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A smile I'll never forget.
Ben on his 19th birthday holding the sand castle I gifted him and wearing his favorite fedora.
Ben and I met through a mutual friend. She and I went to school together and he worked with her at Del Taco. She wanted to fix us up. She was a senior and had her own apartment and invited the two of us over to meet each other. Ben brought his best friend S with him.
I don’t remember all of the details of that first night. I do remember that Ben and S were smoking pot, which never having done so myself, I was pretty freaked out about. And S especially, was really high. Despite that though, Ben and I hit it off immediately. We talked all night long.
I learned that he was a black belt, he loved cars and racing and was a virgin. Because he was 18 and I was 17 and not a virgin, that kind of threw me. I didn’t know any guys who were still virgins. But he explained to me that he was waiting for the right girl and hadn’t met her yet. I thought that was incredibly sweet, especially since every guy I’d ever dated up to then was immediately trying to hook-up with me.
I had a lot of relationships when I was young, but Ben was one that always stayed with me. He and I went through a lot together.
He was there for me through some pretty rough times in my teen years. I was in a really deep depression in my junior year when we started dating and I tried to end my own life. Even though our relationship was fairly new, he called me every morning before he went to work and came to see me every day after work while I was in the hospital. He brought me food and little trinkets and always had something funny to share in hopes of cheering me up.
His mom passed away a few months after we started seeing each other, and right before Christmas. She had been sick for a long time (in and out of cancer remission since he was little) so it was somewhat expected because she was so sick, but still a shock. Losing her was incredibly hard on him, even though he knew it was coming, she was obviously an extremely important part of his life and I don’t think that he ever got past losing her. He didn’t really have anyone to talk to about her passing other than me. He couldn’t talk to his dad about her because he moved on a little too quickly, marrying a woman he had only just met within a month after his wife had died. I did my best to be there for Ben in every way possible when she passed. But I never felt like it was enough.
We had a lot of good times too.
I accompanied Ben to a plethora of street races. We always had a blast there with his friends who quickly became my own as well. I never participated myself. But I watched while he raced and frequently won in his white Honda CRX with a red racing stripe against a multitude of other cars/drivers. We often had the most fun when someone with a scanner would hear that the police had been called and we all scattered to get away before they got there. I always felt like an outlaw.
The races weren’t always illegal. There was a local raceway that allowed amateur racing occasionally on Friday nights and we frequented there often as well. I was usually cheering him on with friends in the stands, but it always made my heart happy when he smiled at me from the raceway right before getting into his car and then a short time later when he lifted me off the ground in a huge all-encompassing hug when he won the race. The look on his face when he won was always pure joy, like a little kid at Disneyland.
I started a job as a cashier at McDonald’s while we were together. Miserable job. But then Ben got a job there too. That made it a little more fun. We weren’t able to work together for long though, since we were dating they wanted to move one of us to the Walmart restaurant. I ended up taking the transfer because he made more money than me by staying since he was over 18 and allowed to work the drive-thru.
So I moved to the Walmart McDonald’s, but ended up not even working in the restaurant itself. I was relegated to the back-of-store snack bar. I didn’t even know there was a McDonald’s snack bar in Walmart prior to that. It was a pretty weird operation. I was charged with serving hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn and drinks. I spent every shift by myself and was required to make announcements over the loud speaker every 15 minutes in attempt to drum up business. Nobody was interested. I don’t think that I sold one thing while I was there. I was miserable at that job and was ready to quit. Before I quit though, Ben got a second job at the same Walmart working the same shift as me. He entertained me throughout my long, boring shifts. He walked past me constantly while I was making announcements and trie with all his might to make me crack up. Faces, sounds, all sorts of Jim Carrey-esque ridiculousness. He was usually successful.
Remember when I said that Ben was a blackbelt? Well, he was really good at it. I saw him in practice quite a few times when I accompanied him to the dojang that he’d been practicing at for several years. His sensei and friends there loved him and welcomed me with open arms. I was impressed by his skill there, but even moreso in the outside world. He didn’t use his expertise to intimidate or bully people, he was very disciplined about it and used it only as a form of self-defense as it was meant to be.
I often saw him in action though when we were hanging out with S and he was drinking, he regularly challenged Ben when he was drunk. Ben never lost his temper with S though. He would try to talk him down, but when S would inevitably charge at him, Ben would calmy, swiftly and for the most part gently pin him to the ground and hold him there until he calmed down. He never, ever hurt S.
Prior to Ben and I getting together I had been with a much older guy that I was terrified of. When I broke things off with him he got violent and started stalking me until I got a restraining order. Ben and I were at the movies one time when I saw him. Ben didn’t get all macho and peacocky, he just stood by my side, a little taller, held my hand firmly and made sure I was okay and knew that he was there to protect me if he tried anything. He took protecting me as seriously as if he’d been sworn to do so. I’ve been afraid of most of the men in life, but I was never afraid of Ben, despite what I knew he could do, I always felt safe with him.
Ben and I broke up in the most calm and mature manner of any breakup I’ve ever had.
He had taken me on a little road trip to northern California to see my father. It was a good trip, but on the way up we started talking and realized that while we both loved each other a lot, our relationship had kind of run its course. We still continued on the trip, but ended up cutting it a little short. My father was never anyone that I could spend a lot of time with anyway so it wasn’t a big deal when we left early.
On the way back though, we had a massive blow out, not with each other, an actual blow out. I’m so grateful that he was such a skilled driver because he managed to hold the car steady until he was able to slow down and get to the side of the freeway. The tire was completely mangled and pretty much gone. If he hadn’t been able to hold it like he did, the car surely would have flipped and I doubt that either one of us would have lived through that accident.
Unfortunately, Ben had taken the spare tire out of the car the last time that he raced (to make the car lighter) and had forgotten to put it back before we left on our trip.
So, we pushed the car up the offramp of the 5 freeway into a little place called Firebaugh. At the time, all that was there was a gas station, restaurant and motel. It was late at night and while the gas station was open, the service station was not. The guy at the counter told us that we’d have to come back in the morning for a new tire. So we got some food and spent our last night together in a terribly cheap motel. But it was a great night, it was the best possible send off to our relationship together.
We saw each other again a year or so later in court. We had been in minor accident together shortly after his mother passed away and I had incurred some medical bills that his insurance company didn’t want to cover. It was all resolved fairly quickly and easily though with no negativity between the two of us. He even went out to lunch afterward with my mother and I.
The last time that we saw each other was over 20 years ago. I had just moved to Phoenix and was in town for a short visit to see my family. He wanted to meet up with me and catch up, but I was a little uncomfortable with it because I was in a relationship with someone else. He assured me that he would behave himself, it was nothing romantic and he just wanted us to be friends. I believed him and he was true to his word and respectful of my relationship and boyfriend. We met up at Taco Bell for a quick, cheap dinner and then played pool for hours that night, reminiscing, talking and laughing. It felt a little awkward at first because it had been so long. But pretty quickly we fell into a new rhythm with each other. We weren’t together, but that didn’t really matter, we were just happy to spend some time together.
Ben passed away in his sleep after having any aneurism about five years ago. He was only 40. We had kept in touch online throughout the years and I sent him and his family Christmas cards and homemade Christmas goodies a couple times, but we never saw each other again. I will always, always be grateful for that last bit of time that we got to spend together and that memory with him. It’s how I’ll always remember him, young, happy and laughing at a pool table with a big grin on his face. That’s how I will always remember you Ben.
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