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He had been around for as long as I can remember, my Ben Ben. His real name was Benjamin, but we first met when I was five years old and when he told me I thought he said Benja Ben so from then on he was Ben Ben.
When I described my meeting Ben Ben in great detail to my mother that day, and how he had been watching me from a bench everyday we’d ever gone to that park, she got a very frightened look on her face. She told me if I ever saw him again, I was to run and tell her immediately.
She waited a whole week before she let me to the park again, and she was watching me very carefully. She even had some of her mother friends there to watch with her. Their children were there too, and they asked if I wanted to make mud pies, but I didn’t .They told me when they were playing hide-and-seek but I wasn’t interested. I was far to busy spying on Ben Ben, who seemed to be looking for something.
“What are you looking for?” I asked, running out of the bushes at him. He smiled at me and said I was what he was looking for. “Wait here for one second.” I told him very slowly so that he was sure to understand. “I’ll be right back!” I shouted behind me as I ran to tell mother.
“Mother! Mother! It’s Ben Ben! He’s back! Can I play with him please?”
My mother was shocked, then frightened again. She yelled at me to tell her where, and I pointed. She said she couldn’t see him. I told her he was way on the other side of the park, but maybe she needed glasses.
She ran all the way over to him, and I thought I saw steam coming out of her ears like in a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Ben Ben was sitting on the grass, right where I left him, looking very scared and confused. She screamed for me to point to him again, and I did. Then look on mothers face was scaring Ben Ben, and me too, so I ran to his side and sat down right next to him and hugged him. “I won’t let you hurt him!” I shouted.
Mother’s face softened. “This is Ben Ben?” she asked me sounding frustrated. Then she ran her hand through her hair and walked back to her friends, shaking her head.
Ben Ben and I looked at each other and sighed. “That was a close one, ‘ay lil’ bit?” We both giggled. He talked with a funny accent I was soon to learn was British.
I could never understand why my mother walked away in peace that day. Especially when I was old enough to understand why she would be so upset at the though of me being friends with a strange man, I still didn’t understand why she would just leave us be. When I was old enough to understand, granted I realized he was not exactly a grown-up. He was barely a man. I couldn’t tell you his age but he’s not old, nor is he a child or a teenager. He had a sweet face, and gentle features, and although he looks nothing like one for some reason his expression always resembles that of a child, but how could my mother leave me with a stranger?
The thought disturbed me at times, but over the years it mattered less and less, because Ben Ben was my best friend in the whole world. He was my only friend at times. We did everything together. We played games like cops and robbers, pirates, explorers, wizards, undersea adventures, and all orts of other games we’d just mish-mosh.
As I grew older, our games changed. These new games were more advanced, and yet still just as imaginative as the old ones. We started playing improvisation games. We wrote stories together, we drew pictures. My mother wasn’t on constant watch anymore. Ben Ben was especially keen on taking advantage of this newly given freedom. We caused quite a bit more trouble than we had before.
My mother had always been reluctant to talk to Ben Ben. As a matter of fact, she seemed to have a very hard time even looking at him. She winced every time I said his name. Eventually I tried not to talk about him around her, but it was growing increasingly harder because every minute Ben Ben and I spent together brought us closer.
I thought it incredibly ridiculous that every time she walked in the room she pretended she couldn’t see him. He stopped trying to talk to her over the years, but rather he would stand behind me and speak to her as though to himself. I hated that she ignored him like that. It was like he didn’t even exist. Only when I brought him up would she look around the room, and still never at him. When she wasn’t around Ben Ben and I would tease her, calling her things like ‘the blind old bat’ and such.
When I turned ten I was fed up with her. He was my best friend. He was over every day. It was time she acknowledged his existence, so I told her he was coming to dinner and asked her to set another place at the table for him.
“Don’t you think you’re a little too old to still have an imaginary friend?”
I stared at her for a long time, mouth hanging open, but she didn’t look up.
Her words rang in my ears, over and over and over… imaginary friend… I was speechless. Was she actually blind? He had been right in front of her for almost five years. Had she actually never seen him?
Finally my ability to speak returned. “Imaginary friend? Mother, he’s not imaginary…” fine, she told me, fine. She set a place at the table for him and told me she wanted to see him.
I furrowed my eyebrows confusedly at a loss for words. Sure, I told her, and I promised he’d be there.
I followed through. Ben Ben sat at his place, eyeing me with the same expression I had on when my mother told me to invite him. I shrugged at him and looked to my mother. She was looking at me crossly, tapping her foot. “Where is he?” I pointed to him. She nodded and put her hand over her face. I stared at Ben Ben, who was turning his shocked gaze from my mother to me and back.
Thus began a terribly long year of intensive therapy.
I told them about my childhood. They asked me about my father who had left when I was two, and I would always reply that I didn’t remember him at all so it didn’t make a difference. They wanted to know about my mother, school, hobbies, dreams, they asked me everything. They wanted to know why I needed an imaginary friend. I was still in shock they couldn’t see him. I went home after every session and cried into his shoulder. He was just as scared and confused as I was, but he was very good at hiding it.
“Schizophrenia? What’s Schizophrenia?” I was seeing people who weren’t really there, they told me. It’s a disease. They said most schizophrenics were afraid of the people, and I was the only one they had ever seen who had made friends with the hallucination.
“But Ben Ben is real! He’s real!” I screamed it at them, tears pouring from my eyes, but it didn’t make a difference.
We locked ourselves in my bedroom for two days living off of Halloween candy I’d saved and sodas I’d hidden in my closet. When I told Ben Ben his eyes got really wide and he fell back against the wall with a thud. He sank down to the floor and buried his face in his hands. “If you’re a schizo then… then that means I’m…” I crawled over to where he was sitting, wrapped my arms around him, and cuddled in as close as I could.
“I don’t know what’s goin’ to happen Ben Ben, but no matter what, I love you… I love you, ok?” I was crying again.
“I love you too,” he replied, hugging me back, “and we won’t let them bring us down, alright? Promise me you won’t let them get to you.” I promised, even though I knew my mother wouldn’t give up until I couldn’t see him anymore. He knew it too.
I always imagined I would marry Ben Ben. I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I didn’t understand how he could look so real, sound so real, smell so real, feel so real, and not be. It wasn’t me, I decided. He was real; I was just the only one that could see him.
He stayed all night both of those two days. That particular night we slept on the floor in that same position, holding each other. I slept soundly with that thought drifting around my head. They’re the crazy ones.
The doctor prescribed me a few different medications to stabilize the part of my brain causing me to see people who weren’t there. To my blooming agony, by the third week of the treatments, Ben Ben became a vague vision, until he finally disappeared completely. I swore I saw him walk by me in the street one day. I looked back and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was him! It was my Ben Ben! I ran to him, ready to trap him in a killer embrace and never let him go… he didn’t even look at me.
I called to him. He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look up. He was just a soulless body, an apparition, and empty hallucination. I became accustomed to seeing him out and about like that. My own mind had made him what he was, but the medication wouldn’t allow him to continue to be.
Two years later, when the doctors were sure I was cured, I was free of the medication. I had friends at school, but I never stopped wishing he would return to me. I prayed he would become a real boy, like Pinocchio, but God refused to play the blue fairy and the blue fairy wouldn’t help us. My mother was worried. She continued to send me to therapy for depression. I knew she just wanted me to have a normal life, but I hated her for taking him away.
Three or four years later my mother remarried. He was sick of my moping around, he told me one day. He demanded to my mother that if I really had clinical depression, the mental disease, I should be in a mental sanitarium. He was drunk a lot and his son (who only saw him every other weekend) always insisted I try some kind of high. They both loved the drink, and drugs of all sorts… I suppose it was the stress of it all.
I was sixteen, I was driving, I had a boyfriend, and I was almost grown-up. That is, I almost was, but what came to me one night flipped around my entire broken-up world. I hadn’t cried for some time. Being depressed took far too much energy, so I went for a more apathetic approach. I was drinking, not enough to be drunk but just enough to lose the ability to think straight. I was addicted to pain killers, as well as my boyfriend. My life was a disaster.
That night, though… that night he was standing out on the lawn. He wasn’t waving, nor blinking an eye. He was just standing there staring up at my window.
I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want it to hurt anymore, so I did the only sensible thing: cleared my mind and turned back to readying myself for my ‘date.’ Before I knew it I was imagining our reunion, and I turned around just for a glance. I nearly leapt out of my skin to find Ben Ben climbing in through the open window.
I let loose a scream and backed into my armoire which hit the wall on impact.
“God, I’m so sorry! Please don’t scream again!” He looked nervous as hell and his voice shook as he spoke. His face was sad and lonely, like a child’s, and his voice fell to a whisper. “You… You remember me, don’t you?”
I was in shock, so it was all I could do to stare.
Footsteps were rushing up the stairs with loud thumps. Our eyes grew wide as saucers as our gazes clung to the slowly turning doorknob. Tears were welling in my eyes as memories of the two of us flooded through me. My mother burst through the door.
“Good gracious, are you alright?” she asked louder than she needed to. I nodded slowly trying not to look at Ben Ben, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hold the tears back anymore. “What was that noise?” She said a little quieter. “What happened?”
I knew very well that if I told her what was really happening, why I had really fallen back, I knew exactly what would happen. I’d get the pills again, and he would go away again, and all the pain would be gone. By look he was giving me, he knew it too.
“I…” I stuttered a bit. “I kicked me bedpost and tripped.” I lied quickly, trying not to look at her either so that she wouldn’t see me crying. “I need to finish getting dressed mom.” With that she threw me a nervous glance and walked out, shutting the door behind her. The tears overflowed.
He bent down right into my tear streaked face forcing me to look at him. “You saved me... You do remember-“
“Of course I remember!” I snapped, shoving him backward and storming past. I faced into the mirror, but in the blink of an eye he was right behind me. My tear-soaked glare could’ve burned holes in his reflection.
“Your mother… You know what she would’ve done to me… you know you didn’t have to…” His sad, innocent eyes locked onto my reflection which was struggling to avoid it. “So, does this mean… I mean, do you still… l-l-love me?”
His nerves were heartbreaking. I was crying so hard I could hardly see through the running tears. I flew around and hugged him as tight as I could. Then the hug turned into a kiss, not like how my boyfriend kissed me, but softer, kinder, like he loved me. It wasn’t a hallucination. It was real.
Things got better after that. I left that night for my date, where my boyfriend broke up with me because I refused his offer for some crack. It turned out to be the best thing he could’ve done for me. I no longer drank, or felt the need to get high, just the sight of Ben Ben was enough to make it all go away.
It came to my attention, that night when I came home early, that Ben Ben seemed little older than me. When I was young he felt so much bigger, but now he just seemed like a tall teenage boy with a child’s face. The way that he spoke, he was still a child, but he could love all the more passionately because of it. You see, children have a sort of untainted love that they lose as they grow. I figured he never would grow since he hadn’t over all those years.
Anyway, I knew loving him was wrong. It was sick and twisted. I was sick and twisted. It would never stop me from loving him. We were together all the time again, doing everything, going everywhere, playing games, talking. He had a difficult time understanding how I changed so much, but it didn’t bother him.
His hugs healed my heartache, kisses made the rest of the world disappear… but it didn’t take long for my mother to find out about him having returned. She told my stepfather who, in turn, was having me shipped off to a mental institution.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Ben would make attempts at calming me. “Everything dies, but new things grow, wonderful things.”
I didn’t cry this time. I knew what I had to do. “Like you said Ben Ben, everything dies,” I told him that very same day, while driving in my mother’s car to the edge of a cliff by the road. “This way, you’ll never have to leave me.”
I imagine he tried to convince me this wasn’t the right way to go about things, but I couldn’t hear over the roar of the engine. I pushed it as hard as it would go and let go of everything, and with a final kiss from my beloved, we flew. There was air and the tops of the trees, then pain, then black.
I didn’t die, but I never did wake up. I like it better this way though. They don’t know it, but I dream. I dream of freedom, I dream of love, but mostly I dream of Ben Ben. We’ll be together for the rest of time where no one can bother us ever again. I am not crazy, he is real as real can be, and I will sleep in the purest joy forever more.