Beth discovers inner strength when she loses what she loves most.
| Beth Taylor was frightened by many things. As a child, she was terrified by any ball thrown at her so playing sports was a challenge. Climbing a stepladder was a nightmare. Imagine that same girl falling for a man that routinely climbed ladders for a living. Tony saved people from the angry god of flames. Beth's love for her husband raised her so high, negatives became possibilities. They appeared to have a perfect life until a day came that tested all her fears. Beth discovered that, with faith, she could climb mountains.
As a child, Beth was known as "Little Turtle". Her family came up with the nickname and she laughed along. But she felt the shame of being different. She was afraid of flying objects. In gym, she covered her head as the ball approached. Then what she dreaded the most happened, she wet on herself. Her face turned bright red.
"What a loser!"
"Get off our team, klutz!"
One time three girls caught her from behind and stuffed her body in a trash can. They rolled the can down a hill.
"That's were you belong!"
Their laughter hurt and tears stung her cheeks. it was frightening; the dark, the smell and not knowing where she would end up. How she wanted to vanish.
The coach found out and the culprits had to sit on the bench for two games. This made the other kids angry since they were the best players. The team's revenge was putting bloody tampons in her desk. The smell was horrible and the teacher made it worse by commenting on it.
"Did something die in here?"
Beth didn't tell her teacher, coach or her parents what had happened. This seemed like the most awful thing that life could bring upon her.
Her parents came to the middle school games, believing they were supporting her. Surely they noticed she sat on the bench almost all the time.
One day, after a practice, when she had been teased again with no mercy. She confronted her parents.
"Why do you force me to play? I suck at it!"
Tears ran down her face and her voice cracked.
"Isn't getting A's good enough? Those mean a scholarship."
She had started and wasn't going to stop until she made her point.
"I want to devote play time to the yearbook. Don't you guys get it? I can't stand this abuse anymore!"
Dad put his arm around her.
"We're trying to toughen you up, sweetie. Show these fools you can't be trampled on. We wouldn't hurt you."
Then he told the same old dull football story.
"I used to sit on the bench cause I was so short. Finally, they gave me a chance. Then it was, "watch out cause nothin sticks to Rick once he gets the ball."
He finished with a hug, "Baby, your light hasn't shined yet."
"Great for you, Dad. I don't want to be toughened up. I'll finish up the season, if I live."
Beth made it through half the season then she began to have headaches. She went to her school counselor. Lottie Hampton listened with tears in her eyes when she heard about the trash can.
She put her hands on Beth's shoulders.
"I was always the last one chosen. I can still hear the captain, 'Well, I guess I don't have a choice...Lottie.' My head hung so low, I felt like a hound dog."
"You let me take care of this. Not to worry, dahling, These jocks will wish they could be you one of these days."
Magically, in one week, Beth was needed to assist the Librarian. In front of the team, it was announced Beth had been asked for due to her creative skills and academic excellence.
Lottie had come through for Beth.
Beth loved libraries After school, she used to walk five miles to the Towne Square Library. There was a large leather chair in an alcove that was her sanctuary. From the time she was old enough to read, the very feel of a book in her hands was special. Beth could be the beloved Virgin Queen Victoria, a fairy princess dressed in heavenly purple silk, or a civil rights leader putting her life on the line for justice. She could be Helen Keller, Judge Sandra Day O'Conner or Eleanor Roosevelt.
The rest of the school year she was a very busy girl. It was a joy and learning experience to help students prepare presentations for school projects.
Over the summer, before she was to start Roosevelt High School, Beth was asked by Lottie Hampton to tutor. It was an honor and she was paid. One girl even had a pool at her house so after work was done, the girls had fun. Beth's parents questioned her glowing tan. She smiled with satisfaction.
"It's a perk that comes with my work."
All three tutored children improved in math and grammar skills.
Beth also had her first semiserious romance that summer. She met Donnie Edmonds at the "Crystal Cave Book Shelf." It was bohemian heaven. There were tapestries, crystal balls, subdued lighting, a variety of fairies, wizards and dragons featured among precious stones in glass cupboards. It was an old Victorian home that was worn but had great ambiance. There were stained glass cupboards, oriental carpets, open nooks and alcoves with satin pillows for reading. Incense was burning and essential oils in use to advertise their wares.
The music was a mix of acoustic folk-rock and mystical with chimes and Indian sitars. The store catered to high school, college students and spiritual baby boomers with cash to keep the place going. There were crystal chimes, plants and even a fountain with natural rocks. The books displayed rotated between Whitman, Shakespeare, Dante, the classics and spirituality.
Original Poetry Happenings were twice a week at open mic night. You could read your own or interpret someone else. They served coffee, herbal tea and homemade treats at reasonable prices.
Beth was wandering about and picked up Oliver Sack's "Awakenings". She climbed into a bay window with a quilt and began to read. "Mr. Tennyson", the white Persian cat that lived at the store purred on her lap.
That is when Donnie broke her concentration.
"You planning on medical school?"
"No way. Too much work. Why?"
"Sachs is a great neurologist."
"I know. That is why I am reading his book."
"I need to find a cure for Parkinson's. My Mom died from it . She would shake so much, the frigging muscles atrophied from her bones. I am a freshman at Brown and I really dig chemistry so far. I think research will be awesome."
"Sorry about your Mom.... medical school is hard core. I'm Beth Taylor...planning to study journalism."
"I'm Donny. Can I buy you coffee or tea? Maybe, split a cream cheese brownie?"
So the two of them shared the alcove and just enough about themselves to know they clicked. He had eyes that spoke poetry; liquid gold with long lashes. He was beautiful for a guy; senuous lips and curly shoulder length blonde hair.
It was an awesome summer. Donny helped her with Biology lab. Beth began to feel more at ease with people as he introduced her to his friends.
At poetry readings, Donny played acoustic guitar, backing the amateur poets.
He showed her how sweet a deep kiss could be. It happened one night in back of the "Cave". He didn't push and that is as far as it went. The tingling between her legs and sweet longing in her nipples was an appetizer for her to dream on.
When it was just the two of them, they fit together like puzzle pieces. He would advise her about what to take and expect in high school. He offered to help with Organic Chemistry, Microbiology, and Trig. So far she had done well in school but she desperately needed a scholarship for college.
Donny taught her to enjoy romance. He brought her flowers; something in season. A handful of light and sweet romance; tulips, daffodils, babies breath, or wildflowers.
He would tuck a flower behind her ear and then kiss her gently.
"You are lovely. I believe a gardenia might be the flower for you but they don't grow around here. Lady Day used to put one behind her ear when she sang."
They kept each other company throughout the summer. Although they made out, they never hooked up. Beth told him she wasn't ready. He didn't push. It was sweet and innocent like something out of a Jane Austen book.
When Donny headed back to Brown, he promised to stay in touch.
"No, you won't. But that's okay. I've had a great time!"
Beth shed some tears but tried to let go easily. She had learned so much about herself from Donny. Just like from readings of great poets, mystics and the holy books.
She thought about how life progresses. God puts people in your path to show you the softness of a rose petal. Another to point out the wonder of a tangerine or beauty of an aquamarine sunrise. Perhaps to see their unique smile on Christmas morning. Nothing is promised.
High school was more of a challenge. In biology class, there was a sweet quiet girl with severe acne, Kim Frost. All the kids had to pick someone else to work with in lab. They were given a frog to dissect. Kim opened the lid and began to cry.
Beth came to her rescue.
"I hate this too. It's cruel!"
Neither of them had ever had a close friend. Kim was a refreshing change from the girls who wanted to hook up for sex just so a guy would like you, or followed the latest fashion craze. Neither had a web page with photos looking like you iced your nipples.
"Don't you hate that crap?"
They liked the same authors, the best colleges and kept journals. They spend the night at each other's houses, went to cool art theaters that showed environmental, antiwar documentaries and cultural films. They hung out at "The Crystal Cave Book Shelf" sipping herbal teas and sharing ideas to improve the world.
Over the next couple of years, they found other people like them. Kim really was having problems handling labs. They were dissecting cats now for anatomy and physiology. She wore a mask and goggles snd was laughed at. Other kids were posing their cats in gross positions.
Finally, there were four friends; all loved to write. Beth had started her diary when she was ten. The first one had a heart shaped lock and she wrote every night with her secrets, hopes and dreams.
Beth, Kim, Lisa, and Dwayne would bounce ideas off each other and then read the pieces they had created. They each had different genres they enjoyed. Dwayne was an intense Science Fiction writer. Lisa loved fantasy. Kim wrote realistic horror stories, which was amazing since she was terrified of almost everything. Her stories had creatures whose descriptions horrified the others. She said the characters came subconsciously as she wrote.
Beth sent two of her best stories to adolescent magazines for girls. When she received rejections, she cried like a small child.
Kim gave her a hard time.
"So you're going to quit after a couple of attempts? That is so not cool!"
Kim helped Beth out with editing. One story, that she was sure was a waste of time, actually won. It was about a girl traveling through time to meet her mother when she was a teenager. She won a hundred dollars. The other was about a service dog that was stolen from a thirteen year old blind girl. It was a heart breaker where they were reunited in the end after the girl is hit by a car.
Mrs. Roosevelt, her literature teacher, suggested Beth apply to write for the school paper.
Then, in their normally quiet town, a terrible thing happened.
Beth almost lost her life.
Beth had to go back to the Chem lab late one evening to get her notebook. Usually there was an off duty cop, Grady, who worked security in the evenings. Beth didn't see him around. She found the lab door open and saw kids dressed with plain black hooded jackets on. They were taking stuff from the lab. They had burners, glass flasks, thermometers, and different types of tubing and pipes. They were putting the stuff into canvas bags.
Quietly, she managed to hide under the teacher's desk and watched, making notes.
There had been stories about rural areas having an increase in homemade crystal meth labs. The cops had even put undercover guys in schools.
She told her friends about the incident. Each of them singled out a kid to watch. Jesse Planter, Doug Addison and Louie Ferrier were known to be "slackers". They had already racked up juvenile records for underage drinking and marijuana possession, stealing and driving without a license. They ditched school a lot and when they were there, they were usually smoking reefer behind the school. Lately, the three of them had new stuff; really expensive MP3 players, new stereos for their vehicles and new clothes.
One afternoon, right after middle school got out, Beth saw a buy going down by Jesse. It was to a kid about twelve. She was sick as she watched. She wanted to take a photo with her cell phone but couldn't get a good angle. Making sure no one saw her, she went to the cops.
They asked for her help.
"How would you feel about being wired?"
She would wear a camera and the cops would be close by so an arrest could go down while it was happening. She and her parents agreed to it. What a great beginning for her journalism career and she wasn't afraid, just excited about doing something to make a difference.
Beth's room was downstairs, right next to the garage. She loved her privacy. She had decorated it herself, mostly with retro artwork she loved that inspired her writing. Her bed was a futon and she had bean bags. Her friends came and they could relax. Her stereo was great with kick ass speakers. She had floor length windows and her own bath.
Outside one window was the "dream tree". It was an old oak with cool branches large enough you could sit on them. She would write, read or just dream. It had taken her years before she would sit in the lowest branch but her friends could climb to the sky. She would look up there and knew someday she would be at the top, she smiled thinking about catching a star.
Her parents had found o vintage black light and she turned it on. The curtain sheers were like a mist over the sky.
Right now a breeze was gently moving. It was cold in here. How could that be? She thought she had checked the windows to see if they were closed. Her parents were upstairs. Their home had an excellent security system. It was programmed for windows and doors to be closed at night at a certain time unless changed. So an alarm should be going off.
Suddenly her heart was pounding. She was covered in a cold sweat. She reached for her cell phone then felt a sharp point at her neck.
"You bitch, you think you can screw with me and get away with it?"
She couldn't move. She felt sticky liquid and caught the rusty smell of blood.
'Dear God Is this how it all ends? Please let it be fast.'
"Do you see how easy I could open this pulsing jugular vein, so full of life? What a sweet little neck. I could make it really hurt, ripping it slowly."
His breath smelled like rotten meat. "Don't give me no reason to finish you. Are we cool?"
"I don't want to see you around me, you too cute to die, dude!"
Then Jesse was gone.
She wiped the blood from her neck, carefully putting the tissue in a plastic snack bag. Her hand was shaking but she was thinking straight. She called the cops.
Jesse was caught close by. He was charged with possession and sale of Crystal Meth plus attempted manslaughter.
Thanks to Beth's notes, photos and precise journalism, the story on the shakedown won an award from The Phoenix Sun, the city paper. Lottie Hampton was there with their Mayor to give Beth an award for both Civil work and a scholarship for Arizona State University in Literature. Her parents were so proud. The best part was the security put in place at the middle schools and now parents knew what was going on.
Beth graduated from Roosevelt High School with honors. She was walking on air about college. Life couldn't possibly be more exciting. One day she was walking through the park, thinking about her next plot and feeling the breeze gently stir her hair.
Tony Martin was just waiting to complete her happiness. His approach was as spontaneous as he proved to be. He had seen the article and picture in the paper.
"Hi beautiful, I'm Tony. Let's go to dinner and a movie."
She was so surprised she didn't have time to get nervous.
"I'm Beth and I am starving."
She couldn't believe she had just said this. He was good looking, tall and lanky, strawberry hair, dimples and green eyes that sparkled with the joy of life.
Beth was five foot and five inches tall, with dark auburn hair and copper eyes, freckles and what Tony called "kissable lips."
The two made a beautiful couple.
They went to "The Varsity" and ordered the same: chili dogs, onion rings and frosted orange shakes. They ended up talking for two hours discovering how much they had in common and missed the movie.
"I'm majoring in business, can't stand it. My Uncle Don said I can use it in whatever I do. That made sense."
"You've got plenty of time. What about your parents?"
"My parents were killed in a car crash. I was ten so I have some great memories. They had left me alone to go to a movie.It was "Apollo 13". I remember cops coming to the door. I coould describe everything in detail about that night even the smells."
Tears traced his cheeks as he recalled the terrifying news. Beth took a napkin and gently wiped them away.
His Grandma, "Mama Martin" raised him.
"I go every Sunday for the best home cooking and a megadose of unconditional love."
They discovered that both of them were liberal politically. They loved art museums, plays and live music.
He loved all sports.
Beth announced, "'I can learn to love sports”.
She told him the story of the undercover buy and how she had been writing for years. He seemed genuinely interested and asked to read some of her stories.
Beth sat at Grandma Martin's table the next Sunday; Anna Belle Martin was sixty but looked years younger. Her white hair looked like silk angel hair used at Christmas. Her complexion was lovely with laugh wrinkles. You could tell she wasn't a smoker or sun worshipper. She had gentle blue eyes, and a laugh that reminded one of Tinkerbell from Peter Pan fame. She truly enjoyed other people. She questioned Beth about her entire life. Grandma asked questions so sweetly and discreetly, Beth just answered truthfully. This woman could have worked undercover for the FBI.
Tony and Beth spent every day they could with each other. Beth was still living at home and paying rent. She cooked dinner one night and Tony was impressed with her Yankee Pot Roast. Her Mom and Dad really liked him. He showered Mom with compliments about everything, her beauty, cooking and her eye for five card stud. Tony could make her Mom giggle.
Dad acted almost immediately like this was the son he had been waiting for. Beth would listen to them during a football game and it was like they had been doing it for years. Throwing pillows, arguing about calls, just grownup men acting like kids.
Beth had told him she had trust issues and he took it all very slow. The kissing was wonderful and touching each other was a sensuous adventure. He was so good at kissing, her clothes were almost off by the time she realized it.
Then he wasn't her white knight.
"Tony! What the hell? Could you give a girl some warning, huh?"
"Baby, that is not what this is about. Could you relax and leave this in my capable hands? I love you!"
"No, I can't relax." She put her underwear back on.
"Don't you trust me?"
"Yes, but...." he silenced her mouth.
He turned down the lights and made a bed on the floor. They got under a quilt. He looked around on TV for a movie and they just cuddled. She relaxed, trusting his big warm hands.
The movie was "Pillow Talk" with Rock Hudson and Doris Day and they laughed. It was silly and out of date yet just right and something they would always remember.
He looked deeply into her eyes and saw Beth, his best friend and future spouse. He was so gentle. He even brought her to climax before he enjoyed himself. After that, she couldn't get enough.
"Hey, give a man time to breathe. Who knew? Under all that shyness is the heart of a nymphomaniac!"
She turned crimson from head to toe.
So out of that very first time, a very special sperm was allowed past Beth's anxieties and the ovum accepted. A beautiful baby curled up for a nine month nap.
A month later, he drove her up to the mountaintops where he loved to hike. She had told him about her fear of heights and he gently touched her cheek.
"Life is too short to be scared, darling, we'll work on it."
He watched her face at various moments. 'This girl isn't kidding, she is scared to death.'
He offered to turn around but she refused. Her knuckles were white and her face was glistening with sweat. She had the guts to test herself and he loved that.
At the top, they got out of the car. Beth held his arm with a death grip. The waterfall was perfection and there was a rainbow reflected in the crystal pool far below.
It was the right time; he got down on one knee and proposed.
She forgot to be frightened when he surprised her with his great Grandma's engagement ring. It was in an exquisite antique setting with a one half carat diamond surrounded with rubies. It fit perfectly like this was all meant to be.
The ring was the surprise. Marriage was mentioned when they anxiously watched that plus sign on the pregnancy test. They talked about options. Tony had reacted with a "let's think about this."
They married at the courthouse. She wore a lace ivory above the knee dress found for $25 at a thrift store, carried a bouquet of various colors of wildflowers with satin ribbons.
The two of them personalized a poem Beth had penned years ago. When it was finished, it rang with the emotions they wanted to convey. So they took turns with the stanzas.
I am a crystal ship
with a fragile heart.
I sail your seas, my Captain,
no fear of breaking apart.
Tony: Tis sacred love I seek,
soft, easy; a gentle breeze.
Surrounded by your embrace,
tenderness will sustain me.
Beth: When storms of life
batter my vessel,
you are my foundation
anchored in faith and love.
Tony: Forever I will sail your seas,
travel smooth or turbulent waters.
Lulled by your love song
the moon watches safely over thee.
Beth finished: When I reach eternal rest,
I lay my head upon your hull.
You cradle me in gentle waves
I shall sleep well, my Captain, my love.
Beth's parents surprised them with a wedding reception. There were close relatives, friends and a beautiful bridal cake. It had the bride and groom on top surrounded by petite pink roses.
They came home to an apartment Tony had rented with money he had saved. The thrift store, her parents donated furniture and various bridal gifts furnished their home and clothes closet. It was eclectic yet charming. Beth was still a student and writing a column for the freshman paper, "Hunter's Happenings." She wanted to continue school as long she could since she had a scholarship.
Tony knew he had to take a full time job with a baby on the way. He was always an athletic guy, playing four sports in high school. He wanted to help in his community so he took a course for four months to be a firefighter. This job terrified Beth when she thought of the danger. She didn't speak her fears. Being positive was one of her personal promises for their marriage. She was making an effort to let God be in charge. Whatever happened He would carry them through.
When Tony completed his course, Beth was there and cheered him! She was seven months pregnant and miserable with swollen ankles.
"You are the most radiant woman I have ever seen."
"I feel like a hippo but you're sweet!"
"Lady, do you know you're stubborn and can't take a compliment?"
"All right, I am a shining hippo."
Right after the graduation Grandma Martin had a stroke and was hospitalized. She was going to need extended rehabilitation to recover. Beth and Tony tried to go a couple times a week to see her.
Tony and the guys from Fire Station 54 dressed up like clowns. They took the big hook and ladder to the hospital and staged a get away from the fifth floor. The nurses were all in on it. Everyone had a blast including Grandma with only one side of her face smiling.
They finished the nursery. The ceiling had a crystal blue sky with animal clouds. The borders of white sailboats on a serene sapphire sea. The furniture was furnished by Beth's parents. It was all so new and exciting, down to the precious tiny clothes for their little boy. Beth would lay them out, gently touch them, refold and put them away. She would softly sing lullabies while rocking in the new rocker while rubbing her gift of joy.
They finally decided on a name for their sweet boy, Grayson. The two agreed life could not be better. Soon he would be sleeping in the beautiful cherry crib with blankets Beth had crocheted.
Tony was supposed to be off on Mondays. Now that he was Assistant Chief, but he had to respond if someone called in sick.
Paul Ossner, a fellow firefighter, had an emergency appendectomy the night before and the two of them were visiting him.
There was a five alarm fire at an apartment building for lower income people in the worst area of town. The place probably wasn't up to code. Often the fire extinguisher boxes were broken and robbed or the alarms didn't have fresh batteries. There is no way to know how many people were trapped. He didn't tell Beth anything. She knew he had to go. Another firefighter picked him up at the hospital. That way Beth could have the car.
He gave her a sweet kiss. His world revolved around her and Grayson.
"I love you, darling," he whispered, then kissed her bulging belly. He was walking on a cloud. All was awesome in his world.
Beth saw his bright 'all is great' smile and felt Grayson move, a little elbow or knee.
Tony saw the fire leaping, licking the old wooden apartments. He went right to work. He saw a small child waving from a window five floors up. In a matter of fifteen minutes, Tony saved that four year old with the cherry picker, handing him to another of his men. He was ready to get out of that firetrap. He had never been afraid but now he was about to be a father and that thought kept running through his mind.
Then he heard another child crying. It coud be Grayson and another firefighter would be doing what comes naturally to a trained firefighter .He turned around.
That was his last coherent thought before a wall caved in on him.
He was pinned from the waist down. He slipped in and out of consciousness mentioning Beth, Grayson, his own parents. He was bleeding constantly from his large groin (femoral) vein. They couldn't get him out in time or reach the limb to stop the bleeding. He just stopped breathing from shock due to blood loss.
One of the other guys recovered the crying baby but sadly, both the firefighter and child succumbed to burns and respiratory distress. Lives were lost that day but many residents got out thanks to the brave men of Station 54.
The Memorial was beautiful with so many people from the community. Police units, ambulances and rescue units came from other towns. It was a sea of red lights. There were bagpipes.
Beth was in another place. She could not tell you who spoke. Someone handed her the urn. 'This couldn't be Tony'.
It took a month before Beth could stand on the cliff where she is was so afraid. It is the very mountain where Tony had proposed to her. Tony had never been afraid. She opens the container and Tony's ashes blow everywhere, on her clothes and even in her eyes. The wind whips around her and she feels raw pain. Tony is free now, a part of nature that he loved so much.
Beth grabs on to a tree close to the edge. She can feel Tony's strength all around her. She can let go and cry. She sees clearly that when your time comes, God wraps you in His arms of love.
Beth whispers, "Tony, I will always cherish our love. I hear your laughter in the wind. This child I carry will know his Dad died a hero, saving a little boy."
Beth had a life ahead wrapped up with their child. She could help care for Grandma Martin who had insisted Beth live with her. Being with Tony's Grandma is what Tony would want and they would help each other heal.
By Kathie Stehr