Steven Michael Llewellyn, hero of Once There Were Sad Songs by Velda Brothers

1985 – Lake Ouachita State Park, Arkansas

The damp root smell of earth, the sense of untamed wildness, propelled him back to his first year in the woods after he came out of ’Nam, his home a cave halfway up a north slope cover 4not far from here, well hidden by gigantic hickory and pin oaks. He’d spent that summer, fall, and winter in the company of ghosts of the Quapaw, the downstream people of the mighty northern Sioux. He walked with their bronzed women and handsome children, their lustful warriors, the wise and withered old men in this Arkansas land that was named for them. Their ghosts spoke to him, taught him to survive, to find peace. He thought later he might have been hallucinating on leftover LSD, yet when he studied the tribe, reading about them in the tattered pages of yard sale treasures scrounged as best he could, he found his visions to be quite close to the truth. The knowledge brought him at last to a certain serenity. Perhaps there was a higher power caring for his bruised soul. Leading him beside the still waters.

Amazed and awed, he had grown content to rest in the slanting golden rays of sunlight, immersed himself in the power of the flow of clear green water, and on occasion joined in mourning with the call of the mockingbird and whippoorwill. He existed in such a way for so long that he forgot the real world, except to pick up his check and cash it. He forgot that time passed. Then, one hot summer, temporarily insane, he crawled from his haven to join in the Atoka, Oklahoma madness of drugs and rock-and-roll and sex. He found it a disgusting and feeble attempt to recreate Woodstock, which he’d missed due to the distractions of a minor conflict in Asia, and couldn’t return to the woods soon enough.

He didn’t emerge from his wilderness retreat again until Lefty lured him out with his pleas of loneliness and approaching madness after his wife took off. It was then he learned to his great surprise that he had spent nearly seven years living in seclusion. Once out, he never went back. Someone had to keep Lefty from killing himself.

Today, he was aware that he lived in the summer of 1985 because Shadow insisted on keeping a calendar of events he deemed of importance. He packed and unpacked the thick and tattered records with a reverence he gave to nothing else. Perhaps he felt they were all he had to prove his existence.

Steven wanted no such ties, in case they bound him to some sort of reality. Anyway, that’s what he’d thought until he dragged the wet and half-drowned woman out of Lake Ouachita a few days earlier, and found himself hauled from the brink of his own mortality by her mere existence.

Negotiating a horseshoe bend in the track, he glanced upward to see her little blue car on a snakelike curve above. Following along. He hadn’t thought she would actually come this far. Perhaps he’d been testing her. Faced with the fact of her presence, he began to build a fantasy of the way it would be to have her with them. He was suddenly as excited as a child awaiting his birthday, forgetting what often happened after the party was over, the ice cream eaten and cake crumbs scattered all over the place. Only a mess to clean up.

Steven Michael Llewellyn is a worn out, destructive Vietnam War Veteran who entertains thoughts of jumping his motorcycle off an impossibly high bluff and welcoming death. He travels with Lefty, a war buddy whose life he saved, and who now looks to Steven to prove to him it was worth the effort, and Shadow, a man left behind to march in protest of that war.

If anyone is the antithesis of a hero, it’s Steven. If he were here, he would tell you so. He was brought up on a farm on the banks of the Red River in Oklahoma. Papa died when he was nine, and when Steven dare not sleep for fear of another nightmare, he revisits the funeral as if it were yesterday. Papa looked so empty, blank, like something of him was no longer there. Like someone had formed a mask of his face from shiny clay. Pushing his way through the mourners, the odor of roses and lilac perfume and Old Spice aftershave would haunt him all his days, forever reminding him of death.

When Steven meets Mary Elizabeth, his outlook on life begins to change. Beset by regrets from his past, he still can’t help drawing her into the odd and dangerous games he and his buddies play. Like making her a hostage each man will try to steal from the other. The winner holds her captive when dawn breaks. When this amazing woman turns the tables on them all, his admiration of her spunk shatters his armor.

She tells him things he doesn’t understand in a voice that whispers of angels and long missing desires he has forgotten exist. She takes him into her heart and mind and soul, and there makes him whole.

Thus begins a discovery of truths and a release of old lies for both of them allowing Steven to become the man he’d always hoped to be.

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Thanks Velda for sharing your heor with us today.

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