I had a dream about an old flame a few nights ago. And that prompted me to contact him to see how he was doing. I knew he’d been very sick, and in fact the last time we spoke, he mentioned he was in hospice. This was earlier in the spring. This afternoon, I sat in my car in the parking lot of the CVS waiting for Robert’s prescriptions, like a chicken-shit. I had Leighton’s contact info pulled up on my smartphone, my finger on the “Dial” button. At least five minutes passed by before I had the courage to press it.
The phone was picked up and I heard a familiar Southern drawl on the other end. “Hello?” “Leighton?!” I exclaimed. “No, this is his brother #####.” My heart sank. I knew then that my call was too late. I introduced myself and I could tell his brother was trying to process the information. He then told me in as gentle a voice as he could muster that Leighton had passed away less than 36 hours before, at four o’clock the previous morning in fact. I was a day late. I’d been trolling the internet in the last week or so, reading the obituaries, looking for the dreaded listing. As recently as the evening before, I didn’t find it. So that emboldened me to go ahead and make that call. I’d felt bad because the last time I called him, around May, it was early in the evening on a Saturday evening, a time when he would normally be up and about (and raising hell). But I’d woken him up, it was very obvious. So I apologized profusely, and told him I’d call him later. And never did. And then started feeling, alternately, ashamed and afraid. Ashamed I didn’t follow up in the next few weeks or months. And afraid that when I did make the call, there would be news I didn’t want to hear.
So his brother and I chatted a few minutes, I brought him up to speed on how and where I’d met Leighton, that we’d lost touch when he moved back to Georgia to care-take his aging parents, and that we’d started talking again on the phone a few years ago. I also mentioned to him a few articles and one video of Leighton playing the blues guitar he loved so much (and played so well). I just sent him an email with that information so that he could share it with the rest of his family. And my closing words were:
I will miss him greatly. And my only regret is that maybe I never made it clear to him what an important part of my life he was.
Here’s the only known footage of Leighton performing, from the low-budget movie “Of Strange Voices and Watermelon Men.” Say what you want about the silly plot and bad acting. The music was spot-on.