Outdoors writing contest: What could have Ben
He was weird. He didn’t really seem to care about his image. He didn’t seem to care about anything, really, but the kid was nice. He wouldn’t go out of his way to help you, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to hurt you either.
I was awakened by the opening of my door and the shrill voice of my mother, “Time to get up! We’re leaving in an hour!”
She had been diagnosed with brain cancer a month earlier, and she was suddenly all too interested in going on family trips and adventures. We had been boating and rock climbing, and she had a skydiving trip planned. All I really wanted to do was stay home and sleep, but I was in no position to argue.
It was 5 a.m. and we were going camping for two weeks: tents, sleeping bags, bugs, allergies, the whole shebang. Wonderful.
My mother was anxiously packing all sorts of pointless stuff. She was a perfectionist. “We’re taking your cousin Ben with us this time, so that it’s not just us two,” she told me.
“Ben?” I asked, following with some teenage lingo to express my opinion of my not-so-cool cousin. She answered with a few choice words of her own, expressing her feelings toward my judgmental attitude. I felt bad about what I said; she was right. The kid was nice, and wouldn’t be too much of a bother. Plus, it might be fun to have a punching bag.
My father and brother had died in a tragic car accident a year earlier. Driving home one night, they were hit head-on by a drunken truck driver; damned hick. The driver survived and half of my family was killed. After that came a string of bad luck: my dog was hit by a car, my mom’s credit card number was stolen and my grades were slipping.
I was 17 years old living with my single, dying mother. I was nowhere near ready to be a man. I had breezed through the first 16 years of my life, and I think this was God’s way of telling me I was doing something wrong. I had always been the bully, picking on kids just to make my friends laugh. I was athletic, however, and the corrupted school system had always let it slide. Who wants to be known as the teacher who got the star quarterback kicked off the team?
It was my last summer as a kid, and then I was on my own. I would be alone in a world where my popularity level in high school had nothing to do with my status in society. Bring it on, bastards.
You would think with all this tragedy, my attitude would change. You would be wrong. The camping trip started off great. Well, I wouldn’t say great, but I found ways to make it entertaining.
Entertaining to me was making life hell for Ben when Mom wasn’t looking. I put worms in his sleeping bag, pushed him off docks, made fun of his clothes and every other mean thing I could think of. I was a complete jerk. I regret it now, but there are some things I just can’t take back.
Ben took it the whole first week. He seemed to be getting used to being my punching bag, until one cold night during the second week. My mom told us to get some firewood for the dying fire. I planned on messing with Ben some more in the woods, scaring him or something, but he had other plans.
As we walked into the dark forest, Ben carried our flashlight and both axes. I carried nothing. We continued to walk and I started laying into him. I started with remarks about his clothes and I can’t say I didn’t use a few suggestive words just to get under his skin. I was a mean-mouthed bully, and it would soon backfire.
After a few minutes of my remarks, Ben wasn’t going to take it anymore. He turned around and yelled straight into my face.
“What the hell did I ever do to you?”
I was so surprised that I couldn’t really say anything. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open and stuttering like an idiot until he continued.
“I’m tired of being bullied all the time! What the hell am I supposed to be like? Who are you to tell me what to do? I guess I’m just not good enough, right? You know what, screw you! Screw all of you.”
As the last word left his lips, I noticed a single tear streaming down his left cheek. He reached down, pulled up his coat and revealed a black pistol. It wasn’t the first gun I’d ever seen, but at that point I realized its significance: This gun decides whether I live or die.
Funerals suck, especially this one. I cried the whole time, full-blown crying, sobbing even.
This was three weeks after the day in the forest with the gun. The bullet in the chamber was never meant for me. Ben had cocked the gun, tears streaming from both eyes, and put it to his own temple.
“I hope this makes you happy,” he said as he pulled the trigger.
I don’t know if there is a God, but I feel like something was there that day.
Ben sat next to me at the funeral. He had survived, and he soon became my best friend. The funeral was my mom’s.
Ben’s suicide attempt was unsuccessful, but my mother’s cancer had prevailed. The next few years were the hardest years of my life, I didn’t have my mom, but I had Ben. Thank God, I had Ben.