They’re burying a friend of mine in 12 hours.
Her name was Beth. Beth Hill, when I knew her most, and Beth Hill Taylor after she got married. She loved that – the idea that she was, effectively, Elizabeth Taylor. In name if not in historic fact. That alone tells you a lot about her.
I met Beth through college radio – she and I both were DJs at the Jefferson State Community College station just outside of Birmingham. We both LOVED radio, loved the idea of being that faceless voice telling stories and spinning tunes to strangers in the night. There was no money or future in it, of course… but we did love it so. She had a voice, that Beth – raspy from the cigarettes she casually smoked and sultry in that Kathleen Turner way. She could work a mike.
After college radio, I helped Beth get a job working at a record store – Disc Jockey Records. I was an assistant manager, and so when there was an opening she was the first person I thought about. She loved being able to share her love of music with customers. Another thing we had in common.
Years passed – I moved to Atlanta, and we drifted apart. I had kids to raise. I was thinking about reconnecting with Beth a few months back. I did what we all do – I looked her up on the Internet. I didn’t find much, mostly a Facebook post that said she was now living in Florida, working as a nurse. I didn’t look further, or try to reconnect with her through mutual friends, because… Well, I was busy.
We’re all so busy, these days.
Then, suddenly, on a Thursday night, my wife rushes in my home office and asks “Did you know about this?” She pushes the iPhone in my face, and I see a picture of Beth on Facebook with those letters next to it. R. I. P.
Beth died suddenly, as she was staying with a friend, and I still don’t know how she died. Was it a heart condition, or a sudden stroke? Or something else. I don’t know, and I don’t want to succumb to the morbid curiosity these things provoke. All I need to know is she is gone, and I won’t be able to hear that mad cackle of a laugh anymore. Or hear her confuse Peter Sellers with Woody Allen (thinking Woody starred in I Love You Alice P Toklas). Or see her mischievous smile.
The idea that I’m losing people from my life this way… Well, I’m not happy about it, not one damn bit. It’s one thing to drift away, to lose touch. But at least then you know that somewhere they are still around, still walking the earth and breathing the same air you are – even if it is recirculated a thousand times before the oxygen molecules are shared. But to face the fact those people are no longer out there… well, it’s different.
It’s not reassuring. It’s unsettling.
Beyond music, Beth and I had a lot in common – and she introduced me to things the son of an overprotective mother would never have experienced otherwise. Through her I met my first gay couple (GASP!) and she introduced me to many other interesting people. One of those “interesting people” was the woman who would become my wife.
I was visiting some of Beth’s friends in Atlanta, and we had all been invited to the birthday party of her friend. Susan was turning 30 and we were all getting together for dinner. I met Susan in a parking garage, and That Was It. I was thunderstruck, and I think Beth was a little jealous of the attention I gave Susan at dinner (Beth and I were not dating – but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be jealous).
We were married within two years, and as I wrote this my son Hunter – 17, now – came home. I showed her a picture of Beth, and told him “This is my friend Beth. She’s a main reason you are here. She’s dead, now.”
And the first tears finally fell.
I’ve been looking through old photos all night , trying to find the One Shot of Beth that I can’t get out of my mind. At the same time I was doing college radio I was also getting into photography, and I took a lot of pictures – many of Beth. The One Shot I was looking for was Beth, in the control room of WJSR, taking a break as a song played to the handful of people listening. She was facing the camera, smiling that smirk that made her attractive to so many men. In that moment, she was in her element. Content. At peace.
I thought it, like Beth, was gone.
And then I found it.
Appropriately enough, I’m listening to music as I type this, iTunes set to random…and I have to say, God can definitely spin some tunes. It’s like iTunes is playing her greatest hits… songs that are appropriate to the head space I am in as I write and deeply think about her. Like I said before, she loved music… especially the music of David Bowie. So of course his songs start playing for me… randomly. Or so it seems. Life on Mars? Day-in Day-Out.
I found more photos, and I will find more still… thin substitute for the person lost, though… the person I didn’t try hard enough to keep in touch with. Regrets, I’ve had a few… But then again, too few to mention. The thing is, I look at these photos and I can barely remember some of these moments. The places we were, I recall… but the details are gone. Too many days have passed. The photos and memories, faded.
Another track plays on iTunes… dialogue, from the soundtrack from the movie Blade Runner.
“I’ve… seen things… you people wouldn’t believe… All those… moments… will be lost, in time, like tears… in… The rain.”
Goodbye, Beth. And thanks for being a part of my life.