Eldia shuddered to think about it
Conroy was agitated because Eldia wasn't listening. She didn't want to hear his words assaulting her to the very core. She didn't want to believe it. Not her son; the gifted Stephan who started playing piano at the tender age of four. The piano lessons ensued for years, cultivating and refining, proving Stephan didn't need to shadow his father. He was brilliant. His own musician with a talent becoming to his passions driving his music with lush melodies and rich tones.
His antics caused her to roar with laughter. Like when he was six and his love for the wild outdoors and all its animals compelled him to fill the toilet with large bullfrogs, so when she went to lift the lid, a bellowing of deep rib-bits almost caused her heart to stop. He was her heart. She was conflicted. She trusted Conroy and he'd never hurt her, but agreeing meant she was relenting her position.
"Conroy, I refuse to commit Stephan to one of those awful hospitals. My son is grief-stricken from the loss of Katherine. My God, it's only been a few months." She wanted to believe the words spilling from her heart, so she wrapped them within because there was always hope and hope could shatter the existence of truth, couldn't it? Eldia stared at him with pleading hazel eyes. She didn't hold his gaze for long because her eyes rimed with tears. He pulled her into his strong arms holding her as she cried.
Conroy was many things to Eldia, but more then anything, he was her confidant and her lover. He'd been a father to Stephan since he was eight, almost twenty-two years. Two years after Stephan's father died, she met Conroy at a local theater where Stephan along with other young musical proteges, were being honored. He was there to support his young niece, a violinist. After the concert, he introduced himself and conveyed his wishes to nurture and sponsor Stephan, to become his agent. It was the beginning of a professional relationship between Stephan, Conroy and Eldia, but over time, it developed into a passionate and loving partnership for her and Conroy. Stephan's talent and exposure grew under his steady, iron hand as well as, from his constant exalting praise of Stephan's musical genius. Accepting Stephan's addiction was no easier for him. He did however, have a keen understanding of her denial.
She was protective of him. Her love was not suffocating, but rather impermeable at times. She was well meaning, but her fear of Stephan mentally spiraling into depression like his father, frightened her. She was commanding but not domineering. In spite of their close relationship, Stephan was not a mama's boy. It was a wonderful balance of love and support, respect and admiration. She dedicated her life to developing Stephan's unique talent. He was like his father in many ways, brooding and deep-in-thought one minute, than a laugh-a-minute the next resorting to humorous stunts and antics before settling into seriousness and despondency. His moods distressed her, but she suggests they are an accompaniment of his genius. Her love is unwavering and often times, blinding. Conroy studied her for a moment. He knew he had to take control.
"We need to do something--I'm telling you. And if we don't act soon, well, it might be too late." Conroy's voice was stricken with concern. She tried to stand and face him, but she couldn't still herself. So instead, she began pacing back and forth. Her eyes were swollen, dark circles reminded Conroy of her lack of sleep, stress and worry. Her slender arms were folded tight across her chest. He sensed her trepidation and wanted to calm her. He reached out taking her hands into his so she had to face him.
"Eldia my dear, its not my intent to hurt. Stephan needs rehab. It's the obvious place to begin. Whether you accept it or not, he's acting like an addict: his erratic behavior, the shakes, the slurs of speech. He can't even look at us when we ask him a question. Katherine's death has only made it worse. We need a plan of action and quick, he is getting sicker by the day and stands to lose everything he worked so hard for. Can't you see it hun?" He reached for Eldia but she stepped back and looked him square in the eyes, tears coursing down her cheeks.
"My God Conroy. You've got to know how much this hurts my heart. This is not the kind of truth I care, hell, that any mother cares to accept." Eldia sighed. She turned and walked toward the balcony door gazing out, preoccupied in thought. She then turned to face Conroy before speaking.
"I just want my son back; the way he used to be." Eldia knew deep in the deepest corners of her soul, this was of course, impossible. She sighed, her heart heavy. A playful smile then lit up her face.
"Remember when Stephan was eleven, and he had a recital at school? He was so excited. Mr Scwhintz, his piano teacher told him to be prepared because a talent scout from Columbia records would be in the audience. Do you recall what happened?" A smile spread across Conroy's lips.
"Yes, my dear. I remember." She shared in his smile.
"The little stinker was suppose to play Beethoven and Mozart. But instead of piano concerto No 3 and N 24 in C minor he plays "As" from the album, Songs From The Key Of Life, giving tribute to Stevie Wonder and then to Thelonious Monk with "Round Midnight." Both Conroy and Eldia share a long and hard laugh at Stephan's refusal to conform, unlike his father in that respect. Stephan has a profound love for many kinds of music from classical to jazz, from blues to bluegrass. He doesn't limit his ability. His father insisted on the classic greats: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. She couldn't help but wonder what happened to her son. Her heart was heavy with anguish, heavy like a stack of soddened newspapers.
"What do we do?" Eldia gazed into her lover's eyes, questioning, searching his face, hoping he had resolution. He wasn't reacting quick enough for her, so she stomped her foot and screamed.
"Damn it Conroy, say something. Say it's not so!" Eldia's heart was beating in her mouth...the words bitter and sharp; then softer, like a plea, Eldia said," say my son is not addicted to anything but music." She thought about Stephan's immense grief, forcing herself to believe much of his behavioral change was after Katherine and the baby died. Wasn't it? she wondered.
If she dared being honest, she'd admit seeing earlier signs; even Katherine mentioned Stephan's use of alcohol and his occasional use of weed and cocaine. It shouldn't surprise anyone she asked Katherine not to mention it, refusing to listen. At first it was fear. She couldn't help but be reminded of Stephan's father who began using heroin, washing it down with heavy amounts of alcohol, in between bouts of depression. After years of abusive behavior, he killed himself. Eldia shuddered just to think about it. She searched Conroy's face for support. He cleared his throat, but it wasn't easy, a big lump of regret and sorrow caused his eyes to fill with tears.
"Eldia, no parent wants to hear the painful truth. We have to intervene. If not, we could lose him." It took all his reserve to keep from choking up.
"His addiction is more then just alcohol, my dear. Combined with the depression the guilt, and the drugs, I'm afraid it's a lethal combination. We need to get him to a doctor before something far worse happens. I know someone who can help." Conroy was expecting a backlash of angry words from Eldia but she appeared constrained for the moment, except for the tear-filled eyes which she wiped with the back of her hand before she spoke.
"He won't go of his own accord. We both know this. We have witnessed his stubborn side. Do we cancel the concert tour in France? I can't believe this is happening." She turned away from him and walked toward the door that slid open onto the balcony. A panoramic view with tall Aspen in their season of gold sparkling in the early fall sun, greeted her as she stepped out. The whispering of the leaves as the wind rippled through the Aspens was nothing short of melodic, soothing her soul.
They came to Aspen twice a year to get away from the crazy schedule, to run from the crowds and the press--to catch their breath. Katherine was with them when they made the trip in February. She thought it would be difficult for Stephan to come back so soon after she died in child-birth. Who knew she had a rare blood disease that caused her to hemorrhage to death. The baby girl was still born. It was beyond tragic. The death of Katherine and the baby was difficult on everyone but Stephan quickly spiraled into a world of darkness and depression, losing his mind with grief and guilt. But he assured his mother he needed to be here.
Everything about this home was inspired by Katherine. Perhaps he felt her presence here. Conroy joined Eldia on the balcony. She sat back on the chaise lounge drinking in the sun, allowing the warming rays to envelope her. She breathed and sighed then turned to face Conroy who sat next to her and cupped her trembling chin in his hand. He placed a gentle kiss to her lips and let her head rest on his shoulder. She didn't want to continue the conversation but it wasn't resolved yet.
"Conroy, how do we convince Stephan he needs help without pushing him further away?" Eldia's voice was shaky.
"You know how difficult its been to admit my son has a drug problem, though the signs were right in front of me. I just didn't want to believe it. Part of it's because I fear our intervention will force him deeper into depression." She stood horrified at the thought of Stephan ending up like his father. She wouldn't let it happen.
"In spite of what I've learned, I refuse to think he has his father's weaknesses. We can help, can't we Conroy?" The question was more like a plea as the emotions ebbed through Eldia leaving her spent and exhausted. It was devastating enough to lose Katherine and the baby, her first granddaughter. Yet the thought of losing her only son, her mind couldn't even wrap around the thought, her heart leaped with panic.
"Of course my dear." Conroy snapped. His voice deep and strong like he meant it. "But we have to intercede now. I promise you, he won't follow in his father's footsteps; remember what you told me? You said, Johann was obsessed, driven, and he'd stay locked in his study for days in between concerts and he'd drink and send for random men who were no doubt, dealers sustaining him with heroin. I assure you, this is not Stephan. It is however, time for tough love." She knew he was right no matter how difficult it was to accept. They had to try or else lose him and she would die herself if she lost her only son.
"I know you're right. I just don't know where to begin." They sat on the balcony talking, finally able to quell a portion of their fears as they developed a plan to confront Stephan. He was playing the piano as they spoke; a beautiful song echoed out of the study's open door below their balcony. It was captivating and haunting as it waltzed with the gentle breeze and laughed with the rustling of the leaves.
His song was breathtaking, mesmerizing. The melody, unlike anything they'd ever heard. A symphony of sweet chords and notes dancing across the keys, a teasing summer rain on a tin roof; a skimming of smooth rocks skipping across the surface of a placid pond or the fluttering wings of a thousand butterfly's magnified. They sat and listened, eternity could of passed and it would of eluded them, that was the power and the magic of Stephan's intimate awareness of the piano--his love affair with the sweet music he caressed from its keys. And then silence. Eldia had tears in her eyes taking a moment before daring to speak.
"Conroy, that was the loveliest song. I've never heard it before. He must be working on that piece for the concert in France."
"My dear, it was captivating, as if his breathing was dependent on his playing as if the blood coursing through him was the spirit of Katherine. My God, it was brilliant. Such passion!" Conroy reached for her hand and pulled her up from the chaise lounge. They walked arm in arm into the bedroom. Minutes passed like hours before he spoke. Eldia was at his side.
"Eldia, I'm going to call Stan Hammerstein, you remember him? You know he is a noted psychologist, and the last time we had lunch, I sort of expressed concern for Stephan..." she looked mortified.
"You didn't? How could you speak of this with anyone. What if the press got wind of it. How could you be so careless?" Eldia's hazel eyes were wide with fury.
"Elida! The last thing we should care about is pretense. This is about helping Stephan" Her entire body shook from the voracity of his words.
"Besides it was in the strictest of confidence. He'd never breathe a word." Conroy saw that his words eased her concerns for she relaxed her shoulders and sighed. This gave him cause to continue.
"Like I said, I'll call Stan, explaining the situation. Tell him we are ready to proceed with help for Stephan. He'll advise us on the next step. Listen, this won't be easy. You'll hear and see things that'll test your faith." Eldia felt defeated, exhausted, just plain weary as she ran a trembling hand through her hair before she spoke.
"I know this Conroy. I'm no stranger to addiction. I swear I met the devil himself when Stephan's father was at his worse, but I trust you. I refuse to be one of those enabling parents. I want him to beat this." The twenty minutes that Conroy talked with Stan, she found it difficult to still herself. She paced. She stopped and listened. She walked out on the balcony then back. She even tried to interject in the conversation, but stopped when her lover cut a stern look her way.
"Woman, my God, I know your anxious and concerned, but please be still and listen to me. Stan said one of his partners in the office happens to be in Aspen this very minute. He's going to call him and send him out." Conroy noticed, her face was all scrunched up as if she'd sucked a lemon.
"Eldia, I know this Howard Jensen. Noted Dr. I've played golf and had lunch with him and Stan. He's a compassionate fella. Stan said his daughter and wife battled addictions." Eldia sighed and nodded her head.
It was going to take Howard a couple of hours to arrive; Conroy and Eldia tried waiting. She busied herself with dusting. He picked up a book. The minutes ticked by until neither of them could stand it and decided it was best to confront Stephan alone. Howard would be their reinforcement once they convinced Stephan to enter rehab. It was a great plan, so they took the longest walk of their lives down the spiraling staircase, across the tiled floor and knocked on the study's mahogany door to help Stephan confront his addiction.
They knocked and knocked again. No answer. They listened at the door and the silence mocked them. She called to him, no response. Conroy then tried, so he asked Stephan to open the door, still, no answer. He tried to turn the doorknob but it was locked so he called out again, nothing answered back. Eldia's face was full of concern, her eyes wide with worry. He then raced to the front door with Eldia fast behind. They went around to the patio door to try entry from there.
The patio door was open, they both rushed in then stopped; they stood horrified at the sight of Stephan on the bench slumped over the keys of his grand piano. His dark hair ruffled, the smell of smoke from a recent cigarette permeated the room, crumbled pieces of sheet paper were tossed about, a bottle of Courvoisier lay empty on its side. She ran to Stephan calling his name but he remained unresponsive. Conroy was right beside her and he lifted Stephan up from the side, his head hung loosely, saliva rolled from his mouth. A small envelope containing only the residue of a whitish powder, sailed to the floor.
Stephan wasn't breathing. His lips were bluish, blood had seeped from his nose. Conroy commanded her to call 911, but she was howling with grief, so he had to shake her by the shoulders to get her to calm down enough make the call. He began CPR, no response, seconds dragged into minutes, minutes could of been hours...time stood still. The ambulance came, pronounced Stephan dead. Eldia and Conroy were stunned, unable to move, breathing only because it was necessary finding solace and comfort only through each other's presence, one holding the other up. The police came, asked questions and then it was over--they suspected it was a drug overdose, and suggested an autopsy. They discovered a needle and a long rubber tube, an incriminatory display of truth laying on the floor beneath the piano bench.
She could only imagine the barrage of questions punctuated by the incessant flash of cameras once the press heard of Stephan's death, but she couldn't deal with that now, not now. Because, oh my God, she thought, my son is dead. The ramifications of her loss dropped her to her knees. Conroy was at her side pulling her up using his body as leverage as she withered into his protective embrace. A police officer helped them both to the couch.
The room emptied of the many faceless men and women. Howard wanted to stay, to offer his professional and moral support but he sensed their need to be alone. Eldia and Conroy sat and sat and time had no meaning as it droned on and on. Again, the magnitude of what happened tumbled out of her and she began sobbing and Conroy comforted her in between his own sobs. Guilt rose up and tried slapping her but Conroy soothed it away. Then regret came and taunted them both because that's what happens when there's a tragic death and both have reason to feel blame. She could no longer sit for the night had given cause for the sun to rise and she needed to rise and feed the pain inside with his music. And so she walked, unaware of her surroundings, moving toward the stereo to put on one of his CD's hoping his music would quiescent her aching heart.
Then she walked over to his piano and methodically picked up a piece of sheet music and read the hand scribbled title. A small light of familiarity touched her soul, and it was then she realized her son had been playing "Katherine's Song" before he died and that sweet melodic sound beckoned his wife and she called her lover home.