So today is my wife, Sarah’s birthday. I thought that I would post a short story that I wrote that was inspired by her. I’ve written a couple of stories, and a couple of poems inspired by or just about her, but this is my favorite. It captures the life we’re trying to make together.
Kermit Billings would have been born Trevor Billings, if Thomas and Mary Billings hadn’t thought he looked like Kermit The Frog. So instead Trevor became his middle name, and despite what a lot of people believed afterwards, Kermit Trevor Billings was written on his birth certificate.
With a name like Kermit, he could not avoid attention. Some children made fun of him, while others—fans of ‘The Muppets‘— thought it was cool. Unlike his namesake however, Kermit never had much of a ‘group.’ He wasn’t a loner, but as a kid he had interests that didn’t extend to the other children.
As Kermit grew older, he began enjoying travel and adventure. For his senior trip in high school, he went to Washington DC. He saw the different monuments, and museums and he absolutely loved it.
He did however learn that the planning of a trip was more fun than the actual trip. The fantasizing and day dreaming about how things would look to his own naked eye just seemed to not be matched. As he traveled more and more, he found that the planning was always better than the actual trip.
When his girlfriend, Lizzy—who later became his wife—and he traveled to Spain for spring break their junior year of college, Kermit knew he the planning had been better. Even though it was a great trip, that could only rival their honeymoon to Santorini, Kermit knew where the real thrill lay.
Lizzy and Kermit spent much of their free time discussing their different potential destinations, and experiences. Kermit however kept one from her. He didn’t tell her about his dream destination; the one that he was certain was beyond compare. Fiji. He just could not imagine a more serene, beautiful and perfect place on the face of the Earth.
It was his imagination, and pictures, and stories that had compiled in his brain, creating this fantasy oasis on the planet unlike anything else he could dream of. Knowing this, Kermit assumed that this meant that there was no place on Earth that could disappoint him as much Fiji.
Soon, Lizzy and Kermit got married. Then, when Lizzy was pregnant with their first child, Joanne, she asked Kermit to start planning. Not for a baby room or a birth-plan but for a future—a future in which neither of them survived. Lizzy felt it was time that they each draught their last wills and testaments.
So they went to a lawyer and had their wills neatly drawn up, with contingencies and significant thought as to who gets what. They planned for if both of them were to die, who would finish raising the baby.
As the time passed—and Joanne was born, and eventually her little brother Jeffrey followed—Kermit couldn’t stop thinking. He wanted to leave them something. Something personal, and beautiful. He needed it to be something unforgettable.
He began putting money aside into a secret bank account. He’d skip getting coffee on the way to work, or buying lunch out and instead he’d put those few dollars a day aside.
As the money slowly trickled in, Kermit began to plan. He would look up, and read about Fiji, and its many resorts. He began figuring out where the best views of the sunrises and the best views of the sunsets were. He would write up a specific plan, and months later it would be replaced with a brand new, and improved plan!
He and Lizzy continued to travel, eventually seeing most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. When Joanne and Jeffrey moved out to college—and each got married and had children—Kermit and Lizzy began RVing around the US. The two of them saw the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. They visited their grandchildren in between their travels. All the while, Kermit continued to put little bits of money aside, and he toiled over his plan.
When Kermit got sick, he didn’t tell his wife, and kids, and grandkids. Even though his grandkids were almost grown and he knew that despite the longevity and beauty of his life they would all feel the need to preserve it as long as possible, even if that time wouldn’t feel valuable. He knew that they wouldn’t be able to realize how wonderful it had all been, and would be unable to find the peace in it, that he had.
When he finally died, he was 97 years old. His children began discussing the funeral arrangements before Kermit had even been taken from the house—the home where he had stayed for more than 70 years. He had owned the house, but he never felt like it owned him, or like he lived there. As far as he was concerned he had lived more at the hospitals his children had been born in, and the RV, and the planes he and Lizzy had boarded, than that house.
Before his body could be taken from the house, his lawyer and friend, George Gallagher had shown up. George was the grandson of Kermit’s lawyer Jerry Gallagher, who had originally drafted the will all those years earlier. Kermit liked that George had inherited the small practice and decided to stick with George. By the end of his life Kermit had felt as if George was as good of a friend to him as Jerry had been.
When George arrived at Kermit and Lizzy’s house, he explained to the family that he had been given specific instructions on how Kermit wanted his ‘arrangements’ handled. They stared at him with wide eyes, as he handed them each folders. There was no coldness in the tone of his voice, but they felt as if he was too formal. They didn’t know that he was fighting hard to hold back tears of his own, but he wanted to be professional, he wanted to be the man Kermit had hired.
As they began opening their folders, the tears that they had been crying a moment earlier, had dried in confusion. They found vouchers for plane tickets, and brochures. They looked at each other, unsure of what was happening, so George explained that Kermit’s body was being transported to Fiji the next day. His body would remain in Fiji for one week before his funeral would take place. It was to be a Viking funeral at sunset.
As the night passed an ambulance took his body. His bewildered family sat mostly quiet around the house. No one dared to ask if anyone else planned on accompanying Kermit to Fiji. As they left, Lizzy asked if any of them would mind taking her to the airport the next morning. Jeffrey nodded before kissing her goodbye. When he arrived to pick her up the following morning, his wife was with him. Lizzy was happy to see their luggage in the trunk.
At the airport terminal, she saw the faces of her family each carrying their own bags, and sitting around her. As they sat around the terminal, Lizzy told them about how on their honeymoon—in Santorini, Greece—Kermit talked about how it was the single most beautiful place he’d ever been, and how he was happy to be there with the most beautiful woman. As they boarded their flight, there were a lot of sad tears matched with happy smiles. Even though Kermit was below deck, they were getting one last trip with him… one last adventure.
In the folders that they had each received the night before, they had a letter. They were specifically instructed not to open the letter until the plane was in the air. As the
wheels left the ground, the ripping open of the envelopes consumed the plane for almost 30 seconds, before it returned to the normal sounds of a commercial airliner.
Lizzy slid hers out of the envelope and read the blurry words through her tears and glasses,
Lizzy, My Love,
This is the ninth time I have written this letter. I’ve written them every couple of years to keep them up to date. Little has changed though. In fact, little has changed since I met you. When I first met you, I thought you were beautiful, and the next day a little more so. This has continued for the past 75 years. (Imagine how you must look to me after 75 years of constant improvement.)
Despite my wild imagination, I could never have imagined anyone as wonderful as you, or a life as amazing as you have made mine. I hope that I told you that enough.
When you land in Fiji, I hope that for you and our wonderful family, it is like ‘heaven on Earth.’ After a week, in what I have dreamed is the most beautiful place on Earth, I will have a Viking style funeral, where hopefully I will move from one ‘heaven’ to another. I’ll be waiting there for you. Take your time.
(This story appeared in my book Everything I’ve Got)