I have deeply loved four men in my life... different feelings of love. My father, two husbands and a "man called Ben." As I look back on his life I believe his greatest joys were his books, his dog and me.
Our family had just moved to Honolulu. Wanting to meet people, my husband and I decided to attend a large affair. Who did I meet? A man called Ben. His impact on my life lives in the depth of my soul and heart and I know our meeting was no accident.
He was tall, lean and grey bearded. His speech was clipped with an air of authority. When his name was mentioned it was always with a "did you hear what Ben had to say?" He was a maverick. His gait was with purpose and drive. He looked like the Russian czar, Lenin. He had been a labor attorney in Washington. His looks and his career seemed to go hand in hand. His personality -- that was his strength. He was not hostage to the mores around him. He lived his life as "he saw fit," not succumbing to the pressure of others. Ben was his "own man." That was his essence. And that was the lesson he taught me.
He moved to Honolulu because of his wife's health. There were no children. Ben was a law professor at the University of Hawaii until going into private labor law practice. He was an avid reader, an exercise buff and a man for all seasons.
We happened to be standing next to one another at the affair. The conversation went like this:
Ben: "I have not seen you before."
Me: "My family and I just moved to Honolulu."
Ben: "Where are you living?"
Me: "On Kahala Ave."
Ben: "I live on the same street. I walk by your home everyday. I do my four mile walk to keep fit."
Me: "Oh, I have just started walking again in the last few weeks."
Ben: "Would you like to walk together?"
Me: "I would."
Ben: "Meet you tomorrow in front of your home at 6 am?
And that was the beginning of a deep love between us.
For the next ten years Ben and I walked everyday unless one of us was off island. Ben was my teacher. Ben was my advisor. Ben made me laugh and think and discuss important issues. Our family became Ben's family. We all loved Ben. And Ben loved us.
Suddenly one day Michael, my late husband, died of a massive heart attack.
Who never left my side? Ben.
Walking one day, a few months later, Ben turned to me and said: "If Esther dies I am going to pursue you! I am in love with you." I stopped dead in my tracks. I looked him in the eye and said, "I love you too, but in a different way." You see I was 44 and Ben was 71. What was I to do?
Esther did pass away. Ben was alone. I had decided to move with my daughters back to the mainland to be close to our family. I decided I would ask Ben to come with us. We would be his family. Ben said no. It was too late in the game. It was cold and he had his roots in the Islands. So...
I made up my mind. I would try and find a wife for Ben! I could not leave him alone on the island! And so I put my mind to that task.
Standing in a long line at the drug store one afternoon a woman I knew was standing in front of me. "Hi Frieda," I said. "How are you?" "Not great," was her reply. "What happened," I asked? "My husband died a few months ago!" She was sad. I was elated! She would be the perfect wife for "my Ben!" Her husband had been a professor at the University of Hawaii. She had a great personality and was smart. Ben needed someone smart. "Frieda, I don't want to be disrespectful but would you be interested in going out with Ben?" "Oh yes" she said and her whole face lit up with a huge smile. My face lit up too! Now I had to convince Ben, because I decided, I would make a marriage.
I set up the "first date." Ben did not want to go. Frieda couldn't wait. He was a catch. And I knew Ben had to be caught. He would not be easy to hook. But Frieda had persistence, as did I, and I was on Frieda's side.
On a walk a few months later Ben said: "If I cannot marry you, I will marry Frieda." We both laughed and hooked our arms together and continued our walk. I was so happy for a thousand reasons.
They had a black tie wedding at the Kahala Hilton Hotel, in the same ballroom we had first met. Full circle, I thought to myself. I had remarried and Shelly and I flew to Hawaii for the wedding.
The story does not end. For the next several years Ben and I saw each other every year. He and Frieda came to the mainland. Shelly and I flew to Hawaii. Ben and I continued our walks and our talks. As the years went by his pace became slower. His balance was faltering somewhat and so we now walked arm and arm. He loved that! And then...
I received a call one day from a friend telling me Ben had Alzheimer disease. Frieda had put him in a home. I was devastated. I had to visit "my Ben." Shelly and I flew off to Hawaii.
We walked into his room. On the food tray was the Wall Street Journal as well as other papers and books. Ben was still trying to be Ben. That was his essence. The nurse dressed him in his wedding Aloha Shirt with a Maile lei around his neck to await my arrival. I rushed up to him and hugged him. There was no recognition. Tears rolled down my face. And then my husband said: "Ben, don't you know Suzi?" And his reply: "If I don't know her, I sure would like too!" I knew deep within him, he knew it was his Suzi. Uncontrollable tears poured out of my eyes and ran down my face.
I left Ben knowing I would not see him again. There were no words to describe my feeling of loss. To this day I miss "my Ben." But his essence, that ability to be his own person... that is his lasting gift to me.
I'm off to walk Orchid and think about "my Ben."