Memories of Ben

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Fair warning:

There’s (almost) no sex in this sex in this story.


My Dad shot himself when I was eight years old.

Felt like I had to get that out there.

When I look back, and try to gauge how much loss I felt at the death of my father, I find myself reluctantly thinking that the loss wasn’t that great. In many ways we had already been losing him, even when he was still with us.

My memories of my Dad are of a man who was stepping backwards from life; stepping away from me and my mom. He was reluctant to take part in things like trips to the beach, birthday parties, Christmas mornings. I think – looking back now at the age of 24 – he had been losing himself for a while. And finally lost himself entirely.

So maybe – as far as how much loss I felt – maybe I’d been preparing myself for his loss already? And when he eventually took his own life, maybe I expected it.

So the loss – I don’t remember my 8 year old self being overwhelmed by grief.

And if there was grief, there was also, very soon, Ben.


My best friend, from Kindergarten and all the way through elementary and secondary school, was Sarah. Sarah’s parents were Donna and Ben. When my Dad committed suicide, Donna and my mom, I don’t know, did they make an agreement about bringing our families closer together? Donna and Ben bundling mom and me into their family? Probably not, but that is essentially what happened. My memories of my childhood seem to be as full of memories of Sarah’s house, and her parents, as they are of me and mom’s house.

If I close my eyes, and think of being in the back seat of a car, it’s the back seat of Ben’s car, with Sarah on the seat beside me. The two of us laughing and looking at books together.

If I think of dance classes, trips for ice cream, trips to Bradford Beach, it’s Ben’s car, and some combination of me and Sarah, Ben and Donna, and my mom Heather all in that car.

Ben’s eyes, his face, looking back at us through the rear-view mirror.

I can remember all of that so well. Close my eyes and lift a leg and stretch my toes, and I’m touching the back of Ben’s seat as he drove us somewhere.

Smiling at him, making a face, seeing his eyes twinkle in the rear-view mirror.

As the years passed, as I hit the tweens and early teens, it became increasingly common for it to just be me and Ben in the car. Ben was outdoorsy and sporty, while his wife Donna leaned towards crafts, and working with her hands. Sarah began to spend more time her mom, and since I had come to love running and swimming, I spent more time with Ben. So car rides – trips to swim meets, trips home from a highschool track meet – that came to be time I spent alone with Ben. And, in many ways, Ben gave that part of my world to me. The Natalie I am today – the girl who loves running, who got a lacrosse scholarship at U.Minnesota – Ben raised that girl.

Summer mornings on the Oak Leaf Trail. Doing 5km on weekday mornings before he had to go to work. Maybe doing 10km on Saturday or Sunday. That was me and Ben.

Donna and Ben’s cottage. Cooking dinner on the barbeque. After dinner Sarah and Donna would often go inside to read and escape the mosquitoes, and Ben and I would push the canoe out onto the lake. The soft shush of the paddles in the water as we canoed out into the sunset. When we rested, and let the canoe drift, I would set the paddle down across the gunwhales, and listen to the soft plops of water fall from the paddle into the smooth lake. The summer day fading away as we drifted silently. That was me and Ben.

I called him “Ben” all those years.

Once in a while, mainly when I was younger, “daddy” escaped my lips. I can remember most of those moments quite distinctly. The flush of embarrassment hearing that word escape my lips and then Ben, the gentleman, smiling and continuing the conversation as though nothing had happened.

He just called me by my name. Natalie.

We were so much a part of each other’s lives though, and maybe I was so much underfoot, that he’d jumble up my name and Sarah’s name sometimes. “Sarah, I mean Natalie, please put that apple core in the compost”, or “Natalie, I mean Sarah, are you going to close the fridge door?”

Damn. I’m 24, and in Oregon as I write these words, but I can still see that kitchen. I can see Ben puttering about doing 15 different things, with me and Sarah underfoot, NPR on the radio, Sarah’s mom perhaps off to work already.

An apple on the kitchen island. Morning sunshine beaming through the window.

Am I romanticizing those years? Were they really that good?

In my memory, those mornings, they shimmer. They glow.

Part II

My mom didn’t really date after Dad’s death. I think she was overcome with both grief and guilt, and it made her forget about men for many years. She went to counselling, but if it had any effect it was hard to see. She became withdrawn – not as badly as my Dad had been – but she wasn’t dating, and she wasn’t out on the town being ataşehir escort social and meeting friends either. But then, through someone at work, she met Kevin.

My mom, and Donna and Ben, were all around 46 and 47 when mom met Kevin, who was younger than they were, in his late 30s. I could tell that my mom wanted Donna and Ben to like Kevin, but I could also tell pretty clearly that they didn’t. Ben tried. I watched him try. The Packers. The Brewers. Ben didn’t even really watch pro sports that much, but he tried talking about them with Kevin. City politics. The weather even. There was always a disconnect between Ben and Kevin, and though I was hesitant about Kevin for my own reasons, knowing that Ben disliked him almost made me file Kevin away as a lost cause.

But mom kept dating him. After little more than a year, he moved in with us. I was 18.

Ben would have been 47.

On the night of my senior prom, Kevin attacked me.

The prom was held at the Harley Davison Museum. My date was a friend named Pete, and both of us were totally aware that we were just going to the prom as friends. We went with Sarah and Geoff, who had been her boyfriend since Grade 10. The night went fine, and when Pete took me home he walked me up to the front door and we had a warm “thanks for tonight” kind of hug, and then he left. I went inside the house in my prom dress, feeling aglow, and already feeling nostalgic for the high school Natalie that I was pretty soon going to be leaving behind.

Mom was at work. Night shift at Froedtert.

I went to my room, and looked at myself in the mirror. I was 5’7, with long dark brown hair, an athletic figure that I shouldn’t have been so proud of, but was. My prom dress was red and black. A slightly ruffled skirt which ended at my knees, and a tight top that went to my chest, thin straps over my shoulders, my neck and shoulders and arms bare.

I reached around behind me and unzipped, and pushed the dress down to the floor. Before my mirror in bra and panties now. Looking at myself, thoughts floating softly through space, when my doorknob rattled and Kevin swung the door open. He leaned there in the door frame, staring at me. It was 3:00am.

“How was your night?”

“Jesus Kevin, get the hell out of here.”

Instead of leaving, he actually stepped further into my room, and tried to reach a hand towards me as I shrugged away from him. “You looked good in that dress,” he said. “But you look better now.”

I backed away, and ended up between my bed and the wall, trapped on the wrong side of my room, far from my door. Kevin, over 6 feet tall and husky, kept pressing closer, and when his hand gripped my wrist I leapt onto my bed to try and get away. But I couldn’t break his hold on my wrist, and for several moments it was his body on mine, his hands rough on my skin, as I kicked and shouted and tried to break free.

I don’t really know how I broke free, but I did. My feet found the floor on the other side of my bed, and I scooped up my phone from my dresser as I ran through the door into the hall. I ran into the bathroom and locked the door and started frantically texting Sarah.

Texting Sarah – but needing Ben. Begging her to send her Dad to me.

And he came.

I heard his voice downstairs in the hall, and soon heard his fingers tapping the bathroom door. “Nat, it’s me. It’s Ben.”

I had been sitting on the floor against the tub, in my bra and panties with a towel pulled about me. When Ben knocked I ran to the door, the towel falling, and wrapped my arms around him. “Take me to your place,” I whispered. “Take me to your place Ben.”

“Where’s your mom?”

“She’s working.”

He guided me to my room, where I pulled on some jeans and a hoody. We went down the stairs, his hand on my lower back. Kevin was down there, lingering in the hallway. A few words spilled from his lips. I think he said “she’s lying”, but Ben wasn’t listening anyway. Though not as tall or as heavy as Kevin, Ben straight-armed him with his hand to Kevin’s chest, and kept him out of our way as we walked past. Outside, reaching Ben’s car, I saw that Ben had been in such a rush that he’d parked with the front right wheel up on the curb. I put my hands on the roof of the car and closed my eyes. Breathing.

Ben’s hand on my lower back. Warm. Massaging softly.

I turned to him, in my hoody and jeans. Ben was in jeans and a T-Shirt, standing there in the grass between the sidewalk and the street in bare feet. I wrapped my arms around him, my head on his chest. I wasn’t crying. The tears were bottled up inside me, making my stomach spin wildly, making my breathing feel laboured, feel wrong.

“I’ve got you Nat,” Ben whispered, holding me tightly against him. With my arms already around his neck, I felt his arms hug around my lower back. “I’ve got you,” he whispered, lifting his left hand to cup the back of my head, and hold my face to his shoulder. “I’ve got you, babygirl.”

That was my senior prom. I was 18.

Part kadıköy escort bayan III

After highschool, Sarah went straight to university, choosing Ohio State in Columbus. I wasn’t ready financially for school, so I stayed home for a year, working in an insurance office where I’d already spent the last few summers of highschool. I lived at home with mom, who kicked Kevin out right after the prom incident. Mom and I hung out with Donna and Ben a lot that year. We even joined a curling club, playing as a team in a Friday night social league.

Ben and I had always hung out together, and we’d always texted, but that year – with Sarah away at school – Ben and I became something more than we’d been before. What do you call that feeling, when you open your eyes in the morning, sleepily grab your phone, and feel deeply pleased and giddy when a simple “good morning” text is waiting for you from someone? I’d respond with my own “good morning” and a message would flutter back… something like “10km at 10:00am?” And I’d say “yes” and then put the phone down, and close my eyes, sinking for a few moments back into sleep, glowing, because the only person I really wanted to hear from had thought of me when he’d woken up, and reached out to me.

Whatever you call that feeling – that mix of giddiness and contentment upon seeing a message – it meant a lot to me. And my God, we messaged each other a lot that year. Everything. Anything. A jumble of texts that went in every direction.

[Me] I’m bored at work – tell me something random.

[Me] Can you look at used cars with me this weekend?

[Me] You don’t drink wine do you? Did you never like wine?

[Ben] You have any plans tonight? Want to see a movie with me and Donna?

[Ben – attaching a photo of some street-art] Was walking at lunch and saw this. What do you think?

[Ben] Do you know what funk is? Do kids still listen to funk these days?

I wonder if Donna ever noticed? It wouldn’t have been any secret that we texted back and forth, but the quantity, I’m sure, would have surprised her. Maybe she assumed it was all work? All that messaging that she must have noticed? Maybe she assumed that a lot of those texts and energy were going to Sarah, away at school? Ben never talked to me about Donna. I never asked. But there was something lost between them. I knew there was. I’d known it the whole time I’d been growing up, though never as clearly as during that gap year before university. When he was with me – with me alone – there was a boyishness, a playfulness, about Ben. A joy. When Donna was around, that was muted. A sigh from her would deflate him. I obviously never saw them when they were truly alone with each other, but increasingly, as the years passed, I suspect that their being alone together meant silence. Or if not silence, certainly not the playful joy that I experienced when I was with Ben.

I never asked about their relationship. But sometimes, even without asking, you know.


When I was 20, after that long gap year working at the insurance company and spending nearly all my free time with Ben, I started my first year at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Still hard-up for money, I worked two part-time jobs, and took a few online classes to free up my time to work as many shifts as I could. At Christmas Ben drove up from Milwaukee to get me, which would become our pattern for the next few years. I’d seen him as recently as Thanksgiving, but, when I heard him buzz my room at the residence, and when I ran down the stairs to see him, oh my God did I ever hug him. He was home to me. And I don’t mean my ride home. After my first long stretch on my own, at the end of my first term of school, Ben was home to me. And I held him – there in the lobby of my residence building. With Ben standing there in his winter coat, I held him and nearly jumped up and down while I held him.

And he held onto me.

In the car, during that five hour drive back to Milwaukee, we listened to 70s and 80s rock. Fleetwood Mac. Tom Petty. We sang our heads off. If a blizzard had hit, and we’d been stranded on the highway for a night, I would have had all I needed. In that car, with him, I was home already.


At the end of the winter term I went back to Milwaukee for the summer. So did Sarah. I took some online courses, and had my insurance office job again, and it was pretty much the old days. Donna and Ben, my mom, me and Sarah. Sarah was dating a guy she’d met at school in Columbus, so some of Sarah’s attention was directed off that way. He came to see her in Milwaukee a few times, she went to visit him a few times. But Ben and I fell back into our pattern – the morning runs on the Oak Leaf Trail; the texting about everything and anything. The simple warmth? coziness? comfort? of being in each other’s company.

Sarah and I were 20 that summer. Ben was 48.

I’d never really been a club girl. But in St. Paul there were nights when the girls on my floor in residence were going out, escort maltepe so I bought a dress or two, and I went. It was okay, clubbing, but it was never really something I’d have chosen to do on my own. Sarah had taken to clubbing in her two years at Ohio State, so it wasn’t a surprise when she mentioned clubbing as an idea a few times that summer. Milwaukee isn’t exactly the clubbing capital of the world, but there were a few places to go, and one Friday night we tried Mad Planet.

We talked, over the days before, about what we were going to wear. Sarah wanted to drive her boyfriend in Columbus crazy by sending him a bunch of sexy pics from our night-out, so we did some online shopping and ended up ordering new dresses. Sarah bought a tube style mini dress covered in gold sequins. It barely covered her ass, and barely covered her breasts as well. Her legs, chest, shoulders and neck were all bare, and on the Friday night when we were getting dressed, she added a silk ribbon to go about her neck.

I bought a long sleeved, sheer, mini-dress. It went right up to my neck, but except for an opaque section at my chest, it was nearly a fishnet. When I looked in the mirror, trying it on for the first time on the Friday night, I realized that you could see my belly button, and my thong, through the dress. It was completely backless, save for a band about my neck, and like Sarah’s dress, it barely covered my ass.

“Jesus, Sarah,” I whispered, as we stood looking at ourselves side by side in the mirror, “are we really going to wear these?”

She pulled out a phone and snapped a pic. “Yep,” she said, immediately sending the picture along to her boyfriend in Columbus.

We got dressed at my house. When Sarah arrived at my place just after dinner, she had a bottle of wine in her hand. We drank it as we showered and dressed in those crazy dresses. I was drunk by the time we left the house for the waiting taxi. At Mad Planet we rendezvoused with a few friends from highschool, and while Sarah kept drinking, I milked my first drink and then never had another. We danced. The music blared.

Late into the night, after dozens of pictures had been sent to Columbus, and after Sarah was almost too drunk to stay on her feet, we were on the dance-floor with a crush of bodies around us. We were dancing together, our high school friends off at a table somewhere. I felt someone’s hands on my hips, pulling me back towards him, grinding hard against my ass. I looked over my shoulder at a drunk, sweating, beefy face, and then looking towards Sarah, saw another guy doing much the same to her. I let it go for a moment, but when I saw the guy holding Sarah slide his hands up her stomach and grip her breasts hard, and when I saw her not even react, but just continue dancing slowly against him, I stepped away from my guy, or at least I tried to.

He held onto me. Fingers in my hips, gripping hard, pulling me back against him again. I lost my temper and spun in his grip and pushed him, both hands on his chest. Free of him I grabbed Sarah’s arm and pulled her with me, leading her off the dance floor. The guys followed us, a gang of their friends coming as well, gripping our arms, trying to drag us back to the dance-floor, and shouting all the things they wanted to invite us to do that night.


And Sarah basically asleep on her feet.

Security. Then the police. And finally, with Sarah’s phone in my hand, a 3:00am phone call to the only man I really trusted. “Ben. No, it’s Nat. Sarah’s here but she’s out of it. Ben, can you come get us? Mad Planet at Booth and Center.”

I was in front of the club, talking to one cop while the other herded the assholes away down Center Street, when I saw Ben’s car drive slowly past and go down Booth, looking for a spot to park. When he came walking up to the club, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, he barely looked towards where I was standing, holding Sarah to me. I had to call his name, and when he turned towards me, standing there holding Sarah to my side, his eyes nearly popped when he realized who we were.

“Holy shit, Nat,” he murmured.

“This is her Dad,” I said to the cop, and with Ben before me now, I passed Sarah off to him. He drew her left arm over his shoulders and put his right arm around her waist, and walked her down Booth towards the car. I opened the rear door for him, and he eased Sarah inside, clinching a seat belt around her torso as she lay flopped across the seat. When he stood up again, the two of us standing on the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the car, I touched his arm, making him turn and look at me. “Thanks for coming, Ben.”

He stared at me for a few moments. Looking into my eyes, but with one slow slide of his eyes from my feet up the length of my body and back to my eyes again. “Wow,” he whispered. “Nat, I didn’t even know you two had outfits like this. Do you dress like this a lot?”

“No,” I said, feeling defensive, my fingers still gripping his left forearm, wanting him to be holding my arm. “Are you mad?”

“No. No, not mad.” He made an awkward gesture, patting my hand slightly where I was holding onto him. Then he turned, and opened the passenger side door for me. “No,” he whispered, something catching in his voice. “I’m mostly just trying to keep from looking actually.”

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