A young girl deals with adult issues and they give her life meaning.
|Bethany Donovan believes she always had a special connection with Steven Delaney. As children playing a game they shared a first kiss, the honey sweetness of his mouth is a cherished memory of her childhood. She was Cinderella, except instead of golden tresses she had Irish red locks that curled around her freckled face. Steven was a golden boy with blond hair and lovely blue-green eyes; her very own Prince Charming. He was her best friend, the one person she could tell everything.
In contrast to pure innocent love, the Donovan household was run by the sour mash of Jack Daniels bourbon. The yard was overgrown with weeds, rodents and trash. It was a sad home crying for attention like the people that lived there. Shutters with once lovely carved hearts were falling apart. Window boxes, that at one time cradled flowers, in rainbow colors, were rotting away.
Once upon a time, Bethany's parents, Linda and Danny Donovan, were sure they felt a wonderful connection to each other. They had gone to the same high school. Linda was a beautiful girl with her long strawberry blonde hair, big blue eyes accented with dark lashes and kissable satin lips.
Linda usually wore a camisole top with silk and lace accents. She found great short skirts or tight jeans at two fabulous thrift stores. Almost anything looked awesome on her long shapely legs and tight rear end. She loved the singer Madonna with her individual style. Linda even had a belt that said "Boy Toy" on it. She was a smart girl that made decent grades but didn't have any ambition.
Her parents were working class, Mom was a waitress and Daddy worked at the Hershey factory on the line.
Mom wanted more for her daughter and was always after her with advice.
"Forget guys! They are nuthin' but trouble. Study, get a scholarship! Go to college! Do you want to kill yourself like me? Look at these veins on my legs and what for? Not enough bucks to buy groceries."
Linda leaned against her locker. She had a lollipop in her mouth.
"Danny, can I get a ride home with you?"
He took in the whole picture.
"Sure, babe, meet me outside in fifteen."
Danny Donovan saw himself as a rebel, playing drums in a garage band. He had a great build thanks to his drums and lifting weights. Paying attention in class and studying came easy for him. He rode a Yamaha that he was constantly working on. He was a talented guy with his hands, mechanically and musically. If he studied, he could have accomplished whatever he wanted to. He even tried a vocational track with mechanics. He knew most of the material but was bored so he walked out. With three older siblings, he didn't get much encouragement from parents who worked all the time.
Danny and Linda started spending all their spare time together.
"So, what are you going to do after graduating?" he asked.
"My Mom wants me to go to college. My grades are good enough for a state scholarship. I don't know what I want to do though, maybe something in science- like medicine?"
"Babe! That's so cool-I wish I was that friggin smart!"
"You are! You don't even go to class and you still pass. If you tried, you'd graduate with honors! Why do you screw around? Don't you know how special you are?"
So they did try to encourage each other but sex got in the way. It was great and they were careful but "it" happened.
Only seventeen but so sure of themselves, they didn't need any adult advice.
Linda had the answer.
"We can have the baby and go to school. I can't live with myself if I kill this little one. I know it is a clump of cells but it's "us". "
They married, tried to go to school and work. They found a little clapboard house that had been neglected. It was a rent to own deal, a good starter place. They both tried with lots of work and heart. They even managed to get their GEDs.
The first time they saw the ultrasound, it was thrilling. Danny would sing to his little girl swimming in the uterus.
Linda took care of herself, going to the clinic and no drinking or drugs.
Linda was working in the kitchen of the elementary school. She was thirty weeks along and things had been fine except one scare with high blood pressure. She was put on some medication.
She was lifting pans when a gripping contraction hit.
"Oh my God!" she clutched her lower abdomen. "It's too early!"
Bethany was born at twenty-nine weeks (full term would have been thirty-eight) and had to spend time in NICU which was very expensive. Danny signed papers with the Financial Aid Office to make reasonable payments each month. Linda couldn't work for six weeks.
The bills from the doctors and hospital began to pour in. They felt badly about not being able to pay all the bills. The school filled Linda's position and child care was so expensive, she decided to stay home.
Bethany was a colicky baby and cried almost constantly. By the time Danny got home he was too tired to take over and Linda was pulling her hair out. The alcohol creeped into their lives. Danny would bring home a six pack of beer and it was like a soothing medication. Bethany's crying didn't bother them as much and the bills could be forgotten.
Something else was forgotten frequently and that was birth control. Linda's plan was to put Bethany into public kindergarten and go back to work. Linda didn't even realize she was pregnant until she was ten weeks along. Her drinking was effecting her judgement, her mothering skills, everything in her life.
Linda made a promise to herself to stop drinking. She tried but found that she would feel so anxious and shaky after a day of abstaining. She drank throughout the pregnancy although the nurse at the Clinic warned her about the effect it could have on the baby.
Betsy was born two hours after Linda got to the hospital. She was under weight and very jerky. It was obvious that the newborn suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Possibly because it was a small community hospital and there wasn't any insurance, no one really looked very closely at their situation. Linda was begging to go home, terrified someone would notice the baby wasn't "normal". Plus she needed a drink.
There weren't any red flags yet. The police had never been called to the home and Social Services hadn't been contacted.
So the booze that made them forget their problems became an even bigger problem, gobbling up the little money they had.
Their moods were erratic and although neither abused the girls, they often hit each other. Bethany knew that when her Dad came home, Mom was often out of control; yelling, flinging china and ashtrays. She didn't understand what her Daddy had done.
Bethany took charge, taking three year old, Betsy, outside. They often spent cold nights, huddled beneath a filthy quilt, in a cramped tool shed. In the morning before school, Bethany made Betsy breakfast. In classes she worried about her sister since Mom often slept so soundly, waking with a nasty hangover.
Steven Delaney lived close by with his parents and that is when the two kids started playing together. He always seemed older than his age. Bethany would be upset at times. He listened, held her as she cried, then tried to summon a smile with silly antics or jokes. He told his parents some of the problems, often bringing the girls home with him. Their house was a safe haven completely different from their own. His parents celebrated the girls’ birthdays, bought them clothes and gave hugs. They never asked probing questions but later wished they had.
The school began to ask questions. A once bright attractive child, Bethany now looked disheveled. She missed school often and her work suffered. Her parents had never showed up regularly for parent-teacher conferences.
Finally, a caring teacher pushed for Social Services to be called. The home situation was observed by a seasoned social worker who alerted the courts. Both girls were removed from their home and sent to foster care.
Bethany and Steven didn’t get to say goodbye. The pain was a visceral one that clutched her heart. She was happy to leave her home but a new one might even be worse and Steven wouldn't be close to run to.
The girls were fortunately taken by a stable childless couple. Dorothy and Ed were in their fifties and adored them. Bethany was a joy with her independent spirit, intelligence, and adoration of her sister. Betsy was fragile with her shaky hands, shyness and a sweet heart. Ed was a family practitioner, and saw classic symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Betsy.
Bethany called Steven once a week but a six hour drive separated them. They wrote long letters pouring out pubescent love. Poems carried their vibrating heartstrings via the US Mail.
When Bethany and Steven were thirteen, Dorothy and Ed arranged a trip halfway at a mall. Steven’s parents, Susan and Sean, suggested dinner together. There was so much conversation that no one noticed Bethany and Steven gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. Bethany couldn’t eat, her stomach fluttered with butterflies. Finally, dinner was over.
They were left alone for an hour in the mall. A small coffee shop offered a secluded table, where they held hands and touched knees intimately.
Steven whispered, “You are so awesome; more beautiful then your pictures. I love you, Beth.”
She started crying, “I know. I feel the same; someday we'll be together. It’s so hard. You're gonna be around some really hot girls. I'm afraid you'll forget about me.”
"Never.” He sounded sincere. "It’s always been you".
Suddenly, Steven had a severe nose bleed. Bethany pinched his nostrils and put an ice bag over his forehead area. He confessed that they had been happening several times a week and he was afraid to tell his parents. His pale appearance frightened Bethany, she hadn’t noticed it earlier but in the bright light she could see the veins in his forehead and his hands, so delicate. She wanted to wrap him up and never let go. She made him promise to tell his folks. It was a bittersweet good-bye.
Bethany didn’t hear from himl for two weeks.
Then Steven’s Mom called, “Bethany, Steven is in the hospital and asking for you".
Bethany could hear fear in her voice and fought back her own tears.
Susan continued, “He didn’t want you to know but he has a serious form of leukemia, a very aggressive type. They have done everything and well, he needs you. God, let me talk with your Mom, honey”.
Bethany approached the ICU bed. This wasn’t her knight, so strong, that always had come to her rescue.
This was a young boy, thin with skin the color of a white shirt. Surrounded by machines that beeped and blood dripping into him, there were bags and bottles below holding blood also; his life was pouring into those.
She touched his hand tentatively and whispered,
“Steven, it’s Beth, I love you.”
His eyes opened with pools of gray. Thunderstorms had entered their special world.
He struggled to speak.
“It’s okay, I can go-o now but had to see you... so tired-I love you always, sorry”.
She gave him permission.
“I will be fine, Steven, close your eyes and be at peace.”
Her mouth met his and the sweetness remained. Her childhood had slipped away a long time ago. She had to let him go but she would fight for everything else from then on.
It was a beautiful spring day filled with new life, birds chirping and flowers budding, when her Steven slipped away.
Steven’s death put Bethany on the path to medical school. She concentrated on nothing else but a 4.0 average so she had scholarships.
While studying, Bethany found out alcoholism is a hereditary progressive disease. She had to forgive her parents before she could move on with her life. She attended Al-anon meetings and after she spoke with many alcoholics, she realized her parents had done the best that they could.
She found out that she excelled in Oncology. Steven's spirit was often felt nearby. She imagined his hand on her shoulder and his words gave her strength as she spoke with dying patients.
Bethany hired a Physician's Assistant to help her. He had such empathy and once in a while, he would wink or cock his head a certain sexy way. They began to date.
Eric Matthews was a man. She had different feelings for him then the adoring feelings she had for Steven. It was a more mature love that grew over time. They shared goals for treating cancer patients so the professional and personal were in sync. Now they could build a home life also. They both agreed on a non-alcoholic home.
Steven's memory was carried on with Bethany and Eric's first child; a son named Eric Steven Matthews. He was the most alert handsome baby she had ever seen, ready to take on the world.
By Kathie Stehr