Today I finally realized that I am not special. I can’t pity myself. So many people are in my club. The Club of People Who Have Lost People Close to Them. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how oblivious I’ve been forever. I suppose because I was growing up and that’s how kids are, that’s how adults are to kids. But like, my dad lost both of his parents 21 and almost 15 years ago, and because I was only 10 and 16 I never for one moment considered how that would have devastated him. My parents are only allowed to die if they are very sick and in a lot of pain, and even then, I need to have learned everything I want to know before then. Or know who to call when I just don’t understand why my banana bread isn’t turning out or why my computer just died for the 10,000th time. My dad must have been grieving and I never knew it and I hate that I never knew he was going through something so awful. And of course, as I age, more and more people are in this club. I know far too many people who have lost parents, siblings, children, best friends, important uncles, even just celebrity idols. Yet for two years now I’ve lived as though I’m the only one living this and watching from afar as my sister-in-law deals with her grief and as my bff deals with her grief and, yes, grief is ABSOLUTELY personal, but how do we better support one another? How do I – someone who runs at the sign of a kid crying, who hates being asked, “are you okay?”, who cries when she sees other people cry – support others?
Growing up, I hated him. Barry and I ganged up against him. Poor Ben was the brunt of my spoiled baby-ness and his older brother’s wrath. His fortune changed when Barry moved out. Ben probably would have said it changed for the worse, because he was stuck at home with me for the summers then. I loved those summers, though, and that’s when I began to love and respect Benjiman.
He’d often make bets with me: whoever won the game of Monopoly would do the dishes. I always lost. Ben was never the cheating type, but maybe with his 10 year-old sister he would have done it.
We “kick-boxed” all around the house. For some reason I have a really vivid memory of doing it in the hall by the bathroom. I mostly got beat up, but I got some shots in too.
He was still in high school when he started cultivating his green thumb and his respect for the environment. That’s when he became vegetarian, and that’s when he expanded the garden considerably.
He loved our dog, Hawkins, so much more than any of the rest of us.
He let me shift the gears in the Green Booger, the teal Ford Festiva he drove.
The couple? one? time that I rode with him across South Dakota and Minnesota to northern Wisconsin without our parents, my job was to fill his empty hand with a new Mountain Dew can. I tried to keep up with him. We had to stop a bajillion times so I could pee as a result; I don’t think that would have been any different had I not drank so much.
Ben is probably the reason I hate mouth noises so much. He taught me to chew with my mouth shut by placing a mirror in front of me at the dinner table, and he taught me not to slide my teeth along my fork while eating.
I love sports because of Ben. I learned baseball, hockey, and basketball from him. I loved the Lakers and Kobe and Phil Jackson just because he happened to be home the summer they took that first championship together. I texted him when I found out Kirby Puckett had died because I knew Kirby was his favorite player. Thanks to him, when I started playing hockey, I knew what icing was – even if I couldn’t actually skate properly.
I watched all the stuff that my parents wouldn’t have approved of with Ben. Of course, I didn’t know that I wanted to see them until Ben put them on, but as soon as he chose something and said, “you can’t tell Mom and Dad,” I instantly loved it. That’s how I saw Suicide Kings (which I only remember as a very bloody movie with Christopher Walken) and South Park.
I remember when he dyed his hair black and painted his nails black but also stole my Jewel and Spice Girl CDs (although he said the Spice Girls album was for his friend Jordan; I also remember Jordan’s neon colored neoprene glasses strap and shockingly blonde hair).
Once I finally grew up, we started to become friends. We had similar interests – while I loved N Sync (thanks, Barry, for giving me their first CD as a birthday present), I also loved Rancid because of my brothers. I was a huge nerd and loved learning, just like Ben. I distinctly remember Ben coming home one semester and going to a UW library with him in Madison so he could do research for his senior thesis on the Mississippi Riverway. It was the first time I set foot in a library like that, the first time I saw microfiche, the first time I saw someone use a book that wasn’t something the school had provided in order to complete an assignment. I wanted that. I wanted to do that.
By the time I was in college, we’d build our giant toppings-covered bowls of mint chocolate chip ice cream and settle into the couches in his and Jen’s living room, and talk for hours about…well, everything. He knew everything, and I always wanted his perspective. He was always so calm and thoughtful; he never rushed to talk or spew out his opinion, but rather always carefully considered what he heard from the person with whom he was talking before responding. He was the only person I’ve ever seen actually have a debate with my grandfather. Most people either nod along, not wanting to wake the bear, or (me) just get up and walk away from the situation. Not Ben. Ben always listened to my grandfather, paused, thought, and responded in a calm way. And his responses could always be supported by research. He wasn’t just giving his opinion, but rather the facts that helped him to form his opinions. He was the best-read person I’ve ever met.
He had a small bubble, but it grew as he aged and began to realize how important hugs were to other people. And suddenly one day he began to poke me, which was an obvious breach of his own bubble, not mine. I was in.
He loved doing things for other people, and he loved doing the things that other people loved to do. Did he love the Holidazzle light parade? No, not actually, but he knew that his wife and friends did. Or at least, they all loved the tradition of going and then getting Hell’s Kitchen afterwards.
One of my favorite memories with him will always be maybe the dumbest ever. I was meeting the crew for Holidazzle, and I had already found Jen and friends at the Starbucks in the downtown Target. Ben was in the bathroom; I headed that way too. As we passed each other in the Target store, we didn’t say a word. We just put our hands up and gave each other the loudest and most epic high five anyone in that Target store had ever witnessed. Five minutes later, having peed, washed my hands, and made my way back to Sbucks, my hand was still stinging and I was still giggling about how smoothly that had all happened.
I told everyone I knew that my brother was the smartest person I’d ever met. Before smart phones, Ben was my Google. I’d be at dinner with friends and we’d be debating something, and I’d text Ben what I would now Google. He almost always got back immediately, always with the answer. My favorite instance was when I texted, “So I just caught the final credit sequence of Seinfeld. Kramer was giving a press conference as a personal with a cognitive disability? WTF was happening?” He responded, “Oh, the Jimmy Episode” and then went on to explain the series of events that led to people thinking that Kramer was mentally challenged.
When our family went to Disney World, I was something like 16, so he must have been 23. He stood in line to meet Eeyore. He was literally the next person up when Eeyore suddenly had to leave to join a parade. There had never been a more Eeyore moment. Every time I’ve told that story, I’ve teared up with both laughter and sadness because it was all just too perfect.
He freckled; he didn’t tan.
He looked great in green.
He made a kickass breakfast.
He didn’t love to dance, but he sure could sweep Jen off her feet.
He loved Jen so freaking much.
He truly cared for all of us in ways that we didn’t always understand; he also often didn’t understand others. His tendency was so far towards giving and selflessness that when others focused on what was best for them, he resented them for it.
He was gentle.
He was scary. I get it, I am too.
He was also silly as hell.
I miss him so fing much.