Today is the third anniversary of Beth Young’s death. I wrote this that spring, and just had a look at it for the first time since then. I just thought I’d share it.
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS
I met Beth at a picnic. I was sitting close to her, we were both part of a bigger group belonging to a self-help fellowship, and did not know each other. She said she liked my tattoos, and on closer examination of my arms, asked, “do you work out? Do you do push-ups?”
I was recently divorced at the time, and had not been on the dating scene for some twenty-odd years. You might say I had never been on the dating scene; when I was young, you met someone, and you got high together, and then went to bed, in that order. That was how I’d met my first wife.
Being new to the dating scene, I did not know that “do you work out?” is a pickup line. I was flattered that she’d noticed, I thought she was pretty, and it being the fourth of July, I asked her if she wanted to go see the fireworks on the FDR drive that evening. It was our first date.
We were both in our mid forties, she two years my senior, and we had both endured difficult journeys through our lives. She had had a little more experience handling those difficulties; I was just in the process of learning how.
Beth was loud, opinionated, and funny, and as time went on I discovered she was more than a little angry. I was angry too, having just ended a twenty-year relationship on bad terms, but I had hopes of getting over it and moving on.
Beth’s anger seemed intrinsic to her character; it didn’t seem to me that she wanted to stop being angry. But I was lonely, I was sex-starved, and she was a kind, loving woman despite her anger.
Beth had long silver hair and a dancer’s body. That was her passion, dancing, and Brazilian dancing in particular. As a matter of fact, she was enamored of all things Brazilian; she had been there a few times and often spoke of wanting to live there.
I’m not crazy about brazil or the language, it’s a little to strident and different form the Spanish I grew up speaking, and it was a point of contention between us.
I know it was more than that; she was too loud, too crazy, and too kinetic for me. I knew fairly early in the game that I did not want to spend the rest of my life with her. She sensed it too, and after pointing out that I was taking more than I was giving in the relationship one too many times, I decided to call it quits.
This was a first for me as well, as I would usually stay in a relationship until a woman dumped me or I met someone new, and then I would just hide from the woman I had been with until she got the message and confronted me about it or moved on. But I called Beth and asked her to meet me somewhere to discuss something. To my surprise, she behaved like an adult and we remained friends.
Early in our relationship she had introduced me to a friend of hers, Danusia. How odd life can be sometimes.
I started dating Danusia a couple of years after breaking up with Beth, and Beth told us both how happy she was for us. In the meantime, Beth had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Beth had a mastectomy, and then underwent chemotherapy, during which she lost her beautiful long silver hair. She celebrated her baldness, wearing funny little hats but never a wig. She seemed indomitable, despite however afraid she might have been inside; her zest for life was undiminished. She kept dancing, until she had to have hip replacement surgery. She beat the breast cancer, but a few years after she was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix.
I saw Beth less and less, our circle of friends had changed and after Danusia and I married we spent less time with the friends we had in common with Beth.
I only heard about her illness through others, and one friend even suggested I might want to speak with Beth, comfort her in some way.
But I was afraid. Again, my self-centered fear caused me to reject someone I had once been close to, someone who had taught me a thing or two and had been there for me in my time of need. I kept telling myself I would go see her, especially when she was hospitalized again.
She reached a point where a hospital could do nothing for her, she was sent to a hospice. A friend told me it seemed the end was near. I asked if I could visit, but was told it was too late, she could not see anymore and the close friend that was caring for her was not allowing any more visitors. But he would take a letter for me I liked.
I wrote a heartfelt note to Beth, thanking her for the time we’d spent together and for the things I had learned from her.
A week later, a friend asked me to go see a play with her. I said yes, and was figuring out where to meet when Danusia called me at work.
“Beth is gone, she passed away this afternoon.”
I texted my friend and cancelled our date.
On my way home from work, I got on the J train at Essex Street for my daily ride across the Williamsburg Bridge. It was crowded, but a middle-aged Black man with a guitar slung across his chest managed to squeeze on. As the packed train started across the bridge the man started to strum his guitar and sing:
“Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in the town.
Sometimes I have a great notion,
To jump in the river and drown…
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I’ll see you in my dreams…”
The tears just started welling up in my eyes. I made a desperate attempt not to cry, or at least make it seem like I was not crying but had a runny nose and something in my eyes. When the guy finished singing he came around with a cap in his hand asking for donations. I only had a five-dollar bill and I put it in the hat. He looked at it and then at me with a big grin on his face. “Gee, thanks, mister!” He beamed. All I could do was force a smile and nod my head once in thanks.