Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: November, 2017

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza Jackson–Part V

Author’s Note:  Please refer back to the previous postings if  you want to know about how  Eliza finds herself her in Part Five.


Eliza walked into the house that afternoon and called to her mother.  She called again.

“Momma?  Momma, where are you?”  Her small voice seemed to echo through the house, bouncing off of the colorless walls and dusty hardwood floors.  Silently, she waited for a response.  She heard a soft hissing coming from the kitchen.  She patted across the floors, the damp soles of her second-hand Reeboks squeaking with each step.

Weekah.  Weekah.  Week—

Halfway down the hall, she realized her folly and quickly stooped to pull the shoes from her tiny feet.  She quickly backtracked, trying to erase the damp marks from the floor before she was discovered.  She paused again.  Nothing. Pheww.

Entering the kitchen, she located the source of the hissing.  The kettle was shuddering, purging itself of the last bits of steam.  Rising on her toes, she reached for the kettle.

“Don’t touch that,” her mother ordered from behind her.

“I was only trying to help,” Eliza protested, jerking her hand away.

Her mother had still been Angela Jackson back then.  But she hadn’t been the Angela Jackson she had been before the death of her husband.  Eliza saw her mother’s cold stare.  In times like these, when her mother had been suffering from one of her spells, Eliza wondered how the woman could seem both frightened and angry at the same time.  Grief had transformed a once warm woman into a stranger.  And it was getting worse.  Her mother’s eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets during the worst of those spells.  They were bulging today.

“Don’t back talk me, child.  Now go upstairs to your room.  There will be no dinner for you tonight.”

“But Momma!”

“Go!  Now!”

She clambered up the stairs, almost stooped onto all fours.  Her feet feet peddling and hands pushing, driving her upward.  She flung open the door to her tiny bedroom and began to sling it shut.  Before she released the knob, she caught herself.  Slamming the door would only bring more of the darkness out of her mother.  Better to suffer in silence.

Later that night, as she hoped sleep would relieve her hunger, she heard a tapping at her door.


She saw the doorknob turning slowly and feigned sleep.

“Liza?  You awake?  I got you something.”

Jason pulled something silver from under his shirt, producing his offering.  Something hastily wrapped in aluminum foil.  Hidden inside the foil was a cold piece of sausage, wrapped in an overcooked biscuit.  It was the best thing Eliza had ever tasted.

“I can’t stay long.  She will be up in a minute.”

Liza nodded, stuffing the food into her already full mouth.

“Slow down.  If you cough or choke, she’ll hear us.  Then we’re both dead.”

Eliza muffled her assent and obeyed.

“She’s getting worse,” said Jason.  “Just try not to upset her.”

Tears welled at the corners of her green eyes.  She had called to her mother earlier wanting to tell her about the voices.  To tell her that she wasn’t imaging things. She was glad she hadn’t.

“Don’t worry,” said Jason.  “I’ll take care of you.  Just try to get some sleep.”

When Jason closed the door behind him, Eliza climbed into her bed and under the covers.  She fell asleep listening for the sound of her mother climbing the stairs.  Tomorrow, she resolved, she would tell Jason about the voices.


The funeral was a gothic bit of theatre.  The pastor had reminded the dozen or so mourners that the wages of sin is death and that their dear sister Angela was now with the angels.  Liza wondered how the man could move from tears to fury and back again to tears all within the course of twenty minutes without his head exploding.

Mourners came to offer their assurances that Angela Goddard was in a Better Place and that her mother was a Good Woman—a godly, if a bit peculiar, servant of the Gospel and the Kingdom.  Jason and Eliza shook accepted their embraces and willingness to be called upon if there was anything they could do.  When it was over, Jason turned to his sister and proposed they go have a cup of coffee.

The man approaching them must work for the funeral home.  He hadn’t been a guest.  Or if he had, he’d been sitting in the back of the chapel and somehow had gone unnoticed.  Instinctively, Jason stepped just ahead of his sister, placing his body slightly between the man and Liza.

“Good afternoon.  I’m Eli Paxton,” said the man, offering his hand to Jason.

“Did you know our mother?” Liza asked.  It sounded like more of an accusation than a question.

“Indeed.  Indeed, I did.  Not well, mind you. But I did know her.  I knew your father better, though.”

Both Jason and Liza were startled by the man’s confession.  They had almost managed to forget Jeremiah Goddard.  Almost.  ButFor too many years he had made their lives miserable.  Yes. He had helped mother pull out of some of the darkness that haunted her.  But the price had been high and paid mostly by the two of them.

“You knew Jeremiah?” challenged Jason.

“Oh, no.  I didn’t know him.  Your father.  I knew your father, Ben. Ben Jackson.”

After a few moments of polite conversation, Liza invited Eli Paxton to join her and Jason for coffee.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part IV

Author’s note:  Be sure to check the prior blog entries to see Liza’s full story.


“I don’t really remember him,” said Liza.

“Yeah.  Me either.  Not much.  There are things I remember.  His voice.  It was really deep.  Or at least that’s how I remember him.  I remember how he smelled too.  He always wore Aramis aftershave.  He used to let me stand on a chair and let me watch him shave,” Jason said, a touch of sadness in his voice.  “He was a good man, I think.”

“I was only two or three years old, right?”

“You were three when he died.  I was five.  I do remember that night, though. It was terrible.”

Their father had died in a freak accident.  Ben Jackson had been a man’s man—the kind of man others called if something went wrong. When one of the men at the plant was having trouble with the two-ton crane, Ben had gone to offer his assistance.  No one was quite sure how it had happened, but when Ben was inspecting the jammed gearing, the motor suddenly engaged.  The die carried by the crane had struck him in the chest—but just barely.  Whether it was a result of him losing his balance or just being startled, the fall had ended with sound of skull hitting concrete.  Ben had made it to the hospital and through the most of the night.

“Momma wouldn’t talk about it.  But some of his friends told me it was probably for the best.  If he’d survived the fall he would have never been the same.  Momma sure wasn’t.”

Their mother had remained single for a respectable time after their father died.  In her grief, she had turned to the church.  There she met a man named Jeremiah Goddard, whom she married after a brief courtship.  And if their father, Ben, had been loving and kind, their mother’s new husband had been nothing of the sort.  On the day of his marriage to Angela he had made it clear that his word was law—just like God intended—and that children were to be seen and not heard.


Liza didn’t hear the key sliding into the lock.  Nor did she hear the door open.  When the orderly said “time to go” she almost leapt from the bed.

“Jeezus!” she blurted.

She looked at the man dressed in white pants, white shirt, and white work shoes.  He looked like he had been stuffed into a shirt that was two sizes too small.  His shoulders strained at the seams.  His biceps were so large the sleeves were bunched up above them.  The veins in his forearms looked as if they would explode from his skin at any moment.  Later, Liza would begin referring to him as Mr. Clean.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Sorry, my ass,” she said.  “Is your job here to try to scare the hell out of people?”

Liza knew she was overreacting.  It wasn’t the fact the man seemed to creep into her room unnoticed.  It was the sound of his voice that made her heart race faster than it should have.  For a moment, she was sure it was them—the voices.  Worse.  It was that one voice.  And the words he had used.  “Time to go.” Shit.  That had been too much.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jackson.  The doctor is ready for you now.”

The warmth of the doctor’s office stood in stark contrast to the hallways of the clinic.  His desk was piled with manila folders that bulged with papers.  There were two worn leather wing back chairs sitting opposite the desk, one of which the doctor was already sitting in.  Steam rose from porcelain mug on which was emblazoned “#1 Dad.”

After explaining to Liza that he was her friend, that he thought he could help and that he hoped she would trust him, Doctor Venable asked her if she would mind telling him why she thought she was there at the clinic.

“I’m either crazy.  Or possessed.  My mother wants to know which,” she said.

Venable sipping his coffee when Liza answered and he almost spewed a mouthful onto the freshly cleaned carpet.  Somehow, he managed to swallow, but not without some effort.  When he regained his composure, he smiled.  Then he burst into laughter.

“That about sums it up, Liza.  I won’t bullshit you.  I mean that’s why you’re here, so to speak.  So maybe you can tell me what you think.  Are you crazy?  Or are you possessed?

Liza looked at the doctor solemnly.  A smile inched across her mouth.  Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she had expected.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part Three

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment of Eliza’s story.  Hope you will thumb back and read the prior to posts to catch up.

“You have to go,” said her mother.

“But I don’t want to,” Liza pleaded.

“It’s for your own good.  Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid, Mother.  I just don’t see the point.

They left before daylight, arriving at clinic before nine a.m.  The nurses and attendants greeted Liza with benign smiles and the kind of “poor thing” indifference that teenage girls despise. A middle-aged woman with thick ankles and drugstore make-up escorted Liza through the door down a corridor that smelled of disinfectant and despair.  The woman urged her onto the scales with a bite mark covered Bic pen.

After the woman took Liza’s blood pressure, she made some notes on her clipboard and motioned for Liza to follow.  Approaching another set of doors, Liza noticed the sign.





There, at the bottom of the sign, the afterthought Have a nice day!  punctuated the command.   

Liza didn’t think she would have a nice day.  In fact, she didn’t think she would have a nice day for the next three.  At fifteen, this was the third time her mother had subjected her to an extended time of the invasive poking and prodding of her mind, body and spirit.  Once, she had been to a clinic where “they help people like you,” as her mother said.  Once, she had gone to a sort of religious camp where well-meaning people quoted arcane verses from the King James Bible and prayed for Liza to be healed.

“You like fish?” the woman asked, guiding Liza into a small colorless room.


“Fish sticks for lunch today.  French fries, too.  Jus’ wonderin’ if you like fish?”

“It’s okay,” said Liza.

“Thursday’s always means fish sticks. Lunch’ll be in around Noon.  Sheet says Doctor gonna see you at 1:15. Somebody will come by to get you.”


As the woman left, Liza realized the lock on the door could only be opened from the hallway.  She sighed and sat down on the bed, her back to the door, and for a moment thought she’d heard the voices say something that gave her hope.



She was sleeping soundly, her feet propped on the coffee table.


She stirred, more sensing a presence than hearing her name being called.


Liza bolted upright like a jack-in-the-box bursting from its dark tomb. She looked around for Jason.  Before she could let herself decide whether she had been dreaming or if it had been them, Liza heard the muffled sound of her phone ringing.  She recovered the phone from between the sofa cushions and answered.

“Hi, Jas.  To what do I owe the honor?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound as anxious as she felt.

She could tell he was trying to be casual.  But the uncharacteristic absence of inflection in his voice told her something was up.  Something was wrong.

“It’s Mom.  She’s gone?”

“What do you mean gone?  Gone where?”

“I mean gone.  She’s dead.”

As impossible as it was to believe, Jason was right.  Their mother had been found by a friend, someone from the church who had stopped by to give her a ride that night.  The woman had rung the bell, she said.  She had banged on the door.  She had called out for their mother to come. But she had instantly known something was wrong.

Even on the coldest winter nights, Angela Goddard was always sitting in her chair, barely visible in the shadows of the dim yellow porch light, waiting.  The friend said she had been reluctant to open the door.  Angela was a private woman.  But the woman’s concern had been prescient.  She found Liza’s mother lying on the floor, her body as cold as the floor upon which it lay.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part II

Author’s Note:  If you haven’t read Part I of Eliza’s tale, be sure to scroll back to the prior entry.  


The floor of her closet was strewn with an assortment of toys.  Legos.  American Girls.  A Game Boy.  It was just how Eliza liked it.  Everything was in plain view.  No need to sort through the clear plastic boxes her mother always insisted she pile them in.  Order was over-rated and almost an impossible achievement for her eight-year-old mind to accomplish.  Why have to put them away when you just wanted to let them inspire you to mix and match them in unexpected ways?  That was the best.

Eliza was sitting in the floor when she heard her mother calling.  Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it was nearing time to get ready for school, but she could pretend she hadn’t heard her.  She estimated she could play another five minutes without invoking her mother’s disapproval

“Eliza,” her mother called again.

Eliza decided she decided she’d better see what her mother wanted.  She put down the doll and wandered into her mother’s room.


“What is it, Eliza?” her mother asked impatiently.

“What do you want?”

The blank expression on her mother’s face surprised Eliza. She’d seen the look before.  Experience had taught her not to decided not to challenge her mother.  Later, when everyone else called her Liza, she would remember this as the first time it had happened—hearing something that wasn’t really there.  “I didn’t call you Eliza.  But it’s time to get ready.  I’ll make you some oatmeal.  Now, hurry.  Get dressed.”

After Eliza swallowed the capsule her mother handed her every morning, medicine that helped Eliza sit through seven hours of school, not interrupt her teachers, and pay attention.   The same medicine that also made her feel oddly detached from the world—the medicine that everything she saw seem gray and everything she heard sound hollow.  She plodded to the car waiting on its effect.  She would need to hurry if she was going to talk to her mother before the medicine took hold of her.

“Are you okay, Mom?” she asked, watching her mother’s futile attempts to will the car in front of them to pull into traffic.

“Why do you ask, Eliza?”

“When I came to your room this morning and asked why you called me, you just kinda looked at me.  Like maybe you forgot you had called me.”

Her mother made it clear she hadn’t called Eliza and that she must have been hearing things.  Maybe it was the radio or the television, she said. Eliza winced.  Like so many other conversations with her mother, both before and after that morning, Eliza knew her mother wouldn’t be convinced.

But neither the radio or the television had been on that morning. Eliza was certain of it.


The table of contents read almost like her biography.

Chapter One—A World We do not Understand

Chapter Two—Psychosis

Chapter Three—Physiological Disorders

Chapter Four—Footsteps in the Hallway, Bumps in the Night:  Physical Causes

Chapter Five—Dreams, Visions, Angels, Demons: Is that you, God?

Liza thumbed to Chapter Five.  She had grown up believing in the gifts of The Spirit.  The interpretation of dreams.  Healing.  Speaking in tongues.  Prophecy.  She had known them to be true as surely as she knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west. And she had understood spiritual warfare too—that angels and demons fought for the circumstance and souls of men, women, and children. Before she reached the age of five, Liza had seen into the spiritual realms and had been a witness to the deeds of spiritual beings.

Thinking back, Liza remembered she had decided the voices—especially that one voice—it must have been God himself, calling her.  After all, there was nothing really menacing about them.  They didn’t make threats.  They didn’t tempt her.  But there had been nothing comforting about them either.  There had been no instruction.  Why would God call to her like that?  At some point, she had begun to wonder if the voices were evil.

In many spiritual traditions evil is manifest in a being or beings.  The Vedic tradtions, while having no specific incarnation of evil, have their asuras. Buddhists see Mara as the tempter, the incarnation of evil.  And, of course, in Judeo-Christianity a fallen angel, Satan, is the one who disguises himself as an Angel of Light.  In short, these traditions teach that spiritual creatures are capable of deceitful deeds intended to distract the faithful from the proper path.  While Hollywood has made millions with frightening tales of possession, such examples of the occupation of a human body by some outside force appears rather infrequently, particularly in the Western world.  Yet plaguing the faithful with frightful dreams and physical disturbances—strange sounds and peculiar voices among them—are far more commonplace. 

 Liza snapped the book shut and shivered.


Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part One

Liza couldn’t take it any more.

She got up, walked around the apartment.  Nothing. She checked the door again.  She knew it would be locked but she couldn’t help herself.  She had tried everything.  The counselors.  The meds.  Nothing worked.

“It’s just your imagination,” her mother had always said.  She had said it hundreds of time. But no matter what Liza, did they always returned.  She didn’t know which was worse.  Hearing those sounds or being unable to convince anyone they were real.

There were times when they went away for a while.  Sometimes even for a few days or weeks.  Or at least they would subside to the point she could almost ignore them. Those were times when she would begin to believe she could live a normal life.  But at some point she began to realize this was part of their plan—go away for a while, just long enough for her to get some peace, only to return.

Most of the time it sounded like two or three voices.  Those were almost easier to take.  But not tonight.  Tonight, it was that single desperate voice, the one that sounded like the last pleas of a wounded animal begging for release from a terrible trap or for the relief of its final breath.

“Liza,” they whispered.


“I’ve got to do something, Jas,” she told her brother.

Thank god for Jason.  He had always been kind to her.  She knew he didn’t believe her—that he didn’t believe they were real.  But he believed she believed they were.  And that was almost enough.  At least he didn’t tell her it was her imagination or that she should just “snap out of it and get hold of herself.” He just listened.

“I know, Liza.  I just don’t know what to tell you to do,” he said.

“I’m not sleeping much.  Even when I don’t hear anything, I’m afraid to go to sleep.  It’s happening more and more often.”

“But it’s only when you’re at home—I mean when you are alone, right?”

She had told him all of this before.

“And you’ve even been to the hearing doctor?”

“The audiologist?  Yes.  Of course.  And the neurologist.  The psychiatrist. The pastor.  Hell, I’ve even been to a hypnotist.  And a psychic.”   She lit another cigarette.

“I wish you would quit smoking,” said Jason.  He was trying to change the subject.  She couldn’t blame him.


Liza picked up a book she had ordered.

The Phenomena of Sound: An Inquiry into Ethereal Voices and other Disturbances

There was no telling how many times she had searched the web for answers. When she found a book or an article she had learned how to quickly scan it and determine if there was anything new that might help her.  She had almost given up hope.  But a few days ago she had found this title and dropped it into her shopping cart.  The box with the smile on it seemed to be laughing at her when she opened it.  She skipped to the final chapter.

“In most cases, such phenomena appear to have their roots in a distinctly physical domain.  In such cases, preemption of such disturbances can be explained, if not eliminated.  In others, rational and physical interventions are useless.  These are placebos without effect.  In this narrow set of circumstances, only the illogical seems to be an adequate response.”

Well, maybe this—what was the author’s name?  Morris R. Templeton.  Maybe Mr.—she corrected the thought—maybe Dr. Templeton would at least understand—even believe me.  But he’s been dead three years, or so Wikipedia said.

She flipped back to the table of contents.

I didn’t notice

I didn’t notice,

not really, I’ll admit,

that you were gone,

that you were missing somehow,

that you had been slowly been engulfed by the pain,

enshrouded by the fatigue,

until you were almost covered,

covered by the slow and relentless approaching shadows,

the shadows I did not see,

the echoes of your memory deceiving me in the darkness,

making me believe you were safe,

that you were always there,

believing that you were stowed away like some some precious emerald,

when you had fallen out of sight,

out of sight of eyes,

eyes that did not know to look;


I’m grateful now,

grateful that I did not know to look,

grateful to be spared the heartache,

the fear of such grave loss,

spared the throbbing heart,

the desperate searching,

the gasping for breath,

the desperate thoughts,

crying out, “where have you gone?”

for I would have surely been ovewhelmed,

to reach for you,

to believe that you were gone,

that you were lost to me;



I am so very grateful,

by your sudden return,

overcome with gratitude

to have this chance,

to know that are not forever lost,

that you are here,

here with me once again,

my heart full,


perhaps more aware than ever,

of each moment,

each breath,

each heartbeat.