Bethany: Part XIII
But of course there’s love and then there’s love – the ancients recognized almost as many kinds of love as the Eskimos do snow, but in today’s black and white world the only one society sanctions is the love, marriage, baby carriage variety, and, despite, the tenderness of that sylvan night, both Bethany and I knew our relationship wasn’t going to lead to any of that. In a way you could see the whole thing as cold, clinical even, just two people using each other to promote their own individual agendas, me trying to research a character I one day realized was very worth knowing, and Bethany remedying the few gaps in her otherwise complete education, and, in fact, after that night our affair seemed to gradually lose momentum. Bethany’s attention was already focused ahead to college, as she plotted out her inevitably great success there, while I was becoming preoccupied with the coming summer to end all summers, in Cape May, where Heather, Virginia and I were to pursue yet another winding in our convoluted destinies.
But love, even our seemingly rational kind, is inexorable. True, once we were both in college, we hardly ever saw each other, but when we did, like that weekend she came to my school to visit our mutual friend Bets, we always seemed to end up together in a quite compromising (if enjoyable) position. When we were both back in Pittsburgh four years later there were more opportunities, and even after she married, had multiple babies and became quite respectable, the results when we met were quite often the same. We were intimate but not close, and when either of us wanted something we weren’t supposed to, or needed a favor we didn’t want to explain, we turned to each other.
Which brings me to exactly where I am now (remember?). Even though I’m not sure why I’m at the tower and can’t really recall how I got here, it’s no surprise to me that I’m with Bethany and that she’s the one that drove me here. And now that I’ve kissed her I’m not at all sure I want to get out of the car.
But in the back of my mind, behind all that stuff I simply can’t remember, is something else, something I don’t want to remember, and as I sit here, gradually waking up, coming to myself, surrounded by this subtle but oppressive sickly sweet smell, still feeling the press of her dry lips, I can’t keep it away anymore, the dark end of Bethany’s story.
"Jesus, Bethany, wait a minute…" And then Bethany, Bethany who worked in a hospital and who’d always been this glowing, healthy person, got sick. Even though she’d struggled and strategized with all her considerable fortitude and ingenuity, death had proven even more inexorable than love. "Bethany!" I’d visited her about a few weeks before the end, when she thought it was still important to believe she was going to beat it, but was beginning to realize she wasn’t, and it still stands as one of the most painful moments in my life, especially since I had no more official place in her death than I’d had in her life. "I mean you are, aren’t you? That’s not a dream."
"No, no, it’s not."
"Oh, man, oh, shit." I feel hot, sick, panicked, clawing for a door handle I can’t seem to find.
"Will you calm down, UBU?"
"Calm down! Well, first of all, Bethany, first of all you’re dead, O.K.?"
"You think I don’t know it?"
"And I’m sitting in this fucking car with you and I just fucking kissed you…"
"And second," I gesture vaguely toward the Tower, as if it represents the whole of the outside world. "Second – don’t you realize that after all this, don’t you realize what they’re going to say about me, your family and your friends and everybody, about me being with you and talking about you this way? They’re all going to go nuts, about how I dishonored your name, how I exploited the memory of a dead woman, dragged you through the mud and all that."
"Oh, no, UBU, can’t you see? I want to be here, I want you to think about me this way, to talk about me like this. They’re all – I’m so tired of being someone’s shining star or perfect angel and all that stuff. You’re the only one who still thinks of me as a woman, a woman who eats and drinks and fucks, a woman who’s alive, and that makes me feel…" She chokes up and sobs, and I finally look her full in the face again, realizing that she can’t cry any more. "Makes me feel like I’m me again." She tries to collect herself, wiping at the tears that aren’t there. "Right here. I know that right here is the only place that I’m still alive. So don’t stop. Don’t let them stop you."
"Bethany." I put my hand to her cold cheek. "You know, I never had a chance to say good-bye."
"No," she said. "No, and don’t you ever say it."
"Right, Bethany, I just…"
"Just go, all right? Don’t be a smart ass for once. Just go on up to the Tower and do all your stupid things. We’ll be together again soon enough.’
"O.K., sure, fine." This time I find the handle easily enough and step out of the car, then look back to her. "See you."
"Yes," she says. "Yes, you will."
I start walking to the Tower.