At the age of 60, Father finds his soul mate and adventure partner in 30-year-old Liliana. He finds himself ostracized by siblings, and the world alike. “You’re a dirty old man and she’s a gold digger from the dark side of life,” they all chimed.
And he might be a “dirty old man” for the entire world but Liliana keeps coming, and Father would rather be repudiated by all, than be without her. From a very poor background, Liliana knows struggles; she’s been through many hot burning hells of her own. Her mother died /giving birth to her. To escape an abusive, alcoholic Father, she eloped at 14 and a year later gave birth to her first baby, a seemingly healthy baby boy. Her husband, a railroad man, worked hard, drank even harder, and brought home no bacon.
At 19, Liliana buries her son when he unexpectedly dies in her arms, then ends her marriage. The second time she marries an army officer and gives birth to her second child, again a boy. Her new husband provides for her and their child but his demanding job leaves Liliana lonely. When her second son dies at the age of 3, destitute and depressed, she finds solace with the wrong crowd. She begins to drink, and by the age of 26, she’s bitter and “cursed,” twice divorced and with two children dead in her hug. She has no education, and to survive, she cleans houses Father employs her to help around the newly renovated old house.
Sad story, Liliana.
Dark complexion and bright smile, she’s charismatic, curvy, and petite; she laughs easy and starts a fight even easier. She rejuvenates Father. Cleaning his house and yard, she glues to his soul. They become intimate and business partners. As peddlers, they travel to Turkey, Poland, Russia, and China, turning into a profitable team. She acquires her own apartment and saves to open a small newspaper stand. When Father’s in New York, Liliana cares for his property, and keeps everything in order. Father has traveled between New York and Iasi for years. He likes America but loves Romania and would not want to die or be laid to rest anywhere but the Eternitate “Eternity” graveyard in Iasi alongside his parents.
One fall, Father entrusts Liliana with the key to his house and the stable-turned-wine cellar. A dark square room with steady-temperature where tarmac sealed bottles and a 200-liter wood barrel of red Merlot are stored for aging. Father invests great amounts of money, organic ingredients, pride and patience in old recipes of his Merlot. Every fall, he travels to vinifera the vineyards on the suburbs of Iasi to buy Concord, Muscat and Hamburg; for making his wine. To leave Liliana in charge of his Bacchus wealth means total trust or blind love and Father does not trust anyone.
Father cannot speak. He whimpers and splutters, pain suffocating him. The next evening at JFK airport, my heart follows his frail silhouette until feeble and disoriented it vanishes through customs. Two days later, I call, his voice sorrow–satiated, sounds gruffer than ever, and I can just picture him lighting up a chain of cigarettes, gulping mugs of black coffee, and forgetting to eat.
Story has it that Liliana celebrated her 40th birthday in Father’s house she invited friends and neighbors. Red wine is poured from Father’s drums until the night hours turned small and Liliana was having a ball. Loud and bubbly, she cheered with every sip of aroma packed Merlot. She nipped and puffed often, through two packs of Marlboro. As she’s about to entertain the guests with a funny tale, she starts speaking then suddenly falls off her chair and thuds to the floor. The hollers shake the windowpanes and Liliana’s still on the floor, her guests continue to laugh as if her fall is part of an amusing act but minutes later they clamor over her unresponsive body.
Someone calls an ambulance. Paramedics arrive after the guests help themselves to Father’s belongings. They pronounce her dead on the scene, and her body is transported to the city morgue. The autopsy revealed that Liliana’s 40 years were a miracle, for she suffered from congenital heart disease—the same disease that killed her two sons before the age of 5.
Father buries her in the same casket with his heart, and three months later only his shadow arrives back at JFK. I’m shocked at how much weight he’s lost and at the sorrow carved deep into his hollow eyes. Father never recovered from this loss.