I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped bring this book to life, but I am especially indebted to the following people:
The magnificent production team: Beverly van Druten-Blais of Bolten Studios for the design, layout and formatting of the inside pages; Victor Crapnell for his beautiful cover design—and patience as we worked through all the details; Catherine “The Eye” Hamilton for her painstaking and meticulous proofing job; and Jason Dauphinee for designing such a whimsical and delightful bookmark—a must for every good book.
My courageous ‘beta readers’ who helped bring the book to a higher level: Sherry Archer, Aimee King, Mary Stewart, and June Archer. My editor, sounding board, rock, and best friend, Bev Beauchesne, who had faith in my ability to write and tell stories—even when I didn’t. Her encouragement has meant the world to me, not just while I was writing this book, but for the last thirty-five years of our friendship. Everyone should be so blessed.
The professionals at Trafford Publishing, especially my Rep. Jolene Lowey, who patiently walked me through the challenging publishing process. My friends at The Malahat Group for their encouragement and abounding enthusiasm, especially Sue Ball for her wit and wisdom at the fax machine. My three muses, who taught me everything I know about unconditional love and the ultimate in creativity: Tommy King, Aimee King, and Melissa Adams.
My eternal thanks to the magical Abby Gardner for making me a boo. My partner in life, Eric Adams, who helps me through the daily round, whose sweet belief in this book touched my heart and made it easier to get up at four o’clock in the morning every day to write. And a special thanks to the Ford Motor Company, for permission to use the image of the Mustang on the cover and for building such a wondrous, spirited car. Last, but always first, God, my Creator and Co-author. Thank you.
In loving memory of my mother and father,
Marion and Bill Miettinen.
I will love you forever and ever.
Life Before Beth
Beth came into our lives on the day Judy Garland died. My mother cried when she heard the news. In March of that same year both Paul McCartney and John Lennon got married. I cried when I heard the news. I was too young to really care about Judy’s death, but both Beatles marriages disappointed me. I thought they could do better. I thought they should have waited for someone else, someone more like me. In May, St. Christopher, along with thirtyone other saints got the boot from the Vatican and were forever banished from the Roman Catholic calendar. My father, a long time renegade from the Catholic Church was outraged that the only saint worth a prayer could be treated so unjustly. Who was going to save his soul? Who was going to protect him from himself ? What would he do with the fourteen karat gold St. Christopher’s medallion he wore around his neck, the one his beloved mother gave him the day he left to go overseas to fight in the “War to End all Wars?” She gave it to him to protect him from the “bullets and bombs,” he always said. Too bad she wasn’t wearing one herself the Saturday evening she stepped off the curb, her body, mind and soul freshly cleansed after five minutes in the confessional, when a drunk driver in a beat-up pick-up truck, with its right headlight burned out, ran a red light and struck her dead instantly. She was three days shy of her sixtieth birthday. My father didn’t even know she was dead until he returned from the war but by then everyone in his family had moved on with their lives and were unwilling to grieve or shed another tear for her. I never knew my grandfather because my father never forgave him for the way he mistreated his mother all their married life and for not being the one hit by that truck. My father was convinced that had the drunk not killed her, his old man surely would have. They hadn’t spoken since my grandfather, with his new and very pregnant wife hanging on his arm, told him the news about his mother’s death like he was talking about one of the checkout girls at Kresges.
It was a year full of rock star weddings and suicides, movie star deaths, trips to the moon, starvation in Biafra, a war in Vietnam, civil unrest in Ireland, protests everywhere, Woodstock, Charles Manson, Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. With all that going on in the world, my meeting Beth was hardly significant let alone newsworthy, but it was the single most important moment in my life, an event that changed me forever.
“Do you believe in euthanasia?” That was the first thing she asked me. The truth is, I didn’t know what she was talking about. Until I met her I couldn’t even spell words like that much less have an opinion. Not that I wasn’t intelligent; I was young with limited experience. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about important issues, it’s just that my world was small and the things that concerned me didn’t extend much further than the street I lived on. That bland, anywhere street, with its plain ordinary people casually two-stepping from one pointless day to the next was the subject matter of my life. For it to have been otherwise never crossed my mind. Then Fate—that ingenious painter of destiny—stepped forward and threw open the door to a whole new world, a world that terrified me one day and excited me the next.
I thought she was crazy of course, but beautiful, not in a Cosmo cover girl way, more like some mysterious alien from an episode of Twilight Zone where this exotic creature disguised in human form invaded the neighborhood and took over everyone’s minds so that everything they did was orchestrated and controlled by her. She was a funny person too. No one, I mean no one could make me laugh like she could. But at the same time there was always something beneath the surface of her laughter that haunted me. Like God didn’t give her everything—beauty, brains, wit and talent weren’t enough—like something more important was missing. All the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were there except for one right in the middle, the most critical one connecting all the other pieces. It was like she had this hole in her heart and everything she did was about filling it. She was the loneliest person I had ever met. She pursued one interest after another with such voracity and intensity it was exhausting at times—like she had this list of things she was going through, checking them off day-by-day with only a sliver of time to do them in. But at the same time it was all a big game to her too—a game that didn’t come without its rules. Rule number one: don’t talk about it—especially if it’s bad. I was already good at that because it was also rule number one in our family. Rule number two: pretend it isn’t happening and maybe it’ll go away. I had that one mastered too. In our family whenever anything bad was happening we denied it, to each other, but more importantly, to ourselves and I wore the crown. I was the “Queen of Denial” as my father always said. Rule number three: above all else have fun. I knew very little about this rule, at least not the way she defined it—let loose, throw caution to the wind, worry about it tomorrow if you have to and maybe tomorrow will never come and above all else don’t think about the consequences because chances are there won’t be any—but I was about to get a crash course in the art of fun and little did I know that I was being tutored by a master.
One week she was an actress, New York bound, then she was the next Alfred Hitchcock directing her horrifying version of Romeo and Juliet with me and Harold as the star-crossed lovers, then, thank God, she abandoned that flea-brained idea for photography, recording our every move with her Nikon, our entire lives frozen in black-and-white rectangles. Then there was her stint as the Joni Mitchell clone, her guitar slung over her slender shoulders like an over-sized purse, always looking for an opportunity to play the four chords she had mastered: A - C - D and G. It was astounding the number of songs she could play with just those four chords. The only thing I do know for sure, that had I not met Beth I would not be who I am today. In a lot of ways, you probably would have thought otherwise because to an outsider I have a pretty ordinary life, exactly how most people would have thought it would turn out. But the things I’m talking about you can’t see. My interior life, the way I think and feel and see the world around me—all my thoughts and emotions were re-constructed that summer so that a completely different person emerged.
On the day she moved in across the street it was a large-sky, sunshine-dripping Saturday morning; a typical Northwestern Ontario summer was unfolding with its relentless heat, humidity and the smell of freshly laid asphalt. Paving companies had three or four good months to cover the roads and driveways of our town with the steaming black ooze before the entire place froze over— the first thing you’d smell in the morning, the last thing at night, every dream laced with the odor, the color of your worst nightmare, the last drawn breath of the summer dying.
It’s uncanny that years and the passage of time haven’t dulled the memory of our first meeting. How could so much living pile up on top of one summer and still have the events be so crystallized, so vividly laid out before me like I was watching a movie? Perhaps because I have relived it a million times since, replaying over and over every detail in my mind, every word spoken and every breath in-between, every pause, every single gesture. I’ve been helpless, unable to let go. It is my hope that through the telling of the story of Beth, and what she did to our lives that summer, that I will be set free, not from the memory of her because that I cherish, but from the burden that I have carried in my heart and soul for the last twenty-five years.