Benjamin slid up further on his pillow and began to talk again.
“I was the third child of Diana Sands,” Benjamin began. “I was her oldest son and was born six years after my twin sisters- Dionne and Artemis. They had a different father than me and he left before they were born. My little brother, Marius, was born three years after me. Our father left a few years after that. I didn’t really get to know him well enough to miss him and my mother more than made up for the lack of another parent.
“My sisters, my brother, mom and me lived with our grandmother and we were near a few of my cousins during my childhood years. I had a bunch of uncles that drifted in and out of my life as they were caught up in their own struggles with jail, relationship issues and other various hang-ups so there was some male influence in my life. But, to be honest, my life has always been full of strong and somewhat aggressive women. My mother, my aunt, my sisters and even my grandmother help contribute to the bold, unblinking fear of the younger generation of my family.”
Benjamin turned towards the window and his eyes drifted to look pass the world outside the hospital as he seemed to recall an earlier time.
“My family was never normal,” he said. “I know people say that all the time but it was really true about my family. We seem to have a penchant for being overly aggressive and violent. No matter the high intelligence of the individual, our first reactions in most situations normal people would avoid or just walk away is to lash out. There was no such thing as backing down in my family’s world. Any emotions other than the negatives one like anger, spite, cockiness were generally viewed as a sign of weakness.
“This isn’t to say that we didn’t love each other. We never said it out loud to each other but it was there. We believed in action over words in my family. The way we showed our love was through acts of kindness done grudgingly towards each other. Or we would tease and poke fun as each other. You had to develop thick skin early and accept that when an uncle was embarrassing you in front of the rest of the family that that was his way of showing love.
“Our love was expressed in our common language of violence. We would get in fights and arguments with each other pretty consistently but we would always stop our own personal beefs to deal with outside intruders. Family is first always and certain people learned that the hard way.”
Ben was quiet for a second as he seemed to be retreating into the memories of his childhood. A weird smile crept onto his face.
“I remember this one time,” Ben said. “Me and my brother Marius were yelling at each other in front of school one day. I couldn’t even tell you what the fight was even about right now but I just know we were really going at it. I was the calm one and usually let others when in arguments to avoid the physical confrontations. My mother told me I got that from my father but I never knew the man so I had to take her word for it. He wasn’t around for long enough for me to paint an accurate picture of the man in my head.”
Ben’s smile slipped for a second when he said this but he recovered quickly.
“Anyway,” he continued, his smile returning. “That day I was not backing down. I wasn’t going to let my little brother win this one. And if it came to violence, he was going to lose. I never liked fighting with my family physically but there were times when I became like them and forgot about civilized behavior. Marius just got louder and I came closer and closer to losing control. That’s when this older guy named Jeremy Johnson started pointing at us and laughing at us with about four of his friends.
“I think I was about 16 and my brother was like 13 when this happened,” Ben said. “Jeremy and his friends had to be in his late teens and early twenties. My brother was big for his age but still a kid and I was a little shorter than what I am now. Jeremy and his friends definitely had the advantage in this situation. Unfortunately for them, Marius and I had passed the line of calmness. Actually, Marius never had a line of calmness.”
Ben chuckled at this and the smile turned whimsical.
“We turned and focused all our rage on these guys,” Ben said. “Jeremy was one of the tough guys in our neighborhood and was not about to back down in front of his friends. He talked back to two punk kids that he thought him and his pals could handle. Wrong.”
Ben adjusted himself on the bed and groaned as pain moved through his side.
“Are you okay?” Marissa asked.
“Yeah,” Benjamin said, regaining his usual quiet demeanor for a second. Marissa liked him more like that but this other side of Benjamin was both scary and enthralling.
“Jeremy and maybe two of his friends walked up to us,” Ben continued. “They didn’t appreciate the backtalk coming from us and at that point our family didn’t matter to them. Our uncles were scary as was my mother but they couldn’t be punked on the streets by two kids. They put their hand on Marius and I lost it. No one touched my brother.”
“I flung myself into his crowd of friends,” Benjamin said, with no smile evident. “I barely remember what happened. All I know is that the next thing I knew I had blood on my clothes and fist. Some of it was mine but most wasn’t. My brother was in a similar state with a huge grin on his face. Jeremy and his friends lay on the ground around us in different states of hurt and pain. Two were bleeding from their mouth and nose. One was holding his sides. The last one was wailing holding his broken hand. Jeremy was lying on the ground and bleeding from his nose. His eyes were open but he was out of it, just muttering in a low voice.”
Ben looked at Marissa with that scary look in her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Ben said, in that cool calm voice from last night. “Those boys ended up being okay. Even Jeremy. They never messed with us again after that day either. Didn’t even try to get revenge. Punks.”
Marissa just looked at her boyfriend like he was a crazy stranger at that point. Ben looked at her for a moment later and then his face changed back to the look of the man she was used to.
“I’m sorry, Marissa,” Benjamin said, with real remorse in his voice. “I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging about what happened. It just gives you some insight on how my life used to go in my family.”