On the night before Christmas, dreams froze forever

A few years ago, here in Boulder, I met a guy slightly younger than me named Benji. He was from Wichita Falls, Texas, but had been in the area for six or seven years. We became acquainted under circumstances most people would consider odd, but were pretty ordinary in my world, and his, at the time. He had a winter jacket with him that he didn’t need and didn’t fit him all that well, so he gave it to me. I didn’t “need” it either, but it fit me perfectly, and it has outlasted whatever winter wear I had at the time.

The last time I saw Benji, this fall, near the King Soopers on 30th Street, he was clearly not doing well in a number predictable ways. He had lost his phone and his backpack, and had therefore been parted from pretty much everything he’d had. But he was full of his usual drawling wry humor, and had just gotten hired at a local restaurant, not for the first time. Benji had hard time keeping jobs, but not because he wasn’t a reliable worker. He was actually a relentless worker, experienced in the hospitality industry, and it was plain from the way he spoke that he had the capability to take charge of an industrial kitchen environment. But when his demons started knocking him around, they wouldn’t let up and Benji would be AWOL for long periods.

Benji froze to death somewhere on the streets of Boulder on Christmas Eve, maybe early Christmas morning. I wish I could say I was surprised to learn this.

I don’t know all of the details, but I can confidently fill in most of the blanks. He was probably drunk. There’s no point in gilding the lily here, and he wouldn’t want to be remembered in the form of a bullshit hagiography anyway. He probably drank himself unconscious with the full intent of doing exactly that, and he probably told himself he didn’t care whether he woke up or not. Whatever the case, it was in the single digits the other night, and now he’s gone.

You don’t want to picture it, but it’s there: a guy with a bottle, lying by himself against a tree or a building, probably with a view of passing cars, thinking that’s just what he needs for a few hours even if the world seems bleak and is marching on without him. Huddling someplace out of view, maybe near one of the bike paths or behind one of those warehouse off Arapahoe. A defiant form of loneliness so dark and complete that you could almost call it elegant if you know anything about it.

About all I can say at this point is that the biggest difference between Benji and me right now is dumb fucking luck, because I was a lot closer to ending up exactly like that than all but a handful of people I know recognize.

It’s no one’s fault. Sometimes pain only finds a mortal solution and it’s somehow worse when it happens to someone few people around here are going to remember.

I’m sorry,  Benji. But I get it. I won’t be seeing you anymore on my runs past Scott Carpenter Park or anywhere else. But you added kindness and humor to the world and your struggles were meaningful. Pretty words aren’t going to bring you back, but they also mean you’re not going to disappear from the lives of those who knew you.

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