His name used to be Benny, but it’s just Ben now. A cold, short, hard name.
Ben was a fighter, had been since he was little. One night he convened with a couple broads of the cheaper variety, and picked a hotel room to match.
It started as a good night. Heroin, PBR, the works. Even though Ben was a fighter, he was a lover too–in the carnal sense, if you take my meaning.
S*** that night turned sour, though, just like a back alley scrap tends to do. A big fella by the name of Chuck came knockin’ on Ben and co.’s door around about nine o’clock PM. He was knockin’ loud, with just a touch of sinister. Ben knew one of the gals ‘belonged’ to Chuck. Risin’ from a haze of s** and drugs he put on the shell he had made for himself all those years ago.
Ben’s dad taught him how to fight, but not in a good, parental way. By the time he was about 15 Ben had managed to fuzz the memories of the black eyes and bloody lips, broken plates and noses from when Ben was still Benny, before he could fight back. What Ben couldn’t forget was coming home from school in the evenin’ and seein’ his dad whoopin’ up on his mom. Every night since Ben was big enough to not get broken too bad Ben stepped into the ring with his old man. Then, one day Ben whipped him good, and his dad just up and left.
Ben figure out he could make good money fightin’, ‘specially cause his dad had trained him up. Cracking skulls, getting beaten to a pulp every once in a while was worth keepin’ him and ma of the streets.
A few years passed, and Ben had gotten grizzled. When he fought he was wiley, less of that fight to the death sort of attitude, though he was willing to if necessary. Experience had turned the frightened but strong wolverine into a hard, old mountain lion.
After a particularly good bout with a young buck (Ben had crushed his skull) Ben’s neighbors told him–as blood soaked through the rocky asphalt and sirens whirred and amplified from far off–that his mother had died: crack overdose. Ben tried to fight of the sadness, just like he had been taught to do with everything else in his life. But belligerence didn’t work this time. Drugs dampened the problems, smashed them into tiny pieces so Ben didn’t feel the need to fix, but they were still there. He spent the next four years cold and dead inside, warmed slightly by drugs and s** and fighting.
Ben always fought but he didn’t always win, and that night outside the seedy hotel he lost big. The paramedics found him on the edge of the bed, shirtless, in the flabby, comforting arms of the less-crazy of the two broads. A boy doing ride-alongs came up the stairs to shine a box-light in Ben’s face, let the paramedics see the shiny, shredded flesh. The boy was shaky and hesitant, he hadn’t seen this a thousand times like the others. Both eyes swollen shut like rotten, split peaches, a lip, protruding like a squishy beak and lacerations oozing carmine through his matted hair. A shattered chair and vagrant beer cans sat watch with the lingering effluvium of putrefied humanity: a momento to this night’s events.
The paramedics loaded Ben into the ambulance. They were calm, and smelled like hand sanitizer. All of their emotions had been stripped away like the germs on their hands. A rinse cycle, a drill, a job, they had seen this all before. They went through the motions and asked the usual, “How much have you had to drink?”, “Any other substances tonight?” etc., but they never got through to Ben’s emotions, this was not their job.
In the back of the medical unit Ben moaned and lolled in a stupor. He asked to go back to “his girls” multiple times. Broken record syndrome, pretty common after a chair to the face. The conversation did not progress much past his cyclical queries. By the time they got to the hospital the paramedics could barely hold back chuckles of laughter.
I left Ben, or perhaps his story trailed off, under the same bright lights where he was born. That night, in a miasma of debilitating drugs and fluorescence, Ben thought of his mom for the very last time. Sure, he would get fixed up, at least on the outside. But after the concussion, that last beating was all that it took, and Ben would succumb to early-onset alzheimer’s, and he would never remember his mom, dad, fighting, or anything for that matter, again.
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