Wednesday, February 29, 2012

| There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery |
| Dante Alighieri |

The very first memory I have of Ben is as a 10 year old boy. I guess I was 16 or 17. I went to the Wright’s that day, tagging along with my best friend, Lindy, to hang out with Ben's big brother, Joel. Ben was finger-painting with watercolors at the kitchen table with one of his nieces. I believe we had a brief conversation about his decision to use his fingers over a paintbrush but what I really remember about that day is his overwhelming adorableness. I had no idea that lovely little guy was going to eventually become one of my very favorite people on this planet.

| Happiness feels like this/ your heart upon your sleeve/ there's a place/ in time and space where we can all be free/ so meet me at the rainbow's end/ we don't even have to pretend that we know what it is we're looking for |
| Kat Edmonson |

Ben and I became friends in the fall of 2001 during 'A Christmas Carol' at Mineral Area College. It was the same year that my husband, Tim, and I became inseparable. It was also the same year that we lost Joel. Tim and I gravitated to Ben, and he to us. It was an unexpected comfort for us all, in a time when nothing really made sense. We decided then that Ben would be our surrogate little brother. I felt I needed to protect him from the cruel world that he could no longer view from kid-friendly glasses. We bonded over the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Disney Movies. We caught Saturday matinees and played games in his basement. Never R-rated, always home by 9 o’clock. Time and again, I found myself amazed at the precocious wisdom that constantly poured out of pre-teen Ben.  

| They love me like I was a brother/ they protect me, listen to me/ they dug me my very own garden/ gave me sunshine, made me happy |
|Thom Yorke |

In October of 2004, Tim and I headed west to plant our roots in San Diego. By then, Ben had become much cooler than I was and I have to admit that I was a little intimidated by his roaring popularity. We stayed in touch loosely through his high school years, but mostly I crept on his MySpace blog to keep current on his thoughts about life. During a trip home in 2006, I coincidentally ran into “grown-up” Ben for the first time ever. His voice was three octaves lower and he was a foot taller since I had seen him last. He had replaced his glasses with contacts and no longer sported a mouth full of metal. Despite all of that, it was his striking resemblance to Joel that stopped me cold.

| There's a pattern in the system/ there's a bullet in the gun/ that’s why I tried to save you/ but it can’t be done |
| Emily Haines |

Ben re-entered my life around the time that he graduated from high school. Even though I was living 1800 miles away, between my trips home and his trips to LA, I was able to reacquaint myself with the adult version of that little guy I used to know so well. It was an interesting transition for me because, as much I wanted to insist Ben didn’t date girls or party with his friends, I had to force myself to remember that he wasn’t 14 anymore. Eventually, I was able to peel off the kid gloves and stop saying “little” before “Ben” every time I spoke his name. The seven years between us became insignificant as we discovered our common interests and shared perspectives, as adults.   

| Because we live in a house of mirrors/ we see our fears and everything/ our songs, faces, and second hand clothes/ but more and more we're suffering / not nobody, not a thousand beers/ will keep us from feeling so all alone |
| Jenny Lewis |

       Typically the term “soul mate” refers to a romantic relationship. Many will dedicate their entire self searching for that perfect other half with which to blissfully spend their lives. I happened to fall in love with my soul mate and marry him but, it’s my theory that it’s not always that way. I believe Ben’s soul mate came to him in the form of a crass, unfiltered, asshole with a giant heart of pure gold. I can say these things about him because he knows that I adore him and also that they are true. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Tim Counts (not to be confused with my husband, Tim Benz) in October of 2008 during a routine trip to Farmington. It didn’t take long for me to see how completely his rough exterior balanced with Ben’s sensitive nature and how Ben’s tongue-in-cheek humor perfectly complimented Tim’s dry wit. They shared an archive of inside jokes and could utter a single word, which meant nothing to anyone but them, and have each other in an immediate state of uncontrollable laughter. Ben and Tim took the term “bromance” to a whole new level. Their bond was absolute and undeniable and could put a majority of married couples to shame. Yep, soul mates for sure.  

| That’s why I’m singing baby don't worry/ ‘cause now I got your back/ and every time you feel like crying/ I'm gonna try and make you laugh/ and if I can't, if it just hurts too bad, then we will wait for it to pass/ and I will keep you company through those days so long and black |
|Conor Oberst|

   When Ben moved to LA in 2009, I was obviously ecstatic. The 125 mile stretch on Interstate 5 between San Diego and Glendale became quite familiar as we road tripped back and forth. One weekend in particular stands out as probably the best weekend of my life. Ben came to San Diego with Tim (Counts) and another friend, Chris, who were both visiting from Missouri. We had all only intended to have a one night slumber party but what really happened was four days of non-stop awesome. Anne’s rooftop, Sunset Cliffs, the OB pier, the cactus garden at Balboa Park, Newcastle in a can, Emily’s brothel apartment, and La Posta. Bill Cosby, see’s the whole world through a motherfu%$ing Jell-O eye. We became a little family that weekend. In November, I packed up and moved to LA to cancel out any regret I would have in the future about not ever doing it. Ben was living with Justin and Todd, mutual friends from back home, who had long since established themselves in the hustle and bustle of LA life. Ben and I started to realize however, that we didn’t seem to fit in quite as well as we had expected. We spent most of our time hating that abundantly littered and disgustingly overpopulated city but, we hated it together and found much humor in the filth. We spanned hours wandering through the malls and driving aimlessly from Glendale to Burbank and back again. He watched me bake cupcakes, standing by as a very eager taste-tester and he came to “fix” my computer in the middle of the night (with super glue). We swapped music collections and smoked cigarettes while the sun came up. I needed him and he needed me, and we were lucky to have each other. Those three months with Ben are the most treasured to me of our entire friendship. I am so thankful for them.      

| I regret every single thing I ever said/ I said those things too softly |
| Jaymay |
I only got to see Ben a few times after he left LA. I’ve picked apart those last few visits and text messages over and over and over again. Searching for a clue, something that I should have noticed, anything I had skipped past. I come up short, every single time. I won’t begin to speculate what it was like to walk in Ben’s shoes or try to navigate his thoughts. I just can’t stifle the overwhelming guilt that seems to be eating me alive. I was so busy all year getting married and being a newlywed. I should have been paying more attention. I should have made him move to San Diego, like we talked about so many times. I know that there is no way I could have known but, I will always feel like I should have known. I will always feel like I failed him.      

| I made a new cast of the death mask that is gonna cover my face/ I had to change the combination to the safe/ hide it all behind a wall let people wait/ and never trust a heart that is so bent it can't break |
| Conor Oberst |

I've been having the same dream haunt my REM sleep cycle, more nights than not. In it, Ben and I are somewhere I don't recognize. I'm holding on to him, hugging him as tight as I can, crying uncontrollably and begging him to please not leave. I tell him that I need him and that I can't live my life without him in it. He looks at me with a compassionate and familiar smile and nods his head. Every morning I wake up and face the same realization, that it is still just a dream and that Ben is still gone.

| You know that place between sleep and awake/ that place where you can still remember dreaming/ that’s where I will always love you/ that’s where I’ll be waiting |
| Peter Pan |

Until November, I had considered myself very blessed, never to have lost someone in which I shared such a unique and vital connection. Not to say that losing Joel wasn’t earth shattering, of course it was but, he and I didn’t have ten years behind us. The visceral heartbreak aches through every part of me. I can't imagine this world absent of the brilliant light Ben shared with every single person that he met. I can't yet accept my life absent of our inside jokes, middle-of-the-night theoretical conversation, and the unconditional love we shared in our decade of friendship. I will forever cherish having watched Ben evolve into a truly remarkable person. Even as a little guy, he was sweet and genuine. Carrying those traits into adulthood, he paid careful attention to being a helpful, trustworthy, and loyal friend. He was always the first to respond in a crisis, big or small, without feeling burdened, and would do anything he could to remedy any problem. Ben was extraordinarily hilarious and wildly multi-talented; He was equally modest and humble. He is absolutely irreplaceable. The Ben-shaped impression on my heart will never lose its shape. I will miss him every day, for the rest of my life.

| Sometimes it's hard to find a way to keep on/ quiet weekends, holidays, you come undone/ open your window and look upon/ all the kinds of alive you can be/ be still, be light, believe me |
| The Weepies | 

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