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A Favor Returned
The greatest friendship is one that saves you from yourself. Benny had certainly done just that and in more occasions than I could ever count. He and I would never agree on how to handle situations, but then the most striking difference was Benny was usually right. When I was about seven years old, my mother and father had taken me to a kid-themed party. In that fateful day, an unlikely encounter entrusted me with a priceless gift a kid could ever ask for, a present to treasure, someone understanding, a misguided soul looking for redemption. That afternoon, it had been typical Guam weather: a ray of sunshine, hot as ever, with the occasionally bizarre combination of a mist of sprinkling rain without the hope of a pleasant gust of wind to relieve the suffocating might of humidity. That is where I met Benny.
He was outside running in a circle lugging around an inhaler. Back then, Benny was a sickly child. He had as many illnesses as I had problems, but his mere playfulness was not enough to attract me to take a chance and talk to him. He continued to race around and eventually he broke his stride and stared at something on the ground. Assessing the situation, he picked the curious object up, carefully caressed it inside his cupped hands, and began to cry. What a weirdo, I thought to myself; nevertheless, I walked over to comfort him. “Hey what’s wrong?” He opened his hands and showed me a crushed butterfly limping for its life.
“It’s dying” he said, wiping the tears from his clouded eyes.
At that, I responded with probably the most insensitive advice a kid could ever say, “Well, hey. There’s not much you could do. All you can do now is let it go and fly free.” He disagreed of course. As I have stated before, Benny always handled things much differently than I would have.
“Nuh-uh. Not now, when it’s time, I will. But for now, I’m gonna take care of it.” At the moment, I thought he was wrong. He shouldn’t build himself up, only to see the end of the butterfly. He extended his arm out. “I’m Benny.”
“I’m Anne.” From behind, a booming voice interrupted our conversation, calling out.
“Uh, that’s my babysitter, Jesse James Muna,” he sneered her name. From what I gathered, he hated her.
Since then, Benny and I became best friends. We were inseparable, except as I think back on our relationship I was certainly the more changed --- or, if I were to admit much truthfully, the more beneficial --- because of Benny’s friendship. Even the slightest mistake I committed, he attempted to annoyingly fix it, and even the biggest ones, he was always prepared to catch me if I fell into a spiraling vortex, holding me up by enough power to keep me hanging on with just my weak, fragile fingertips.
Benny was my stronghold in my darkest hours. He was my source of strength when life had abandoned granting me second chances for all the wrong I unintentionally wanted to do. He became a permanent fixture in my picture of vulnerabilities. He existed on the outside, ceaselessly working overtime to paint over the imperfections and shaping it into a better outcome, but with each mend, the image became more difficult to restore as was the case when my parents left me. They had gone out to secure some business affairs overseas, and their plane had rapidly plummeted to its doom. Benny was right by my side, serving as an anchor to my nearly capsizing boat, but even he knew that this time he couldn’t fix me just by catching the trail of tears that drove on and on down my face. He never said anything; he just listened intently to the silence within my heart and the sadness that saturated the mood. When my tears soiled most of Benny’s shirts, I figured it was not fair to string him along in my pain, so I sought what I thought to be my escape: drugs.
For weeks, I was like the “missing” poster child in milk cartons until, of course, Benny found me freezing my butt off some place in the boonies. “It’s been raining an awful lot, huh? You can’t keep doing this anymore,” he said. “You need to get professional help. Please…do this for me.” Because of the fact that he was drenched, and more importantly, I realized I never once gave him a good reason to remain my friend, I followed what he asked of me this one time, even as I would look like some mental crazy chick. Soon after, I was admitted to a rehabilitation center where the administrators instructed us to stay secluded from society in order to get a more speedy recovery, but all the times away from my normal life had not sustained to boost me within an inch toward breaking my addiction to dangerous circumstances. In fact, I wanted to see Benny more than ever. Days, weeks, and years passed, and eventually recuperation was nice enough to pay me a visit. Finally, I was discharged from my sentence in rehab.
It had been years since I saw Benny, and I was eager to introduce him to the new me, someone worth calling a friend. Knocking on the door seemed silly and formal, but I wanted to see the look on his face when he first laid eyes on me. “Jesse? Is that you?” It was strange that she was there because Benny no longer needed a babysitter.
“Yeah, it’s me. Come on in, Anne. He’s been waiting for you,” she replied. I entered his room and perceived the immediate change in his sallow eyes. He was sick. I approached him cautiously, confused at the sight of his weakness. I was accustomed to his usual powerful bravado and this look weakened my knees.
“Hey, I’ve been waiting for you. You’ve kept me waiting a long time, probably why I’m still alive,” he joked, laughing and bringing his inhaler to his mouth to regain his breath. I sat on the edge of his bedside and unknowingly he caught the dangling tear from my eyes. “Pneumonia. Guess I shouldn’t have played in the rain,” he explained.
“It’s my fault,” I realized. “That day you found me in the boonies.” He smiled and shook his head.
“No, it’s not. Anne, do you remember the first time we met?” I nodded. “I’m that butterfly. I’m crushed and limping, but you need to let me go and fly free.”
I shook my head. “No. Not now, when it’s time, I will. But for now, I’m gonna take care of you.” It was my turn to be on the outside painting over his vulnerabilities.