My friend died the other day.
Actually I didn't really know him, personally, well enough to say he's my good friend. But I would bet he'd call me a friend too...
You know those friends that are just a part of your growing up experience? Ben was two years younger, and I think it was two grades, too. One grade, maybe. His older sister, Angie, was my most memorable leader at girl's camp.
It was a somewhat traumatic camp year. Our original leader got very sick and had to go home, so they brought in Angie. She shared a tent with us that night and talked to us about newly married life. She was the first person other than my mom who I had a frank discussion with about marriage and overcoming the embarrassment of sex. I was a shy girl, a good girl, and so such a frank discussion was somewhat alien and a little embarrassing. But it was a rite of passage. One that I am still grateful for, because ever since then the conversation has floated around at the back of my head... A tool in my inventory that I have had to pull out occasionally.
She was blonde and beautifully tanned. And newlywed: what every girl wants to be. She had a tall, handsome, nice husband.
Ben was her little brother. I remember making that connection and being surprised. Ben was dark, and very good looking even as a gawky 14 year old boy. He was a sweet 14 year old. I remember when he had a crush on my best friend Lauren, who had just mastered the use of a curling iron and was experimenting with mascara.
At the time, I had a crush on Sean, another boy in our seminary class... He was tall, stocky, with wonderful light brown hair that he left long enough so that it was curly. But he was also my friend... The kind of friend who teases you mercilessly about everything under the sun from the way you write on your hands, to harassing you in the school hallways about your latest crush until you half-seriously slam him up against the lockers. Good thing he never found out I liked him... He probably would have stopped teasing me and that would have been a tragedy.
Anyway, Sean and Ben were very good friends. They lived close to each other. I remember a stake dance when I was about 15 years old... Or maybe almost sixteen. Lauren was in a yellow dress with pink flowers. I was wearing a pair of those ridiculous jellies... They had two-inch heels and the plastic straps left pink marks on my ankles. Ben asked Lauren to dance a few times. I think Sean asked me once or twice. Ben asked me a couple of times too.
What a sweet kid. Boyish, still, as a fourteen-year-old, he hadn't yet come into his own. When he did, he did with a vengeance... I think he played a few sports. He was in choir with me but by that time he ran with a crowd that was out of my league... So many girls liked him. At a high school with a couple of thousand girls, you get lost in the shuffle. You grow apart frequently from one group or another... Your interests streamline.
My senior year, Ben went to early-early seminary with me. We were both victims of the 4:25 wake-up call, though his drive to church was significantly shorter. He was playing football; I remember now. That's why he had to go to the early class. He was always so sweet to me. He never teased. Perhaps that's why we were never as close as Sean and I sort of were... In a mean-to-each-other sort of way. Or CJ and I: our relationship consisted of haranguing one another about the girls/boys we liked and ditching classes, and the occasional snowball fight.
Ben would never do that. To me at least.
He got into a car accident when he was a senior. He was so well liked and so well known, that his recovery was something every person in high school kept close tabs on.
I went and visited him in the hospital, and even though we weren't that close, I believe he was happy to see me... Because I was familiar enough to belong there for a few minutes. In his recovery room. Even as an invalid he had this cheery, easygoing, nice aura about him.
I moved away a year later to go to college. Ben appeared to make a full recovery, and he went on and got married to a girl from an unfamiliar part of our stake... A girl whose sister (Katie) I ended up working with for several months. Katie showed me pictures of their adorable family: Ben with his usual dazzling smile, she with her very long brown hair, and their little baby girl.
Their wedding picture is displayed in the visitor's center at the Oakland Temple. I was so surprised and giddy to see it there when my sister went to be married to her own husband. What are the odds that out of the thousands of couples that are married there, year after year, his picture would be chosen for that particular display? I felt overwhelming joy in the beauty of union come over me, looking at that picture, at that face from my youth.
I was so heartbroken to hear, a few months ago, that things fell apart for them. And the rumors involved pornography. But I'm not one to give too much credence to rumors... It's sad enough when a family falls apart without having to add the why and where. But the mention of that ugly thing... Pornography, yet again. I shake my fist in the face of pornography. I have a sublime hatred for that stuff. I personally know of at least four marriages that have been ruined by it. My own, of course, among them.
Ben died a couple of days ago. They found him huddled up in a nest of blankets on his bed. The thermostat was turned to 80 degrees. They say something happened with his brain injury... His body probably went into shock and so he got really cold, hence the thermostat and blankets. And he died alone in his bed.
I can't believe it. Not only do I mourn the person, but I mourn a piece of my own growing up. Because he was.
And I mourn for the brown-haired girl... Because I know what it is to lose a husband. I can't imagine what it would be to lose him, and then shortly after all of that trauma, to unexpectedly lose him from this earth as well.
I have a beautiful daughter who inherited half of her genes from a man that I am no longer with, but who at least is still living... Somewhere... Trying to piece his own life back together. I will never be his wife again, but it is still a comfort to know that, someday my baby will possibly be able to know her father a little bit. She has his nose and his eyes, and his need for organization, after all. She will have a few identity crises growing up with me. I am never that serious or that organized. But she will have him to check with and know at one point, and will probably discover those pieces of herself that match up with him.
How tragic to lose a father. How wrenching to lose a husband, and then... To lose him again.
And Ben... What a hard thing it is to let you go. We thought we hung on to you, but apparently, God had other plans. I hope that wherever you are, you have peace and you can feel the love of everyone. Including me. I didn't know you, but I knew you. Know what I mean? So I miss you, too.