State

William & Patty: A Love Story

Editor's Note: Ty Phillips’ story on William and Patty first ran March 2, 2003.

    

William paced in the hallway, collecting himself. He pulled in a few measured breaths and moved into the living room. He wore a Special Olympics T-shirt, jeans and a rare nervous expression.

When he reached Patty, William swooped down to one knee. With his right hand, he took hold of her left. Patty blushed and turned away. Then she turned back and looked her man in the eye.

He grinned boyishly, as only William can.

"Patty," he said. "Would you marry me?"

"Yes," she said, fast as the word could leave her lips.

"Oh, that's great."

William stood and wrapped his arms around his fiancée. They hugged and kissed. And kissed. And kissed.

The next night, William again anxiously walked into their living room. Again, he sank to one knee. Patty knew to hold out her hand.

"Patty, you are the most beautiful woman I've ever met in my entire life. Would you marry me?"

"Yes."

And so it went for the next seven nights: William proposing, and Patty always accepting. For William, proposing marriage was far too much fun to simply let it pass as one nerve-racking event. Besides, by the third night, he was getting pretty good at it.

Patty savored the ritual as well. She had waited all her life for this man. She dreamed of him while everyone worked to convince her she was incapable of love. When their moment finally came, they seized it.

This is a story of unwavering hope, enduring devotion and happy endings.

It began about 47 years ago.

    

When Patty Taylor was born in 1956, doctors diagnosed her with Down syndrome — a condition caused by the presence of extra genetic material — and said she likely would not live more than 30 days. She had numerous health problems, including a misshapen head and a hole in her heart the size of a silver dollar. Somehow, she survived, but progress came slowly; she did not walk until she was 4 years old.

Patty's family, except for her older brother, Ken, moved from Washington to California, where the services and programs better met her needs. The family moved into a house on Modesto's Jasmin Avenue when Patty was 13 years old. Outside of school and periodic events, Patty spent her time in either her bedroom or her play room. For the most part, she came out only to eat.

Her parents were protective and strict. While Patty was in her early 20s, they had her undergo surgery to ensure she never could get pregnant, either by abuse or through consensual sex. Love was out of the question.

As sheltered as her life was those first 45 years, it offered far more freedom than the alternative: the state-funded care homes where many people with Down syndrome end up living.

Care homes are rigid places. The good ones are homes of special magic, fostering personal growth and community purpose. However, people who work with the developmentally disabled say those facilities are outnumbered by places where the main function is sustaining life. They are businesses, often housing 20 or more residents overseen primarily by unskilled people making little more than minimum wage. Waking, eating, learning, playing and sleeping become timed exercises. Individuality is rendered useless and nearly impossible.

It's a setting William Beaber called home his entire adult life. He was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1970 and diagnosed with a moderate mental handicap.

After his family moved to California, he lived in and out of foster homes. When he was 11 years old, his mother abandoned him for good. William fell into the arms of the state.

He is a jovial teddy bear of a man, intensely curious about the world. An infectious smile rarely leaves his face. He effortlessly lapses into laughter. Yet not far below the surface lives an intense fear that those around him someday will leave him.

William and Patty met about seven years ago while they worked in a now-defunct delicatessen at the Modesto Airport. Their friendship evolved into something more, but they had no opportunity to satisfy their simmering sexualities.

Because her father didn't allow her to date, Patty saw William whenever she could: A friendly conversation at the Special Olympics. Holding hands at a holiday dance. A secret kiss at a bus stop.

Patty knew from the beginning that William was the man for her, but their love was forbidden.

And, at the time, the woman who would ride to their rescue was traipsing around Canada hounding child molesters.

    

Sandra Hall was born in Quebec in 1958. Her father was a relentless vagabond; Sandra attended 12 schools in 10 years. To this day, she never has lived anywhere longer than three years.

At 15, she gave birth to her son, Gary. She had a daughter, Dutch, 10 years later. Never finding time for college, she raised her kids mostly by slinging ale and greasy food.

As she hit her 30s, she started a free newspaper called Neighbor to Neighbor and eventually operated monthly publications in Toronto, Vancouver and Modesto.

The newspapers' primary function was advertising trustworthy child care services. In time, however, the focus evolved into printing detailed information and photographs about numerous sex offenders living in Canada.

There was one problem: Because Canada has no equivalent of Megan's Law, Sandra's actions were illegal. She began to receive serious threats. Three years ago, her children grown, Sandra left Canada and moved to Modesto.

A woman starting over.

    

Patty's mother, Maggie, died about 10 years ago. When Patty's father, Lloyd, died in 2000, she found herself with a difficult choice. Her brother offered to have Patty come live in Portland with his family. But she did not want to leave William, whom she had been seeing for about five years. She moved into an Empire care home to live with more than 20 other people.

A friend of Sandra's told her about a house on Jasmin Avenue that needed to be cleaned out, and Sandra accepted the job. Eventually, she bought the house, which once belonged to Patty's family. She started learning about Patty and wanted to meet her, touching off many trips to Patty's group home. Sometimes, Sandra brought Patty home on weekends.

"I loved everything about her," Sandra said. "I saw the world a different way when I saw how she looked at it. We'd be in public and I'd see people always looking away. And I realized I used to be one of those people.

"Not looking. And not approaching. And not realizing that she was a person with her own life, memories, feelings, friends, hopes, dreams and ambitions. She had something to contribute. She made me feel like I could be a better person."

Patty occasionally mentioned that everything would be OK if she could get back to her old home. She had difficulty with the group home's rigid scheduling, lack of privacy and the off-color language some residents used.

Patty did not know it, but Sandra already had entered a unique program called Home At Last. The program, run by The ARC of Stanislaus County, matches disabled people with people who want to share their lives and homes.

Patty's older brother, Ken, and his wife, Kathy, thought the program sounded like a good idea. They wanted to meet Sandra. Everyone agreed on a trip to Disneyland.

Patty and Sandra flew to Southern California and got a hotel room near the amusement park. They arrived late at night and climbed into their beds. Sandra did not even have time to turn on TV when Patty spoke out.

"Tell me everything you know about sex."

"Girl, we don't have enough time for me to tell you everything I know about sex."

The women laughed freely, and the mother-daughter sex talk began. Their relationship essentially started at that moment. Patty had been reined in for nearly 45 years. And if there was one thing Sandra hated, it was reins.

The women talked late into the night. Patty had questions; Sandra had answers.

"I felt a little uncomfortable at first," Sandra said. "Was I doing the right thing having this conversation? I decided my responsibility as her friend was to help her get what she needs. She knew what to ask. I'm sure she planned it while we were on the plane.

"She was so reaching out for normal. People become not normal around her. I never had a problem being normal around her. She thrived in that environment. So much time has been wasted in coddling her, trying to protect her, and hiding her."

The Disneyland trip was a tremendous success. Everyone got along well, and Patty never had seemed happier.

In July, Ken called his sister and asked if Patty wanted to live with Sandra at the Jasmin house. It was a needless question. A week later, Ken drove down and picked up Patty at the group home. As she rode away, she looked back, pumped her fists and uttered:

"I am free."

    

Patty sat on her bedroom floor with a pen and a piece of paper. She began writing out the only three words she could spell.

Patty.

William.

Love.

She printed the words again and again, then carefully began coloring in the letters. When she finished, Patty placed the paper on a dresser next to a framed picture of her mother.

She studied the photograph for a few minutes, feeling the warmth of homecoming contrasting with the sad, strange loneliness of being orphaned. She spoke out loud.

"Hi Mom. ... I love you and I miss you. ... I am back in the house."

Silence.

"I think you would really like my William. I wish you could meet him."

Silence.

"I know. ... Dad wouldn't like him much, but you would."

Sandra walked down the hall, following the soft voice coming from Patty's room. The door was slightly open. Sandra stood in the hall and admired Patty's world.

"Love Me Tender" played quietly from a stereo. Patty resumed her spot on the floor and flipped through her stack of Elvis records. She began copying song lyrics from the album jacket — letter by letter — onto a piece of paper. She sang one song while printing the words to another, oblivious to the words the letters spelled.

"Do you like that song, Mom? ... I like that one, too. ... Do you remember when you bought me that album?"

Sandra smiled. She tiptoed away, wiping tears from her eyes.

The Jasmin house felt like home.

    

Patty had spent 18 months away, and she wasted little time getting comfortable in her home again. She did things differently the second time around.

Sandra had heard that Patty liked to spend a lot of her time alone in the back of the house. Yet with Sandra's laid-back style taking the place of Patty's strict father, Patty began spending most of her free time in the living room with Sandra.

Patty attended classes and worked at Howard Training Center in Ceres, while Sandra worked at English Oaks Convalescent Hospital in Modesto. The two went out to dinners and movies. Sandra helped Patty with her homework. Sometimes at night, Patty climbed into Sandra's bed and the two shared girl talk. They often discussed what was missing in their lives: men.

That quickly changed.

Before long, Sandra and Patty began swinging by William's group home to pick him up for nights on the town.

The three of them often went dancing at Crocodiles, a Modesto nightclub. As William and Patty danced to Elvis songs, she rested her head on his chest while he looked straight ahead, serenading her in a deep voice:

Wise men say only fools rush in

But I can't help falling in love with you

One Valentine's Day, Crocodiles revelers voted William and Patty the most romantic couple there. Watching them together, Sandra realized she was seeing something beautiful unfold. In fact, she was fostering it.

"It makes me feel good that I, a simple woman, can drastically change the lives of two people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity for love," she said. "Their relationship is probably the best relationship I have ever seen. They treat each other with total kindness and respect and dignity. They admire each other. They protect each other.

"Patty knows where her man's buttons are, but not so she can punch at them or poke at them. She has learned where his buttons are so she can protect him from other people."

    

In November 2001, William received a 30-day eviction notice from his care home, mostly caused by a clash between his newfound social life and the care home's rules. The first call he placed was to the Jasmin house.

As Sandra talked to him, she marveled at how calm he seemed for a man possibly facing homelessness. Though William and Patty never admitted it, Sandra believes it was part of an elaborate scheme.

A scheme that played out masterfully.

When Sandra mentioned the idea of William moving in with them, Patty emphatically agreed. The Jasmin house had an extra bedroom. And because Sandra's Home At Last certification essentially allowed her to operate a care home for two people, the transition was rather smooth.

On Dec. 12 that year, William moved in with everything he owned: a television and two plastic garbage bags full of belongings.

The fireworks started immediately.

Any time Sandra went outside to smoke a cigarette, she could look through the window and see William and Patty kissing passionately, holding each other tightly. Before long, they simply made out endlessly on the couch while Sandra sat there watching television.

On his second night there, William proposed to Patty in the living room. That touched off the weeklong nightly ritual. By comparison, the proposal played out a bit more smoothly than the day William asked Ken for his sister's hand in marriage.

William and Patty had ridden with Sandra to Ken's Portland home. Once there, the group decided to go out for pizza in separate cars, providing William a chance to ask his question while he and Ken rode to the restaurant.

But William froze. An uncomfortable silence built. As Ken drove, he looked over several times at William, who smiled and fidgeted, far too nervous to speak. Finally, Ken bailed him out.

"William, are you going to be good to my sister?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to take good care of her?"

"Yes."

"Do you love her?"

"Yes."

By the time everyone reached the restaurant, Ken had offered his blessing and William had relaxed. Eventually, the wedding was set for Valentine's Day 2003. The next day, William began getting to know Patty's family. Sandra took some time for herself.

She strapped on her leathers and tucked her long red hair into a helmet. Then she climbed aboard the Harley Davidson she had towed behind the car and disappeared into the highways of the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

The crew returned home a week later.

    

Sandra warmed up the car. Patty and William helped each other put on their leather jackets. They were going grocery shopping.

For William, it was a particularly sweet adventure: It was only his second trip to a grocery store in his adult life. In group homes, he never saw more than a portion of food at a time. He walked into a store on north McHenry Avenue and instantly felt giddy over the endless aisles of food.

He grabbed a can of Chef Boy-ardee ravioli, dropped it into Sandra's cart and walked on. Then he looked back to make certain all was OK. Sandra smiled at him and he clapped his hands.

As the trio worked its way through the store, Sandra taught the couple to compare prices. In the cereal aisle, William marveled at Snow White's picture on a box of corn flakes.

"Wow," William said. "I never had that one before. Hey Patty, you can cut it out and put it in a frame."

"I love Snow White," Patty said.

They passed a couple in their late 20s: a woman pushing a cart with a man walking several feet behind her. After seeing William and Patty, the man and woman turned their eyes toward the ground and walked ahead.

Once they were out of earshot, the man caught up to his companion. He said something to her under his breath. She looked back and they both started laughing.

    

Patty sat on the love seat, sobbing loudly.

Patty's desire to become a mother peaked in the months after William moved in, and all she could do was cry. William had learned what to do. He sat down and put his arm around Patty.

"Patty, why are you crying?"

She didn't say anything. William tried again.

"Hey, Patty."

"I can't have a baby, William. I want to have a baby. I want to be a family."

William put his other arm around Patty, patting her in consolation. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

"It's OK, Patty. We have each other. We're a family, aren't we Patty?"

"Yes."

    

As Valentine's Day approached, the wedding plans were in full swing. Sandra helped William and Patty with most of the arrangements. To help cover ex-penses, the couple saved $1,000 from their food-service jobs at the Howard Training Center in Ceres.

Patty and William believed their honeymoon would be spent in Lake Tahoe, but Sandra secretly had planned a trip to Hawaii. She wouldn't tell them until they were all on the plane.

On Feb. 12, a seamstress named Alma Lopez stopped by to make alterations to Patty's wedding dress. The dress belonged to Sabrina Brown, a young mother who several months earlier moved into the Jasmin house with her 8-month-old baby, Zachary Barron. Sabrina is training to one day host someone in the Home At Last program.

Once Alma was ready to work, William was banished to a back room. Patty put on the dress and Alma went to work. Sandra watched and cried.

"I've always had two wishes, huh, Sandra?" Patty said. "To get married on Valentine's Day. Yes. And to go to Hawaii."

"Those are wonderful wishes, honey," Sandra said. "And you're going to go to Hawaii someday."

"Yes."

As Patty stood and watched herself in a long mirror, Sandra moved in behind her and rested her head softly on Patty's shoulder. She spoke gently.

"I can't believe how gorgeous you are, Patty. What do you think? Are you the prettiest girl?"

"Yes," Patty said bashfully, hiding her blushing face in her hands. "I look like my mother."

"Your mother would be so proud of you, honey. You know what she would say to you if she were here? She would say, 'Patricia Irene Taylor, I am so proud of the woman you have become. You picked a good man, and he's handsome and strong.'"

Once Alma finished taking measurements, Patty changed her clothes and William returned. Alma collected the dress and headed home to work on it.

Sandra announced she had an errand to run. As she walked outside, William followed her to the door.

"Sandra, are you coming back?"

Sandra stopped to answer the question that comes every time she leaves.

She turned and walked back to William, placing her hand on the side of his face, hoping someday he'd feel secure.

"Of course, William. Don't I always come back?"

"Yes," William said, a sad, frightened look on his face. "We'll be OK, right?"

"Yes, you will," Sandra said. "The cellphone number is on the fridge. I'll be right back."

    

The sun rose on a new day at the Howard Training Center. Those who worked or attended classes there seemed lighter, happier. Employees wept as they discussed the wedding. It was Valentine's Day, and love really was in the air.

The transformation of the center's Witmer Hall began at 9 a.m. Fourteen round tables were covered in red cloth. Each table featured photos of William and Patty and handmade wedding favors containing Hershey's kisses.

One table held a three-tiered cake and a punch fountain. Rose petals covered the top rim of the head table. A unity candle sat on a table just behind an arch wrapped in soft white lights.

Everything was set by the time Sandra, William and Patty arrived at 5:30 p.m. The first wedding in the history of Howard Training Center clients was 90 minutes away.

The bride and groom walked around, excitedly checking out the decorations. As they did, Susan Filice, Deanne Haile, Stacy Burleson and several other staff members who organize Howard Training Center programs watched, teary-eyed.

Sandra and Susan hugged tightly for a few seconds. No words were needed. Both women left wiping their eyes.

"Isn't this what humans want?" Susan said. "To be loved and respected by someone other than your parents? That's total validation.

"People living with disabilities don't get to fulfill their dreams. Society has put up too many barriers for them. To me, this is very historical. William and Patty are getting to make a choice that so many like them will never have a chance to make."

At 7 p.m., about 75 people found their seats. An Elvis impersonator started the music as the best man, Jose Zamora, and maid of honor, Linda Bailey, walked in.

Then the crowd rose to its feet as the bride entered the hall, a white veil covering her face. Walking down the aisle with Ken, Patty smiled as Elvis sang.

Come with me

while the moon is on the sea

Night is young

and so are we, so are we

Ken placed Patty's hand in William's, and the bride and groom turned and faced the minister, Cheryl Martin. She spoke, then the couple recited vows and exchanged rings. At one point, William audibly yelped to himself, "Oh God," as the nervousness overtook him. Everyone laughed and cried.

Then William leaned down and kissed his bride; she nuzzled him affectionately, rubbing her face side to side. When the brief ceremony concluded, the minister turned the couple toward the crowd. William, appearing relieved, proudly pushed out his chest as his bride held his arm.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Martin said, "may I present Mr. and Mrs. William Beaber."

The responding roar was loud. About 20 people swarmed around William and Patty. They were the couple's friends and, at that moment, their biggest fans.

They were people, much like William and Patty, who always have struggled to be included into a world of closed doors, averted eyes and deaf ears.

William and Patty disappeared into the crowd. In a way, the sweet moment belonged to each of them. And they celebrated it together.

    

As the reception wound down, Sandra and her new boyfriend, Kenny McCoy, loaded the car and climbed inside. The bride and groom piled into the back seat, disappearing into a passionate clump.

The crowd that gathered outside Witmer Hall applauded as the four rode away, bound for an early morning flight out of San Francisco.

William and Patty immediately stopped addressing each other by name. As the car approached Highway 99, Patty leaned forward and tapped Sandra on the shoulder.

"Sandra, my husband is cold," she said.

Sandra laughed, shaking her head as she rolled up her window. Patty leaned back into William's arms.

"We're married," he said.

"I know. I love you, husband."

"I love you, wife. I had a lot of fun at the wedding. How about you?"

"Yes, husband, it was fun."

"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw you. You looked so pretty in your dress."

Early the next morning, William and Patty proudly strode through the San Francisco International Airport in — as Patty insisted — their wedding clothes. People stared relentlessly: Some found William and Patty adorable, while others wore expressions of disgust.

The bride and groom did not seem to notice; the underdogs were too busy savoring their victory.

Five hours later, the couple sat on an airplane as it roared high above the Pacific Ocean. They held hands during the entire flight.

"I'm going to get a soda. Wife, would you like a soda?"

"Yes, husband, I would like a diet soda."

Then a voice over the loudspeaker announced the plane would be landing in Hawaii soon.

William's sudden look of surprise quickly turned to jubilation. He hugged Patty, who played the whole thing rather cool. Somehow, she had found out about the secret, but did not want to spoil it for Sandra.

Patty peered out her window and saw an island growing larger in the distance. Before long, she could make out mountains and beaches and palm trees.

She leaned back in her seat and sighed contentedly. She tightened her grip on William's hand.

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