Nils died, and Monica left soon after, and then Scott Beeman was alone.
But not all alone. There was the fog surrounding him since the son’s death. And there was the vision that kept appearing to him, the one of 15-year-old Nils stretched out on the Saltillo tile of the downstairs bathroom, head in the toilet, face purple, body stiffening from rigor mortis.
And he had the bottles.
Bottles of whatever. That’s what this father drank to soften the memory of a son who died with no reason or explanation and a wife who left soon after.
Nils Beeman died July 19. He died when he choked on his own vomit, brought up by a virus he was believed to have contracted from contaminated water at a golf course where he played earlier in the week.
Nils died on his 15th birthday. His father, Scott, dies a little more each day.
There is no moral to this story and no great lesson to be learned. This is a story of a father who loved his son.
The story begins with Nils. He loves golf. He has been playing since he was 5, when his grandmother sent him a set of plastic golf clubs. He had his first golf lesson at age 7. Now he’s 14, a sophomore at Mountain Pointe High School, a promising golfer and a polite kid who says hello to everyone and calls his friends’ parents “Mr.” and “Mrs.”
We couldn’t have raised a better son, the boy’s parents told people.
Scott loves golf and Scott loves Nils. He knows this will be the last summer he’ll get Nils’ undivided attention. Next year, the boy will be driving and will have a job.
So Scott, a real estate agent in Ahwatukee, lightens his workload to spend time with his son.
The kid beats him at golf every time. Scott’s not even close anymore, testimony both to Nils’ ability and his drive to be a better golfer, which has him and his golf clubs taking the bus most every day to the local course to practice.
At the Ahwatukee Lakes course two months before, Nils took a pitching wedge on No. 14 and made a 95-yard hole in one.
Nils can’t play enough golf. On Tuesday, he played in a junior tournament at the Thunderbirds Golf Course in south Phoenix. It’s a beautiful course, named one of the 10-best new public courses in the country. It was hot that day, and Nils drank lots of water provided by the course in coolers.
It is Thursday night, now. Tomorrow, Nils and his father will golf again.
Scott comes home from work to find Monica and Nils talking in the kitchen. None of them really wants dinner. They go to Dairy Queen instead and get Blizzards and hot-fudge sundaes. Nils lifts some weights, and they spend the rest of the night watching television together in the master bedroom.
Nils is his regular self, talking, joking, being an attentive son to two loving parents.
Shortly after 8:30 p.m., Nils gets ready to go to sleep. He’ll set his alarm for 4:30 a.m. and wake his dad in the morning.
“Mom,” he says, “will you put me to bed?”
The request is not unusual, but as Nils has gotten older, it has happened less often.
“Whoa, buddy,” Monica says, a mother to a son, smiling. “You’re getting to the age where you can put yourself to bed.”
So he will. He kisses his parents goodnight — Scott on the head because it’s not cool to be too affectionate to your dad — and goes downstairs to his bedroom. He sleeps on the top bunk of a bunk bed, the room filled with his basketball trophies and sports pennants and the poster he made for school about himself and how much he likes sharks.
The light is just getting bleary — it is almost 6 a.m. — when Scott is awakened by Monica.
“Why are you still here?”
“Nils was supposed to wake me up,” Scott says. “I guess he overslept.”
Scott walks to the stairs and sees the lights on in Nils’ bathroom and bedroom.
He calls out to him, but there is no answer. He calls out again. No answer.
He walks downstairs and into the bathroom.
There is Nils. His head is in the toilet. His lean body is stretched on the floor.
Scott turns him over. Nils’ face is purple. His eyes are wide open. His jaw is locked.
His face is frozen in an expression that Scott will later describe as “Please help me.”
“Monica! Monica!” Scott yells. “Nils is dead! Nils is dead!”
They call 911. The operator tells them how to open his jaw. It doesn’t work. Paramedics arrive and usher Scott and Monica into the living room.
They come out of the bathroom a few minutes later. There’s nothing they can do. A Phoenix police detective arrives. The coroner’s staff arrives. A crime-scene photographer arrives.
It is five hours that the Beemans wait in the living room until Nils’ body is taken away.
Nothing makes much sense in the days after Nils’ death. No one knows what killed him. Maricopa County won’t release the body until more tests are done. Other kids who golfed at the Thunderbirds course are turning up sick, but only Nils died.
The Beemans go through the motions of burying a child. They visit three mortuaries and, each time, Scott seems to be outside of himself, watching a dream.
“I’d rather be buying Nils a car,” he tells his brother one day.
The funeral, on the 25th, is a blur. People are saying nice things, that they’re sorry, but Scott doesn’t process it.
His son is dead. This was going to be their summer.
At the burial, a friend of Scott shoos people away from the casket. Scott wants to open it one more time.
He does, and he kisses his boy goodbye.
Then he loses it. The day before Nils died, Scott Beeman, who had on-and-off struggles with the bottle for years, had been sober for nine months.
“Take me to a liquor store,” he tells a friend.
It is a few months later. The bottles are stacking up.
Right after the funeral, Monica left for California to be with family for a few days. She came back. They are grieving still. They are fighting more.
“I wish you never had introduced Nils to golf,” Monica says during a quarrel one night. “If you hadn’t, he might be alive now.”
“She was hurting,” he says later. “I don’t think she meant it.”
Within days of the quarrel, Scott has mixed himself a new cocktail: muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety drugs, both prescribed to him by the psychiatrist he and Monica saw right after Nils’ death, but not to be taken in the quantities Scott swallowed them in.
Monica finds him, and it’s another call to 911.
Scott spends four days in intensive care.
In September, Monica files for divorce.
“We just have different ways of grieving,” she’ll say later.
“Nils was the center of our world,” Scott will say. “Once Nils died, our relationship did, too.”
Scott is alone in their two-story house in Ahwatukee. Monica has moved to Minnesota to be with her family.
He goes to meetings for parents who have lost their kids and sees parents still mourning hard 15 years after their kid’s death. He’s drinking. He’s looking out the kitchen window at the patch of grass Nils used to practice his putting on.
He drives down the street and picks up his cellphone to call Nils. He puts the phone down and cries.
This happens often.
He’s driving. A lot of this happens when he’s driving. The vision comes up again. Nils. The toilet. The expression on his face. The vision creeps in from the side, takes over his field of sight.
This happens often, too.
It is the holidays. Things are screwed up in Scott’s life. Monica’s still in Minnesota, Scott’s trying to stop drinking, the fog is still hanging around him.
His son’s death was a public one. The virus that authorities deduced was in the water sickened 82 other golfers on the course that day.
Scott, who has never had a great real estate practice in the Valley, is doing his job, but not doing it really well.
So many people at the office ask Scott about Nils’ death — How are things going? How are you doing? — that he begins to work out of the house.
So he’s at home, and sometimes, the kitchen lights flicker. Scott has read a book about Heaven communicating with Earth and likes the flickering lights. Maybe that’s Nils.
The golf course is up for sale. Scott and Monica are suing the companies that owned the Thunderbirds course. Scott’s angry.
He’s having trouble going to the cemetery alone.
But he does.
It is Christmas. He walks to Nils’ grave to put some new flowers on it. Monica sent them.
Scott is overwhelmingly sad.
He talks to Nils.
I love you, I miss you.
He breaks down again. The sadness doesn’t wash over him, it pours.
It is yesterday, any day in the past month-and-a-half.
He’s thinking again of killing himself.
Scott wakes up in the mornings and hits his knees to pray. Is that the good that came out of this? A man’s faith is restored, sort of, kind of? He goes to church again on Sunday and prays there, too.
And he talks to Nils — I love you, I miss you — and then he exercises because it makes him feel a little human.
He goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
If it’s a good day, he only goes to one.
He finishes the meeting, he tries to work. He feels weak. He calls people from his AA program. All day long, he calls them, passing the hours, talking through the fog, the visions and the pain, always the pain.
“If I didn’t have these people,” he says, “I would have ended it all by now.”
This is where Scott is today:
He’s working. He’s more than 45 days’ sober, though that’s a chore. It was easier when Nils would say “Dad, you need to go to a meeting.”
He still thinks about killing himself. He runs his hand through his sandy-red hair when he talks about Nils.
He sees the world through red-rimmed eyes. He cries a lot. He’s still grateful when the lights flicker.
The Thunderbirds course was sold at auction for $4.8 million last week.
Scott’s lawsuit against the two management companies continues. So does his anger.
The burden he carries about Nils has not gotten any lighter, though he says he does not feel guilty about introducing his son to golf. Where else, he’ll say, could he have spent so many hours laughing and joking with Nils?
He does wonder why Nils is dead. There are no easy answers to that question.
Sports Illustrated will have a story on Scott next week. For that story, and for this one, he has been asked countless questions that tore at whatever healing had begun.
But in truth, there wasn’t much.
All he has is Sunday church and the daily prayers, the conversations to keep him going, the pictures of Nils around the house.
He has got the fog and the visions and the unanswered questions.
But mostly what Scott Beeman has is the overwhelming sense of being alone.