About my friend Benny, with love and an apology by way of the "Dallas Buyers Club".

Mr.Wonderful and I ventured out on a frigid night last week, to see "Dallas Buyers Club". I had told my girlfriends that I wouldn't want to see that movie, because I have a long standing "movie star crush" on Matthew McConaughey. I had seen some previews and heard about all the weight he lost for the part, and well, I like the plumper version of my man Matt better ! Nothing else was of interest to us at the little cinema down the street, so off we went. I am glad that I went. It was outstanding, disturbing but awesome. It took me back to that era in our country. When the fear of AIDS was sweeping our land, friends were "coming out of the closet" and my world was forever changed by the death of a dear sweet friend. He has been on my mind since seeing the movie, and this morning while working, Debussy's "clair de lune" came on my WIFI radio. I was transported back to a sweet memory of my old friend.

Back in the days when Benny would spend the weekends with our family. (My little brother Rich and my close friend Belinda, with Ben he was about sixteen here).

Back in the days when Benny would spend the weekends with our family. (My little brother Rich and my close friend Belinda, with Ben he was about sixteen here).

I met Benny when he was just fifteen years old and I was seventeen. He was a friend of a friend. My family quickly adopted him and soon he was spending weekends with us, we loved him and he loved us. He was magical and as he grew into a young man, he never lost that magic. When I think of him now, I think of how "Peter Pan" like he was. We did lots of stuff together, crazy, spur of the moment rides on his mini bike right down Dixie Highway for a late night Burger King run, the two of us laughing so hard. Later when he got a car, we jumped in his car now and then for mystery rides, destination unknown, landing in the Keys one night and camping on a picnic table under the stars.

Me and Ben dancing on the deck of his Dad's boat 1975.  

Me and Ben dancing on the deck of his Dad's boat 1975.

 

When I married in the 70's he was in my wedding, later that year when my first pregnancy ended unexpectedly, he was comforting. I have always called that baby Benny, in my heart and mind. A year later I was in his wedding. Eleven Month's passed and Benny "came out" and changed his name to Bernie.

I need to back up here and tell you (if you don't already know) that I was raised in the church and later in my teens, in a Charismatic church, and so was Benny. We had that in common, along with a love of gardening, classical music, nature and shabby chic decor.

Bernie / Ben had made the most of his talent for gardening by becoming a professional onsite gardener for a couple who had a winter mansion in Palm Beach and one up north. (that's where  I saw a real Picasso, outside of a museum!) He did all the decorating for their parties and special events with his magic at both of their residences.

In my experience in Christianity up until that point, this new life of his seemed so surreal. I just didn't have the tools to make it all work in my head. My world was very black and white. My heart was sick from worry with the thought "if he dies, will he go to hell ?" My man-child friend, my magic maker of all things fun in this cold, sometimes hard world. 

Benny and I dancing at his wedding 1978. Not a good photo of us, but the only one I could find today.

Benny and I dancing at his wedding 1978. Not a good photo of us, but the only one I could find today.

He came to see me in the summer the year before he left us. He stayed in our house, he was still his sweet self, buying penny candy and silly toys for my girls. Some time later we found out that he had been diagnosed with full blown AIDS. This was at that time in the world that was the focus of the movie we saw the other night. The movie portrayed the feelings and attitudes at that time so well. I remember the fear. I remember the prejudice. I will never, ever forget because shamefully, I was part of it. We respond in crazy ways to the unknown. BAD CRAZY. Shameful crazy, hatefulness filled crazy. Last week I watched that played out on the screen and cried at the remembrance of it all. I wanted to slide down in the seat, because I saw myself there.

We got a call very late one night that Benny had passed away. The days that followed were a fog. Not knowing what to do with my grief and confusion. 

I went to my designated volunteer day at the church I belonged to at that time. I asked to talk to a  Pastor friend who had also known Benny for many years. He was very straight forward and to the point, "You are afraid Benny went to hell aren't you?" (Well, isn't that what I had been taught?) He quickly added, "I never once heard him deny Christ, or his belief in God. In fact, he continued his journey in Christianity. He continued to serve others, find a church that fit, and was caring and loving. Do you think that God met him at the door and said 'get out' ? No, No, I don't think so." I left comforted and reminded that no one really knows anyone's heart. None of us really knows what goes on inside the mind of another. The Bible instructs us that only God knows our heart. My Pastor was correct,  my friend did continue in his devotion to his faith, he loved God with all his heart.

That's Ben at the estate he worked at in Palm Beach.  

That's Ben at the estate he worked at in Palm Beach.

 

Years later and oh so many miles traveled in life, I know that I know, those words spoken to me that day would become my true north. I still hang on tightly to my belief in God. My belief that "GOD IS LOVE" as the Bible says, is the most simple doctrine of all. If I hold fast to that and let it be my example and guide, that is being true to my faith. How can I judge the heart of another?

I wish that I could tell him how sorry I am that I wasn't a better friend, that I am sorry for my lack of understanding, for judgments made way back when. I want to say that I didn't know how to love outside of my black and white lines and love him the way Christ loved. Maybe this post will let you know about how extraordinarily magical and goofy my friend Benny (Bernie) was, about how he loved his pet duck "Chuck" and the wonderland of gardens he created. I want you to know how I loved him. 

One evening,  long ago and far away, One winter night at a sleepover at Benny's..my heart was sad, the windows were open and the lace curtains billowed in the soft breeze, a candle was burning on the night stand. He put an old record album on the small stereo there in the corner. He said to me "you need this.." he turned up the volume and left the room, closing the door behind him. To this day, that's where you'll find me when Debussy's "Clair de Lune" is playing.