Just One Life Away
Note: After a true story. It is my very first, real, own story. Please kindly leave a review.
This story is for Benedict. With Love.
Ben was going over the meadow and considered
the fenced in area for the deer, he remembered the many things that
he had experienced here with his father.
His schoolmates had fathers, his cousins also.
His foot hits one of the small boulders that could be found from time to time on the meadow. Angrily he bends down and picks up the stone. Estimating its weight he passes it from hand to hand. How much did it weigh?
When he was younger, he had once found a boulder. His father had been convinced something in that nondescript gray-red stone, a treasure. Grandpa cut it apart and exposed a small crystal vein. "You see," his father said with excitement as Ben held the two halves in his hands, "The most inconspicuous little things often hide great treasures."
But father was no longer there.
Angry, Ben threw the boulder away. Maybe a deer will trip over it and break its neck. Better if it was all seventy of them. For they were indeed to blame for everything. Without them, his father might still be here. But now ....
He picked up another, smaller one this time, threw it at the deer, Flake, who stood closest to him and watched him with big brown eyes. She was called Flake because of a white spot on her right shoulder. As a kit she had been caught in the fence. Although father had freed it, it had a white spot that looked like a snowflake.
He missed, it was too far away. He didn't care.
He walked across the grass to the grove that had been created in the middle of the pasture years ago by his grandfather.
When Ben was young, his father had built him a tree-house there. The house was still there, but Ben did not feel like a little boy any longer. He was the man of the house now that his father was gone.
Oh how happy he would be to shoot all the deer.
He picked up a stick and swung it in a full circle against a tree. Bang! 'That's one deer dead,' he thought . Bang! Bang! Bang! He hit the tree over and over again as though in a trance. With each bang in his mind, another deer fell lifeless to the ground. .
He struck the big stick against the firm bark of the tree with all his might - and stopped suddenly when the stick broke and the pieces flew around his ears.
He felt sad and empty.
And so desperate.
He imagined the feeling as something that ate him up from the inside, like a tumor in his belly. He didn't want to be a man, he was only twelve years old. He was a kid, a boy, that's what his father had often called him, his bub. "A boy," he shouted, even louder: "A bub! PAPA'S BUB!!" and with all the strength he flung the broken stick into the woods. He did not notice the tears running down his cheeks. He felt alone, so alone …
Papa was gone.
He still heard the whispers of how Papa took his life because the deer made so much trouble, because they had money worries - as if they would disappear with the Father - because everything cost so much, the additional food, the veterinarian that had to come when the neighbors opened the gateway to the meadow and the deer ran into the street Papa had so many dreams that he could not realize, because he actually wanted a different job but the family had held him, not let him go, and because he had loved them so. Only, Ben didn't feel even a little bit loved. On the contrary, had Papa truly have love him, he would never have shot himself, right?
He would have done everything that he could to never hurt those he loved and because Ben loved his father so much it had to be clear that Ben would be hurt. Was there perhaps nothing likable about him?Why couldn’t Papa have killed him instead? Then he wouldn’t feel so empty now, so lonely, so desperate, with this raving monster in his belly. He’d rather be cold in the dark earth, his soul in heaven, with God who loved him. God loves all his children, Mama says so, anyway.
The growing knot in his stomach felt heavy and cold. Everything would be so simple if he did not feel that. Why couldn't he just turn off the feeling?
Four years ... four long years have passed since then. Today was the fourth anniversary of the death. Grandma and Grandpa had gone to the cemetery, and Mama hasn’t left her room.
That was when he had seen the grove. He hadn't been there since his father's death. Only once had he come, on the day after the funeral. He had felt similar to what he felt today, only then he was a little more numb.
Why couldn't he feel that way today too? Why did he have experienced this day at all? What was feeling any way? Why would he need to feel at all? It only hurt, hurt so much ... this monster in his stomach was growing more and more. Just how big could it get?
No, he did not want to feel. Somehow he had to turn it off. But how? Isn't there no switch for such a thing? Turn on the feeling for mom, grandma and grandpa, but for everything else turned off?
He didn't want to go back into the house to try out anything; he could try his experiments here. Here no one would stop him or give him any wise sayings that didn't change anything anyway.
Without much thought he picked a berry and put it in his mouth. It tasted a little bitter -- like an unripe apple. Then he ate a leaf, then another and another.
Looking up, he discovered an odd hue that came through the leafs of the trees around him. Feeling slightly dizzy, he pretend suddenly as if he was a deer. He tried to imitate the bellowing of the stags, but there came only a few funny sounds from his mouth that had nothing to do with the deer's bellow. Well, never mind, he would just keep on practicing.
Eventually, he felt thirsty. Very thirsty, he needed water, now. He felt rather light, much as a doe must feel. Great, he had turned into a girl. Was he caught in a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, 'Little Brother and Sister'? But he had only eaten berries and leafs, not drunk water from a spring.
But now he needed water.
Outside the small forest, there was a watering hole. It was not a spring, but a kind of well with a flatter side that resembled a small pond. This was where Papa and Grandpa had taught him how to swim and they had had many man to man talks on the shore. There was also a pump-house where he had spent a lot of time with his parents and grandparents in better days. They had barbecued, played soccer and had told him fairy tales. It was just a small wooden hut, but it had a covered porch. The hooks for the porch swing were still there, but the swing was long gone. At one time this had been a very romantic place, now it was only the pump-house.
On the shore next to the house was an old weeping willow. It had already been in the meadow even before the deer. The large roots had freed themselves from the earth and spread into the water, thus, building a kind of shallow stairs into the "pond". The water was not deep. Ben could clearly see the bottom as he bent down thirsty for water between the roots.
He drank long. Whenever he felt he had enough and tried to get up again, a sudden feeling of great thirst would overtake him once more.
"Here, take this," a young voice suddenly said. "I think you have poisoned yourself."
Stunned, Ben lifted his head out of the water. In a reflection of the water, he saw a boy about his age, holding something small and brown in his hand. Ben faced the stranger. He was right, the boy was about his age wearing faded blue jeans and a green shirt with rolled-up sleeves. Beside him a brown bag lay on the ground. He had a sly smile that also brought laughter into his blue, sparkling eyes. The moon-shaped round face was framed by a brown tuft, which was standing in all directions. He looked as if he had just crawled through some bushes.
"What is it?" Ben's eyes went from the friendly laughter back to the hand that still held out this strange thing.
"Witch hazel." The boy grinned and moved closer. Ben grinned and played along. "Oh, a witch hazel? And what does it do?"
"It heals you." The boy was still smiling, but his eyes looked serious.
"And if I do not want to be healed?" Ben crocked his head slightly to one side and looked at the boy curiously.
"Then at least you won’t be thirsty anymore."
Ben took the shriveled thing from the strange boy and examined it. It was the size of a prune and looked like one as well except it was maroon in color. "Does it have a pit?" The boy shook his head. Ben nodded and cautiously bit off a small bite. The thing was tasteless, but he ate it anyway.
The boy, who had become seriously smiled again. "And? Are you still thirsty?"
Ben reflected a moment to himself. "No." After a brief pause he said, "Thank you."
The other boy nodded and sat between two large roots. Then he looked around: across the small pond, the woods, the old farmhouse where Ben lived with his mother and grandparents, the great meadow, the deer, the forest and the road on the other side of the fence.
"What's your name?" Ben had settled between the roots next to the boy and followed his gaze across the lawn to the deer herd.
"Benedict," the boy said.
Ben's eyes opened wide and stared at the other boy in amazement. "Really?" Benedict shrugged. "Why? You got a problem with that name? "
"No ... of course not. Only, mine is also Benedict. "
Benedict looked slightly taken aback. "That's ..." –
"... funny?" interrupted Ben.
"No, more strange, a strange coincidence."
Ben grinned. He had never met anyone who was also named Benedict. He knew loads of Michaels, Peters and Annas, but Benedict? "I was named after my father who was also named Benedict."
"I was named after my grandfather."
They laughed. "You have a strange family." Benedict laughed. “You too."
"Do you have siblings?" Ben always wanted that, but he had only a bunch of cousins. He got along best with Valentin who was a little younger than himself, but still the nicest of the bunch.
"No. How about you?"
"No, also not, but I always wanted some."
Benedict nodded. He could understand that. "But you have deer."
"Yes. They belong to my grandfather. "
"My father once had some too." Said Benedict quietly.
"Is your father ...?" Ben choked. Even after all this time he still couldn’t say that word.
Benedict did not look at him. But he answered anyway. "No, he's not. But I... And yours? "
Ben swallowed. "Yes," he whispered so quietly, he almost did not hear it himself. He stared straight ahead at the water’s surface. He swallowed and tried again but it came out as only a croak. "He is."
Benedict hummed, put his hand comfortingly on his shoulder and squeezed it in silent understanding. "How long?"
"Exactly four years today." There was still a lump in Ben's throat but now it was more slowly diminishing. Dimly he remembered the voracious monster in his tummy. He no longer felt, it was gone.
"Will you tell me about him?" Benedict's question surprised Ben. No one had ever asked that.
“After all, he is indeed another Benedict.” The other Benedict looked at Ben invitingly and Ben started talking. At first reluctantly but then gaining confidence he told one story after another. He told how he felt betrayed, left alone and how people responded to him when they heard about his fathers death.
Benedict just listened to him, his hand was still on Ben's shoulder. Slowly Ben recalled that his father had often done that with him too. There was something comforting in that. He turned to Benedict and looked at him.
For a moment he only looked at Benedict. Then he softly said, "Mama is always alone. When she laughs the laughter no longer reaches her eyes. It's as if she is not really living any longer. Grandma doesn't laugh at all anymore and is always sad. Sometimes she looks at me as if she doesn't see me anymore. It's ..." Ben swallowed. "It's as if she would see my father instead, when he was my age. I can't remember what he looked alike. Of course there are a few photos, but they're only pictures. Somehow, he is no longer alive, as if he has been forgotten, in their hearts. And nobody talks about him, everyone is silent." Big tears fell from his eyes. It's the first time he allows himself to cry since it happened. "I can't stand those deer, it's their fault that Papa's gone ...," he cries.
Benedict hugged him and didn't let go. He held him tight for a long while as they sat between the roots of the old Willow by the 'pond'.
Ben felt comforted and understood. It was almost as if he knew Benedict, as though they have met before.
"Sometimes things just happen. It's not your fault, nor the fault of the deer. You can't control what happens," Benedict whispered in his ear. "You know the monster that was eating you up inside? The same thing happened to your father. He also had such a monster. "
Ben was still crying, but he also felt safe. "Do ... do you think .... so? "
"Yes. I am..." Benedict gave him a push. "But that has nothing to do with his love for you. He was just so incredibly desperate, he did not know what to do. The monster had consumed him."
"I miss him a lot and I love him so much... and there are so many things that I would have liked to say to him."
"He misses you too," Benedict whispered in his ear. "And he loves you forever too. You need to know that. Just believe in his love, feel it, his love is always with you. "
"How do you know that?" Ben softly asked between his tears.
"I just know it."
The deer came to the other side of watering hole. They did not respond to Ben and Benedict, it was as if they were both invisible. Only Flake stopped. One could clearly see the white marking on her shoulder. Did she see Benedict and Ben after all?
Then came Rambo and Lenchen, the lead animals. Normally the animals didn't have names, just numbers in their ears, but there were a few who Grandpa, Grandma, Papa, Mama, and he, Ben, had had some experience with, and they were given names.
Pauli, got his name from grandpa, because of a picnic they had had at the pump house, and Pauli drank an open glass of Paulaner beer. The young stag had become quite tipsy, and earned himself a name.
Bianca was an albino doe, but no one knew where she came from. One day they had simply found her in the corral. Maybe a neighbor had smuggled her in, or she had jumped over the fence. Anyway, she didn't want to leave on her own.
Mama had named an old doe Mary, after the Virgin Mary, because she was so motherly. Mama always said she was the best babysitter in the world. Grandma told him that Mary had taken care of him when he was still a baby and the grownups had to work in the meadow and didn't have time to watch him. Mary had stayed with him and had lain down beside him. When he woke up she had licked him so that he didn't feel alone.
Every year Grandma called the first Fawn Zenzi, as a reminder of the first deer with which they had begun breeding. Therefore there was a Zenzi 1 till Zenzi 11, and the Zenzis had not been slaughtered.
Ben named one Bambi once one his third birthday, the same day that Lenchen had a little faun.
Usually the deer were very shy except those who had been given names. Perhaps that was one reason why they had ever been given names.
Benedict watched Rambo closely. The stag pranced restlessly at the watering hole. It was almost as if the lead animal had sensed that something was different.
Quietly Benedict asked about the Zenzis, if there had been one this year, if the tradition had been continued. Ben lifts his head in wonder. "How do you ...?" But then he looked at boy’s face. "Papa?" he asks softly, very, very softly as if he would know he'd been guessing wrong.
Benedict looks at him and raises his hands, slowly gliding his fingers over Ben's face, as if he wanted to memorize every centimeter.
Ben almost started crying again.
"Don't cry," said Benedict,
“No, Papa,” Ben responded quietly.
"Now I'm here with you."
"Will you stay with me?"
"As long as you don't forget me, yes. I am very close by. "
"Yes. I promise."
"I miss you." Ben says softly, he had already told his this once today, when Papa was still Benedict. Papa didn't answer, he only keep Ben firmly in his arms in a firm embrace, as though he would never let him go again. Ben leaned back on his father's chest. Papa gently kissed him on his forehead, just as he has always done when Ben went to bed and he felt tired, even now. Papa didn't let go and he felt his father's embrace as he closed his eyes. His belly was warm and it was as if there is an invisible force humming in there with a certain melody or energy. He felt secure in his father's arms.
- - -
When Ben next opened his eyes the first thing he saw was his mother. "Mama?" Where had she come from? The last thing he remembered was his father's face, in the meadow on the pasture near the well. But now he was home, in bed.
"Ben!" She called his name and hugged him as if she never wanted to let him go. "I was so worried ..." Why was she crying? What was happening?
"Julie." Grandma appeared and broke his mother gently from her fierce embrace. "Let the boy breathe He’s alright now.."He’s alright now? Was he not alright beforehand?
Grandma saw the confusion on Ben's face. "Ben,” she said, giving him a gentle hug as she and Mom sat next to Ben on the bed.
"We found you in the pasture by the pond. You were unconscious. The deer were making such a noise, it was like an alarm. Without them ... " Her voice failed her.
Ben still didn't understand anything.
"Ben," his mother said in a tone that told him how serious she was. "We're all sad and miss Papa very much. We still love him and we miss him. But if something were to have happened to you, I would never be able to laugh again. You, Ben, are my heart and my soul. I love you forever. "
Grandma wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I love you too. Forever."
"I know that." Ben puzzled over what was going on. He had met his father who had promised him he would always be with him. Even now, if he listened inside himself, he could still feel the melody he had felt when his dad held him. Now he knew what it was. It was love.
"My goodness," Grandpa thundered from the doorway. "You're sitting here and crying as if someone had died. Get the poor boy something to eat, he looks pale." Grandma looked at her husband defiantly for a moment before she smiled indulgently and turned to Mama. "Come on Julie, the old man wants to have a talk. Man to man."
"Old man?" Grandpa boomed, jokingly threatening Grandma with a stick. But Grandmother was already out the door and Julie smiled and shook her head before following Grandma to the kitchen with promises of making his favorite dish, pancakes and applesauce.
"So.” Grandpa sat on the chair his mother had been consuming when Ben woke up. "Now tell me something."
"What do you want to hear, Grandpa?"
"I want to know what happened to you out there and how you met Benedict."
Speechless Ben stared at him. "You know ...?"
The old man leaned back in his chair and grinned. "Yes," he said. "I know Benedict."
Ben smiled back and told him everything.
- - -
That evening, as Ben watched the deer
in the meadow from his bedroom window, Grandfather came in and stood
next to Ben. The herd was grazing quietly.
It was a large herd this year, seventy deer in all. Ben could see
them all well: Rambo,
who was so brave and appeared to never be afraid of anything; gentle
Lenchen; then there was Mary; Pauli; Runaway who bore his name
rightly; Emma, who had bitten grandma
four times in a row; Bambi; eleven Zenzis; Lana - a beautiful doe,
that Papa gave Mama as an engagement present; Tramp, another runaway
type; Luna, who had been born at a full moon; Christy, who had been a
Christmas surprise; Billie and Dusty, twin does, which got raised by
Grandma, who got up several times at night, just to feed them with an
old baby bottle from Ben; Greedy who had been named by
Uncle Jack because it reminded him of the deputy mayor; and the many
others who didn't have a name.
Ben no longer hated them.
"Do you see Bianca?"
Grandfather asked. Ben looked and found her on the other side of the
herd. "She shines like a lighthouse in the storm with her white
coat." Ben grinned. That was certainly true.
"And Flake? Standing off to the side as always and looking toward us?" Ben looked for her and almost couldn't find her. But grandpa pointed a little further along the fence. There she stood with her head raised, listening and her big ears twitched, as they pointed in one direction - almost as if they would listen to someone out there telling her something.
"She's always been Benedict's favorite deer," said grandfather quietly. Then he gave Ben an envelope, squeezed his shoulder and went out again.
Ben looked at him surprised. He turned the envelope back and forth but he could not see what was inside. Carefully he opened it and pulled out a photo.
It was a doe, Flake to be exact. She seemed to stare at him in the photo, her eyes were very much alive, and big. They gave him a sense of looking into infinity. He turned the picture around to see if something was written on the back. Stunned, he saw Papa's handwriting. "Bub, I am always with you. Only one life away."
- - -