For over 4 decades, along with my wife Dana, we have literally toured the world as a professional singers and entertainers. We have performed our shows in bars, nightclubs, theaters and on most major cruise lines, including Disney, Princess, NCL, RCCL, Holand America and Oceania. In our long career, we have owned a night club, a music theater, charted three records in Billboard's top 100 and opened in concert for12 major stars, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., David Allen Coe, Rich Little and Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers.
I've also been lucky to have a successful voice-over career, voicing thousands of radio and television commercials, as well as narrating 3 national television shows for the Discovery, Destination America and Sportsman networks. For the past two years, I’ve been the voice of the Free Bird – Lynard Skynard Southern Rock Channel on SiriusXM radio.
Honestly, I began my writing poetry as a teen to impress the girls. I've written hundreds of songs, published my first novel, "Sing Roses For Me" in 2013 and currently working on my seventh, due to be released in November 2020. I have also written a collection of autobiographical short stories about my amazing life called, "Lyrics Of My Life." To borrow a line from Kris Kristofferson, all my novels are partly truth and partly fiction. They are based on my years in the music business and they include events I've experienced and many vivid memories of my world travels.
I'm no longer performing on the ships. These days I'm concentrating on writing my novels and my voice-over career.
Unfortunately, all those plans and dreams disappeared into the hot humid Texas air when Savannah shattered his 18 year old heart. The next day, Travis left town without saying a word and joined the Marines. Although he knew he could never forgive her for what she had done, through all the years to follow, he never stopped loving her.
Now, 16 years later, he is a successful lawyer, but Savannah...his one true love...is missing. She has vanished into the thin air.
Everyone in Matagorda believes that, Levi Cruz, Savannah’s abusive husband, has finally killed her, but Travis is not convinced. In his nightly recurring dreams, Savannah appears to him, telling him she is still alive, lost and alone, waiting for him to find her.
Against all odds and logic, ignoring everyone’s advice, he begins a frantic, dangerous and deadly search to find her and bring her home.
She eventually saw me in the treehouse and walked over, looked up, and smiled. “Hello, I’m Savannah. Do you live here?” I climbed down out of the tree house and walked over to her. She towered over me by almost six inches. “Hi, I’m Travis. Yeah, I live here.”
“Cool!” she said, “we’re gonna be next door neighbors. What grade are you in?”
I was only 8 years old, but I can still remember having trouble forming my words that day, staring into her beautiful face and sparkling eyes the color of turquoise. It took me a few seconds to remember, but finally I said, “when school starts I’ll be in the third grade.”
“Me too!” She yelled excitedly, reaching out her arms and hugging me.
Feeling her arms around me caused my heart to race in my chest. It wasn’t the first time I had been hugged by a girl, but it was the first time it took my breath away and made me blush. My cheeks turned a bright shade of crimson. She flashed her amazing smile at me again, and without asking, began climbing up into my treehouse, yelling for me to follow her. That was the first of thousands of times I followed her up that tree...
I’ve tried for years to forget that day, the day I lost my heart and fell in love with Savannah. But like an old tattoo that has faded with time, if you look close...it’s still there like an ugly scar.
* * *
Thirteen years later…
I was lying on my bunk in the barracks in Beirut, Lebanon when I heard someone yell my name. “Lance Corporal Travis Lee?” It was a First Lieutenant. I jumped to my feet to attention and saluted, “I’m Lee, sir.”
“Lance Corporal, you are to report to the CO, ASAP. He wants to talk to you.”
“Major General Britton wants to talk to me? What did I do?”
The lieutenant frowned. “I have no idea Marine, I was just told to come get you. So move your ass and report to him, NOW!” he ordered.
It was the first time I’d ever been ordered to report to the CO in the three years I had been in the Marines. As I walked there, I racked my brain trying to figure out what I could have possibly done to get called up on the carpet like this. When his assistant opened the door Major General William Britton, from Knoxville, Tennessee, was sitting behind his desk. The chaplain was standing next to him on his right side.
“You wanted to see me Sir?” I asked.
He looked up at me with a somber face. In a slow Tennessee drawl he said, “Yes Travis I did. Have a seat son.” When he said those words, I knew it must be something personal, because he addressed me by Travis, instead of by my rank and last name.
“What is it Sir?”
He shot a glance at the Chaplain, who immediately took the seat next to me.
The chaplain leaned over toward me, “I’m afraid we have some bad news from home. Your mother,” He paused and looked down, “She...she passed away yesterday. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
They both stared at me, waiting for my expected emotional response, but it never came. I just sat there quietly, not moving.
“Did you hear what the Chaplain said?” He asked. “Your mother has died.” I nodded, “Yes Sir, I heard him. Is that all Sir? Can I go back to my platoon now?”
With stunned faces they looked at each other. “No, Lance Corporal Lee, you may not go back to the barracks. Your mother’s funeral is scheduled in two days. I have just signed papers for your 4 week leave and I’ve made special arrangements for you to fly out of here in a few hours.”
I stood up. “I really appreciate it sir, but I have no desire to go to that funeral. I don’t want to leave my platoon here in Beirut.”
Major General Britton jumped to his feet. “SIT BACK DOWN IN THAT CHAIR MARINE!” He yelled.
I sat down and dropped my head, staring down at my feet. “I’m sorry sir, but she wasn’t much of a mother.” He stood up again. “Follow me!” He ordered as he walked out his door. I followed him to the mess hall. We both got coffee and settled across from each other at a table in the private officer’s section.
He took a long sip of his coffee, looked me in the eyes and leaned back in his chair. “Travis, we have something in common. My father was a grunt in the Marines. He never even made it to Private 1st Class” he began, “He served in WWII, he was a mean son of a bitch that used to get drunk and take out his anger on my mother, and sometimes me. When I was 17, I couldn’t take it anymore, so one day when he swung at me, I fought back. I beat the shit out of him that night and joined the Marines the next day. I hated him and never talked to him again as long as he lived.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I just sat there, silent.
“He died three years after I joined the Marines and like you, I didn’t want to go to his funeral either, but my CO ordered me to go. He told me the same thing I’m going to tell you. Travis, you are a Marine, and that’s a life long pledge. Your fellow Marines are your family now and as long as you live your brother and sister Marines will be there for you if you need them. Whatever happened in your life before you became a marine has nothing to do with who you are now and who you have become. Your life back then is nothing more than just old baggage. Go to your mother’s funeral and bury all of those bad memories and never think of them again. I’m not saying forget your mother, I’m just saying to forget all the bad memories you have of her and only remember the good ones.”
He took another sip of his coffee and stared at me across the table. In his Tennessee southern accent, he smiled at me and said, “Think you can do that son?”
I nodded, “I’ll try sir, but honestly I don’t have many good memories of her.”
He leaned forward. “What about your father?”
I chuckled and said. “Huh…I never got the chance to meet him, but I believe he was probably worse than my mother. He never wanted to have children and three days after I was born, he left us. I know that, because my mother never let me forget it. She blamed me for him walking out my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t beat me or anything like that, she just...well...never showed me any love.
She fed me, put a roof over my head and gave me clothes, but she never once hugged me...or even touched me for that matter. Even when I was a little kid and fell down and scraped my knees, she wasn’t there like other moms with kind loving words as she cleaned and put on the bandage. She would just yell at me for getting blood on the rug.”
I sat back and took a sip of my coffee. “I realize Sir, it may sound petty now, but when I was a little kid, six or seven years old, it had a profound effect on me that I can’t seem to get over. I grew to hate her more and more through those years. She was so cold and hateful and it got worse as she got older.”
He shook his head. “So you joined the Marines as soon as you could to get away from her.”
“No sir, I didn’t join the Marines because of my mother. That would have meant that I cared about what she thought and I haven’t given a shit about that since I was 13. No sir, I joined the Marines to get away from someone else. And she’s another reason I don’t want to go back home to the funeral. I never want to see her again!”
He smiled. “Travis, I don’t mean to make light of this, but I’m talking to you here man to man, friend to friend, not as your Commanding Officer. Let me give you some friendly advice. Son, you were what, 17 or 18? You were still a kid. Your childhood sweetheart broke your heart and you’re still hurting. Travis, that was another lifetime ago. You are no longer that 18 year old boy, you are a man now, a Marine. Trust me son, she won’t be the only woman who will break your heart in your life. I don’t know what she did to you, but it’s time you put that behind you too. Forgive her son and move on.”
I nodded, “I’ve been trying to Sir, for almost 3 years now, but what she did to me... to us...I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive”.
When I walked back into the barracks, everyone in my platoon turned and stared.
Lying in his bunk, Hag looked up and asked, “What did you do? What’d the Old Man want?”
I had known Hag for almost three years. We met in boot camp and had been through a few tight scrapes together in Beirut during our time stationed there. He had saved my ass more than once and he was my one real friend. His real name was Gary Smith, but because he was from Muskogee, Oklahoma we all called him Hag, short for Merle Haggard. He constantly drove us all nuts when, without warning, he would start singing “I’m Proud To Be An Okie From Muskogee.” It wasn’t because we hated the song...it was because Hag couldn’t sing for shit, but sang every verse anyway.
Straight out of Boot Camp, all 15 of us had been stationed in Beirut for the last 22 months. There was a two year maximum limit for our deployment, so we only had about eight more weeks to go before we could get out of that hell hole. The excited anticipation of finally going home was building inside all of us. We had been sent there by President Reagan, when he agreed to be part of a multi national United Nations peace-keeping force.
While I was there, I achieved the rank of Lance Corporal and was appointed platoon leader over 14 men. I knew every one of them since boot camp, and because of that, when I was promoted to platoon leader......I caught a lot of grief from a few of them. Although we all knew each other’s real name, we never used them. Instead we called each other by the nicknames our drill sergeant came up with on our first few days of boot camp back in San Diego.
Jim Reed from Alabama was called ‘Gomer’, Walter Anderson from Chicago was called ‘Capone’ (after the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone), Jimmy Wilkerson from Florida was called ‘Orlando’ and on and on it went. I was from a small beach community in Texas, named Matagorda and although it was a long way from Mexico, the drill sergeant branded me with the name of ‘Matador’. He explained that it meant ‘to kill’ in Spanish. I didn’t like that name much but unfortunately it stuck.
I pulled out my duffel and began filling it with my clothes and gear.
“Going somewhere Matador?” Hag asked.
I shrugged. “My mother died. The old man gave me a four weeks leave. I don’t want to go, but I’m under orders to attend her funeral.”
Hag was the only person on earth, besides Savannah, who knew about my mother and how she had treated me. Through the years since boot camp we had spent hours talking about our lives to each other. I knew everything about him and his dreams, and he knew everything about me and mine.
Hag had his whole life all planned out. When he got out of the Marines he planned to go back to Muskogee, marry his high school sweetheart and go to college at Oklahoma State University. After that he hoped he’d get a job coaching high school football somewhere in Oklahoma. Before the Marines, I had my life planned out as well, but now those plans were sort of vague. All of those plans had changed suddenly.
* * *
Savannah’s father was a violent angry drunk, who used to smash things against the walls and beat up her mother. When he would come home drunk, Savannah would run out her back door to my house and scratch on my window to wake me up.
On those violent, horrific nights, as quietly as I could, trying not to wake my mother, I would slip out my window and Savannah and I would ride our bicycles the 10 miles to the beach on Matagorda Peninsula.
Lying on the beach in the sand, listening to the crashing waves, staring up at the stars, we would talk until the sun came up about the life we were going to build together when we finally grew up and got married. Over those ten years during the late night bike trips to that beach escaping her father’s drunken wrath, we planned out every single detail.
When we graduated high school we were going to leave Matagorda behind. I was going to become a lawyer and she was going to teach kindergarten until we had our first child. After that, she going to be a stay home mother raising our three children…two boys and one girl. And I planned to hug each one of those children every single day, showing them what love felt like. Our plans never changed all the way through high school.
It wasn’t a secret plan, our parents, all our friends and most of the people in the small community of Matagorda knew about it as well. And everyone believed it would surely come true someday. But then ‘Savannah did what she did’ and all those dreams disappeared into the salty, humid Texas air.
* * *
Hag climbed out of his bunk and walked over to me. “Sorry, Matador, but I think the old man’s right on this one. You need to get on that plane and leave this God forsaken place for a while. Go back to Texas and go to that funeral. When you’re there, bury your mother and put all that crap she put you through in that casket with her.”
I didn’t respond and just kept packing my duffel bag.
Hag looked down and shuffled his feet. “You think you’ll see Savannah when you’re there? Maybe at the funeral?”
I stared back at him. “I hope not. I’m not sure what I’d do or say if I saw her.”
When I finished packing, I went around the room shaking hands on my way out. When I got to the door I stopped, turned around and looked at my platoon. “Try not to fuck up too bad while I’m gone. See you in four weeks.”