cancer is scary. The fact is the more you know about it, the scarier it is.

Helen got rail thin. She had lost her appetite. She tried snacking but after a while, she couldn’t eat anything except ice cream. So, Randy organized ice cream parties. He’d ask all of his actor clients and everyone at the advertising agency to come to their apartment for an ice cream party.

The place would be jammed. Like I said, some of his clients were very famous actors and they drew a big crowd – and a lot of people from the agency came for Helen. She was very well liked. I was surprised – she worked at a job nobody wanted. But the agency people loved her. David Buxbaum, the head of production, told me, “Helen is a beautiful person. When you talk with her you can feel a real presence, like an aura. It’s not just me — ask anyone who knows her.”

So Randy threw these ice cream parties every two weeks or so on Thursday nights. People would be drinking and smoking and socializing until at exactly 7:30, Randy would announce it was time to help Helen eat her ice cream. He bought all sorts of exotic ice cream flavors at Fairway. Everyone would get a plate. Then Randy would say, “Ready, set, go!” and we would all start.

Helen would work to spoon her portion down. Two, three, four, spoons. Then she would stop. She couldn’t do any more. It was hard to watch. By 8:15, the party was over and the apartment was clear. Everyone pitched in with the clean up – you would never have known there was a party.

Then, at a pistachio-mango tasting, Helen made eye contact with me and her eyes welled up and tears started coming down her cheeks. I went over to her and opened my arms and she snuggled in.

“Jimmy”, she said, “I’m so surprised Randy is so friggin scared. He won’t look. I’m on my own and I don’t want to be. I thought you Recon Marines were real accustomed to death. That’s what Randy told me when we first came in to see you for advice about my tumor. He said that you would be real cold about it. That you were death dealers and you had to be real cold.”

I told Helen that Randy and I were attracted to terror and the Marines had taught us how to seek terror out and then suppress it. Now, decades later, Randy and I had finally learned how to stop suppressing our terror. We just hadn’t had any practice at living with terror. I told Helen that I would talk to Randy about it.

She stopped crying and snuggled a little deeper. “You know, Jimmy” , she said, “If he steps up on this, it will be good for both of us. It will close the circle. Poor Randy, I don’t think he’s ever loved anyone else. He’s a fantastic lover – did you know that? He’d been spoiled rotten when I met him.

I seduced him easy. He was totally blind and ignorant. I’ve been down a few trails but he couldn’t see it. I helped him learn the love part. He’s so innocent – he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Later that evening Randy and I went for our usual after party walk by the river. I talked to him about what Helen needed as one Recon Marine to another and he got it right away. He practically morphed right there in front of me from blind civilian to the salty comrade you would want dug in behind you.

Two weeks later they checked into Hospice. In four days, Helen was dead. There was a very well attended service at the Riverside church. Then Randy flew on out to the Big Island in Hawaii to sprinkle Helen’s ashes in the Pacific off the Kona coast. He didn’t come back and I lost track of him after that.

I had a relapse and hit yet another bottom real hard. It took me years of struggle to get clean and sober. I ran into Randy again about ten years after Helen’s death at an AA weekend retreat in Morristown, New Jersey. He too had slipped away from the program and fought his way back. He had changed his practice from being the go to therapist for Broadway actors to specializing in helping people in the early stages of recovery.

During check-in at the retreat, Randy said his life was good. “I’m in the EZ Pass lane. I go to meetings, I work the Steps and I take advantage of post-menopausal women a day at a time.”

Everyone laughed and I said, “No mercy –- no prisoners. Right?”

Randy said, “You’ve got that right, Marine. No mercy — no prisoners.”

It turned out Randy’s apartment was two blocks over in the West Village from where I lived with my second wife, Brenda, and her two teenage sons. So Randy and I started up again as a twosome in recovery. We usually went to two or three AA meetings a week.

Brenda liked Randy a lot, so every couple of weeks, we would go out to dinner with him and his current companion. It was rarely the same woman twice. These women were all very, very attractive –– expensively dressed and coiffed — in their late fifties and early sixties — at least ten years younger than Randy.

They would cling to Randy. When he’d meet us at the restaurant, their faces would have a rosy glow – as if they had come to us straight from bed. They smiled a lot. They kissed Randy a lot. He’d wink at us like he was being good-natured about it.

After a year or so, Brenda asked me if I thought Randy would ever settle down. I told her I didn’t think he would settle down and that I wasn’t at all jealous of Randy’s life in the EZ Pass lane.

Then Randy came with a woman, Penelope Rifkin, who had been a principal at a very successful fashion boutique. She retired early to care for her husband, a professor at Julliard. They had struggled for years with his leukemia. Sadly, he had died three years back.

But Penelope was very, very happy when we met her with Randy. We were at a club for dinner and dancing and when Penelope and Randy hit the floor they created an immediate sensation. They both could really dance. People stopped dancing to watch them. When they came back to our table, they sparked energy and joy. It was good to be with them.

They were a good fit. As a dance pair and as a couple. He was a lot older than she was but they adjusted well. They throttled down the dancing and the gawking stopped. Before long she was finishing his sentences.

Brenda and Penelope bonded. Brenda’s first husband had also died of leukemia. We became a very happy foursome.

A year later, we were scheduled to have dinner together the night before Randy and I were to depart for the AA July weekend retreat in Morristown but Penelope called Brenda and said she had to cancel. And also that she was going to her cousin’s place on the island of Elba for the rest of the summer. And to please not judge her harshly.

“Jesus”, I said. “What the hell is going on? Randy loves Penelope. He told me he bought her a ring. He wants to marry her.”

“Jimmy,” Brenda said. “Randy is 75. He’s twelve years older than Penelope. You can’t ask her to set herself up for another agonizing round of caretaking.”

There it was. Plain as a big nose. The cold hard truth. I wondered how anyone could be so cold.

Was it okay for anyone to say, “I love you but some day soon you’re likely to be too much trouble, so goodbye – all the best – but good bye.”

I couldn’t see myself saying that. But Brenda thought it was okay. Did women have a different standard?

The next afternoon, I drove on out to Morristown with Randy for the retreat. He was in bad shape. “I can’t believe she’s gone,” he kept saying. “She says she loves me and then she leaves the country. She tells me she’s never had a lover like me and then she gives me my walking papers because I’m too old.”

At the retreat, after dinner, we split up into small groups for check in. Randy led off.

“I’ve been a widower for eleven years – and way happy with a whole lot of ladies. Now, I fall in love with a beautiful woman who says she loves me. I make her moan, I make her faint. I totally conquer her I think. But when I offer her a ring and ask her to live with me – she takes off for Europe. She says I’m too old. She doesn’t want to be my caretaker.”

George Martin, one of the old timers at the retreat, comes over and hugs Randy. “Hey, Marine”, he says, “ You were the one who said, ‘No mercy, no prisoners’”. Randy shrugs George’s arm off and glares at him. Suddenly there’s a lot of tension in the room.

Then Randy flashes that spectacular smile of his. “You’re right George,” he says. “She’s a black widow alright. She lined me up and blew me away. I’m lucky I’m walking around with my cock and balls set intact.”

“Well, what are you going to do now?”

I’m going to count my blessings during the rest of the retreat.”

“And then what?”

“Do some careful reconnaissance and cut me out a prisoner.”

That’s what happened. The weekend before Labor Day, Randy married Jessica Parker, at her family’s estate on Martha’s Vineyard. She is the beautiful, childless, fiftyish, widow of Senator Ashton Parker of Massachusetts. Her father, Aaron Trevelyan, is the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

When they returned from their extended three month honeymoon in France, Randy asked Brenda and Yours Truly if we would resume meeting him and his lady for dinner every two weeks or so.

We did and we do. They are great fun. They are very attractive. They fit together like magnets. They exude zest for each other and for life.

Early on, I asked Randy, if he missed Penelope.

“Of course, I miss her,” he said with a smile. “I miss her in my bones every day. And I know Penelope is in distress because I appear to be so happy with Jessica.

But her real distress will come when I become terminally ill. Obviously, Jessica has all the necessary resources for caretaking me with a minimum of bother. But, of course, I won’t be going that route when my time comes.

I will use my 45. The only part I haven’t figured out is the note. Does Penelope really think a recon Marine would let his woman care-take him down the last trail?

I’ll fire the last shot in this war. Penelope will find out what Marines really mean when we say, ‘No mercy, no prisoners.’ ”

“What about Jessica?”

“Hey, Marine, she already knows what it means.”

6 Comments

  1. Jack Orth
    Posted December 12, 2014 at 3:28 am | #

    RHJ always blows me away with the great knack he has of getting you involved from the first word he writes right up to the last one. I relate to the Marine–the up and down recovery–the cancer, etc. because I’ve been there. I don’t own a 45 Caliber sidearm, but can always find one if the need arises. But I hope to live another ten years which will get me to 93–which is plenty of time to read more of Roberts work!

  2. Malachy McCourt
    Posted December 14, 2014 at 9:24 am | #

    You are a born storyteller Never failing to give full weight to the epic

  3. Dave Monroe
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 7:48 am | #

    Love and death. Tenderness and no mercy. Able to face death in war. Can’t face his dying wife in civilian life. The main character is a potboiler of contradictions. Great story, great picture, too.

  4. daniel shulman
    Posted December 19, 2014 at 6:29 am | #

    Another winner for Bob Jones. This time he pinpoints something we all face–what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.

  5. John H. Tucker
    Posted December 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm | #

    Sometimes the learners-permit stage of living is deeper than the post-license stage. Well done here!

  6. Ed Lambertson
    Posted January 10, 2015 at 11:41 am | #

    A stunning preview of our end game, a topic we mostly turn away from. A moving tale with a nice mix of melancholy, bravado, hope and reality. Another beaut from a fine author.

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