I met Ben the last time I was at L'Abri
this February, and he quickly became one of my favorite students. He traded me a pack of cloves for a pair of double A batteries when my walkman
died; cigarettes, as they are in jail, are as good as money at L'Abri, especially if you don't have a car. He and I spent many a moment smoking on the back deck of the house. He had bleached his hair blonde and below it were the deepest blue eyes I had ever seen. He showed me all his Nirvana
memoribilia, the albums and bootlegs. He wore this tweed hand me down
jacket from Goodwill
that just seemed to fit his personality.
He had been eager to see his girlfriend Jess, who unfortunately didn't come to visit until the day after I left. Erica, who was a student with me this term, was very good friends with Ben and Jess, and they were coming from Lancaster, PA, to pick her up at the end of term. When she found out I knew Ben, Erica asked, "But have you seen the Vanagon?" I don't think I did. I figured it was an affectionate name for Ben's van.
Turns out, Volkswagon did actually make a van called the Vanagon, which I thought was the coolest name ever. Ben and Jess didn't make it in until after midnight, so they slept in the van. Ben stumbled in, grabbed one of the brownies left over from the lecture the night before, and went back out to the Vanagon, not to surface until morning.
"You're Rhonda's old roommate, right?" Jess and I had yet met. "I've heard about you." Minimal silence, which often follows such a statement, then followed by, "Good things, of course." I liked that Ben had fallen in love with Jess. She was decked out tres cool in a fur coat with a fur lined collar, 50's cat eye glasses, dyed black hair, nose ring, chunky shoes, black mini skirt and print black socks. Ben has since dyed his hair black and still takes to wearing Goodwill dress shirts, jeans and old Adidas sneakers. Together, they were Kurt and Courtney. Normally I would be annoyed with it, but the looks just seemed to fit them, the whole of their personalities meshed together. I had heard that they were engaged, and though marrying at too young an age for their parents' wishes (I think Ben and Jess are around 20), Ben was already preparing his nest in his apartment, buying furniture and domestic items.
The last day at L'Abri is like the last day at any school; there is all this celebration mingled with sadness. Outside in the freezing cold, Erica, Ben, Chris, Jess, and everyone else was standing by the Vanagon as Ben cranked up the stereo. They danced around in their bedroom slippers as, one by one, each student left, bound for an airport or train station. The Vanagon was my ride into Boston.
I sat in the back, noting how much friggin room there is in a Vanagon, how easily I could live in it. We talked about the release of the new VW bus, which Jess had already reaserched and found that it would come out in 2004. I shared a tidbit of Nirvana trivia that I thought Ben would appreciate: the baby submerged in water for the Nevermind album was only given $250 for his appearance on the cover, and if you look closely on his stomach, you can see a shadow of his father's hand as he held him in the pool, which was later digitally removed. The real kicker is that this baby, now 11 years old, is embarrased about the whole ordeal and his favorite band is--guess what?--the Backstreet Boys. We all had a laugh at that.
Ben told me that he works in a printing company in Lancaster, and that it pays well, since they are not part of a union. He talked of the paper uniforms he had to wear over his regular clothes to avoid getting ink on himself, and having to scrub ink off his skin when it did. In the back there were all these neat ashtrays; it looked like a living room. They had even wired it for electricity. They told me that when they were young, they used to hate each other. I looked ahead at them and smiled, and wished them the best they could ever have imagined.
Ben helped with my bags when we got to the T station and gave me a warm hug. It was so good to see them again, to see them together. I'm interested in what they'll be up to five years from now.