The man who was my best friend through four years of college, and my constant companion for much of that time, died before reaching his 33rd birthday. I have not tried to write about him here—I don’t think I could describe our relationship. I have never known anyone like him. I have never felt with anyone quite the way I felt when we were together, as friends or later as lovers. The fact that we did not stay together does not lessen the impact he had on my life, on my being. I will remember his heart when men are fairy tales in books written by rabbits.
By the time of his death, a week before his birthday, we had grown apart. He had married and was living a few states away, and I was living with my new love, and we were both busy with our grown-up lives. Our communication had dwindled to phone calls a few times a year, to mark key events—like birthdays, or his wedding plans, or the release of a new Star Wars movie.
At 11 o’clock one night my phone rang. It was a mutual friend, who left a message on my machine urging me to call her, without explaining why. Instead, on instinct, I called Benjamin to find out what was going on--only to be told that his heart had failed and he had died that afternoon.
A day later I flew north to be with his family, arriving in time for the Quaker memorial service. A few days after that, I flew home. Not much more time passed before I started dreaming about him.
At first, in my dreams, I didn’t know Ben was dead. I would wake up sad, but oddly comforted to have been with him. Please don’t think I believed I was communicating with Ben; I knew these dreams were just spun from my memories. But they helped, nonetheless. Here was a person who had been so incredibly important to me, will always be important to me. I had had to accept his death, but at least, it seemed, I would be with him from time to time in my dreams. Waking thoughts of him, so full of the feeling of loss, were often painful--but the dreams were not.
After a few months, when I dreamt of Ben, my dreaming self was aware that in real life he had died, was going to die, and I had to find a way to tell him. Those dreams were less comforting, and I often woke up crying. One night it was particularly bad:
I had gone to my parents’ house, and Ben had stayed home in our apartment. I tried to call him using my parents’ rotary phone, but couldn’t manage to dial. I tried using my cell phone, but still couldn’t reach him. Suddenly, I remembered that we were no longer living together, and called his new number, at his apartment. Still no answer. I tried another number, and finally someone answered—a woman. I asked for Ben, and as I was speaking, remembered everything. She was his wife; he had died; I was confused, and calling and upsetting her. I woke up thoroughly shaken, with tears streaming down my face.
At this point, it has been a little over three years. Time does help the healing process; whether we like it or not, life goes on. What I find odd and unexpected, however, is that now my dreams that involve Ben don’t, really—I dream about someone else, someone to whom I say, “You remind me of my friend who died.” In terms of the workings of my unconscious, it is though I have taken another step away from him, or perhaps merely from the awfulness of his death. No matter how long I live, however, even if he disappears completely from my dreams, he will remain a part of me.
Those who we have truly loved,
we will always love.
And that which was deeply felt,
we will always feel.
Death can take all things
save one—Love remains,
for love alone is real. *
* from a sappy sympathy card, but the sentiment helps.
Postscript: It has been almost five years now.
Gale Harold, who plays Brian Kinney on Queer as Folk, has Ben's mouth. I find myself watching episode after episode to catch glimpses of familiar expressions.
This summer, for about two weeks, I began dreaming about Ben again. I woke up suddenly, night after night, disoriented, with an aching sense of loss. Finally, not knowing what else to do but feeling that I had to do something, I contacted Ben's father. In his first e-mail reply, he told me about a mutual friend of ours from college who was going through distressing times. I contacted her, only to find that she had been wishing she had someone to talk to--wishing Ben was around to listen and give comfort.
Ben wasn't around, but he sent me.