33 Years

33 years ago yesterday, three of us walked up Double M Road and cut across the ruins of this old dairy to go play basketball at a nearby elementary school, which we all happened to have attended just a few years before.

Just to the front of the dairy there was a wide dirt spot near a pepper tree that was covered with a puddle of what looked to be blood and some other things. My friend nearly dropped the basketball in it. We could only guess what had happened.

We continued on and ended up just taking free throws for a while instead of an actual game. One of the group wasn’t there and we had an odd number. Our friend had planned to graduate early to join the Marines but we still expected to see him around. We didn’t that day.

The next day we went to school as usual and fairly early in the morning they wheeled in a TV on a cart so we could watch the Challenger launch. We did, and everyone was shocked when it exploded shortly after takeoff.

We got off the bus outside my house as we usually did and one of our peripheral friends was waiting to tell us about our friend we hadn’t seen that day. Turns out the mess under the pepper tree was from him–he’d walked there sometime the night before and shot himself in the head.

All anyone talked about for days was the Challenger disaster and I get that. It was terrible. Yet on that day–33 years ago–all I could think about was my friend Ben.

I remember we sang a song in his memory during men’s chorus and the teacher just let us all cry and hug and all that. There was only about a dozen of us, and a big hole in Ben’s spot.

Yet we sang “Ain’t Got Time to Die” and we remembered our friend.

I thought about him today as we got the boys ready for school and my wife and I for various other things.

But I remembered him. I thought of his shaggy blonde hair and his bass voice and bass guitar. I remembered how nice he was to my mom and sisters.

He was such a good dude.

And there are some things you can never forget.

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