Beyond Time Chapter 1
July 17, 2002
Peter approaches the crime scene slowly. The movements of the uniformed officers seem blurred and surreal. The yellow tape stops him in a daze.
“John,” he calls hoarsely to an officer busy in conversation on the front porch, “may I please come in?”
John recognizes the tall professor, a friend of his from college and, more recently, an occasional poker buddy. He knows Peter is the best friend of the victim.
John leans closer to the officer he is talking to, his sergeant, and whispers something. He then walks over and lifts up the yellow tape for Peter to duck under.
Peter steps up to the front porch, takes a deep breath, summoning what courage he can muster. He thinks of the countless times he has been with his friend over the years. They have known each other since they were four years old, been on the same baseball teams, gone after the same girls, endured family troubles together. Now, unbelievably, it is all over.
Peter tries to steady the trembling in his knees before stepping through the door to Ben’s house. He rubs the top of his shaved head and strokes his salt-and-pepper Vandyke with his thumb and index finger. The last few hours have been horrific. He and his wife, Elizabeth, began the day with a huge fight. It started over something silly, nothing really. He had forgotten to call again and tell her he would be late from work. Once again, dinner had grown cold. It had happened all too often. This time, however, he’d detected disgust in her eyes that sent him reeling.
Peter walks through the front door and immediately confronts the cold stillness of the scene. The gory eeriness of death encloses him like a cloud as he walks through the foyer toward the great room, passing a medical examiner and a county deputy talking in the kitchen.
The reports are that Ben overdosed on prescription pain pills. Over the last few months the pills had become the only thing that kept the pain in his heart at bay. But in the end, they became the addictive demons that killed him. They are calling his death a suicide; no other evidence can be found.
Peter sees Ben’s body covered with a white sheet on a gurney as he enters the great room. Medical teams and investigators scurry around him as he slowly moves toward the body. Tempted to have one last look at his old friend, Peter moves around to the side of the body but is unprepared for what awaits him. He sees a hand peeking out from under the shroud…hanging pale and lifeless. Peter gasps, buries his head in his hands, and turns away from the corpse. The finality of the situation overwhelms him. He feels nauseated and almost gags. All he can do is turn and stagger away
June 15, 1968
“Hey Pete, do you want to spend the night tonight?” Ben asked as he jumped on his bike and headed toward his house from Peter’s driveway.
“I’ll ask,” returned Peter as he waved after Ben and turned to walk down the driveway to his house.
“If you can, come down after supper,” cried Ben, picking up speed.
“OK. Hey Ben! You left your glove.”
“Just bring it when you come!” Ben yelled, now almost to the bottom of the hill.
Peter waited a moment as he saw Ben turn into his driveway just up from the bottom of the U-shaped road they lived on. Then he turned to walk down the driveway to his house. Seeing his dad’s car, Peter hoped he had not started drinking yet. Suddenly, from down the street Peter heard a sound that stopped his anxiety in mid-thought. Ben was howling at him as he got off his bike in his driveway. It was a type of yodel, but with Ben’s cracking twelve-year-old voice, it resembled more a hound dog in pain. The howl meant more than the high-pitched reverberation would indicate. It was a connection, a sound of friendship, carrying with it the message that someone cared, even when it seemed no one else did. Peter returned the yodel to complete the circuit, but Peter’s yodel was a weak imitation. Nobody could yodel like Ben.
A few hours later at Ben’s house, Ben and Peter were outside finishing up a basketball game. Connected to the carport roof, the goal was supported by two by fours coming down at an angle, nailed to the shingles. The concrete slab they played on was an extension of the carport. The playing service was small, but the games didn’t get any more competitive.
“That ties it up two to two,” Peter boasted as he sank a shot from the corner. “Let’s play one more for the championship of the known world.” He grinned as he bounced the ball to Ben to bring it in to start the final game.
Peter and Ben both had sandy blond hair and were about the same size. They were considered a bit above average in height for their age. They played forwards on their respective church basketball teams. Peter was six months older than Ben, but they were both going into the seventh grade at school.
The last game ended when Ben’s shot hit the back of the rim and the ball caromed high in the air near the wire fence that separated the court from the back yard. Peter went up for the rebound, and his arm came down on one of the exposed fence wires, punching a small hole in his arm right in the pit area. He screamed in pain but did not cry. He was almost a teenager now, and crying was for kids.
The cut wasn’t bad, but there was quite a bit of blood. Ben’s parents were in the back of the house, and Ben made a decision not to get them involved. His sister, Sarah, helped him find some bandages and they patched Peter up.
Sarah looked over at her older brother for approval as she handed Ben the antiseptic cream and bandages as he needed them.
Sarah and Ben were closer than most ten and twelve-year-old siblings. Their bonds had been forged through the pain of a drunken, abusive father and a passive mother who continually chose peace above the welfare of her children. Sarah’s hair was slightly blonder than Ben’s. She had bright, beautiful blue eyes that drew you in like a magnet.
“Let’s have some ice cream, Pete!” suggested Ben as he and Sarah completed the bandage job.
“Wait, Ben. Let’s go to the observatory and see what’s going on,” suggested Peter as he slipped his shirt back on.
“It’s not dark enough yet, Pete. Ice cream first, then star gazing.”
Ben, Peter, and Sarah fixed vanilla ice cream with tons of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and whipped cream. Then they sat down to watch The Wild, Wild West, Peter’s favorite TV show.
After a few minutes, there was a stirring down the hall and the door to Ben’s parents’ room burst open. Someone was stumbling toward them. Ben and Sarah’s face turned ghostly white, and Peter searched for a clue as to what was going on.
Ben’s dad tripped into the room. He was so drunk he could barely walk. His face was fierce with anger. “Ben! I thought I told you not to turn that stupidTV up so loud. Are you deaf? Why do I have to tell you things over and over again? No wonder you’re making Cs in school. You can’t remember anything! Pick those bowls up. Who got chocolate on the couch?”
Ben’s dad approached him to squeeze his arm to make his point, but Ben was too quick.
“Come on, Pete!”
Ben and Peter rushed out the kitchen door, through the carport, and into the night air. Sarah ran the opposite way, past her dad, and downstairs to her room in the converted basement.
Peter and Ben ran up the hill behind the house into the woods. In the background, Peter could hear a door slam and Ben’s father calling angrily after him.
“Benjamin James! Don’t you ignore me! I’m your fa-a-a-ther,” his dad slurred. “You better obey me…or you’ll regr-r-ret it!”
Peter glanced at Ben as they ran. He had not experienced this kind of anger from his own dad. Peter’s dad was usually a quiet drunk.
July 17, 2002
Peter drags himself sorrowfully back through the foyer and out the door into the bright summer morning, leaving the dreadful scene of Ben’s death. Shielding his eyes from the rays of sunlight penetrating through the foliage in the heavily wooded neighborhood, Peter ambles toward his car. As he digs in his pockets for his keys, deep regret fills his soul. If only he had been with his friend earlier in the week. They had always been able to be there for each other when everything around them was falling apart. Both of them had survived being the oldest boys in divorced families; they had helped each other through their dads’ drinking problems. The pain they had endured together was the woven chord that kept their friendship strong.
But neglect can break even the strongest tie. When Ben needed him the most, Peter had gotten lost in his research. Recently he had let down those he cared about the most.
The guilt of misplaced priorities begins to overwhelm Peter as he drives out of Ben’s neighborhood. He pulls over to the side of the road and lifts up his emergency brake so that he can let the roof down on his convertible. He takes the exit onto I-20 East and heads toward Florence. It’s a great day to have the top down in South Carolina.
In an attempt to clear his mind and distance himself from the events of such an emotionally draining day, Peter decides to drive to the coast. Walking along the beach always seems to awaken his soul and help him gain perspective.
As he drives, his thoughts turn again to his fight with Elizabeth. As they argued, he felt her repugnance and rejection. It touched a deep wound in his heart. Vulgar, angry words spewed from his mouth like vomit. It surprised them both. Almost before the words were out of his mouth, he regretted what he’d said and what he had threatened to do. She locked herself in the bathroom and told him to leave. She was afraid of him, and there was no reasoning with her.
What is happening to me? he thinks as he picks up speed on the highway, shifting his convertible into fifth gear. He feels disconnected…like he’s watching a movie of his life.
With Elizabeth locked in the bathroom, he had been packing a few belongings when the phone call came, telling him about Ben. The news had knocked him to his knees. He and his friend had a lunch date scheduled for the next day. Peter had left the house without telling his wife what had happened. She seemed to have given up on him—on them, on all that they had.
As Peter approaches I-95, he feels a tremendous longing to hold Elizabeth in his arms. Before the intimacy and companionship was lost between them, she would have understood the grief and regret he was feeling concerning Ben’s suicide. She would have understood his pain and offered hope to help him through it.
As he passes signs to Myrtle Beach, he remembers comments from their friends about “Peter and Elizabeth’s lasting love.” But look at them now. The passion had dried up. For months they had simply existed like roommates in the same house. He had even moved into the guest bedroom so that he wouldn’t wake her when he came home late from his experiments in the early morning hours. He had not made her a priority and seemed to have hurt her to the point that she hated him now.
As he drives through the low country of South Carolina, he realizes that he’s been feeling more passionate about his work than about his own wife.
He had gotten so excited about his funded research on the Electro Magnetic Spectrometer. The new tool was so fascinating and the fact that his research was top secret even added to the seductive lure. His work seemed to consume every waking moment.
Peter had been recognized and congratulated among his fellow scientists for his tremendous work. But what good was attention from a crowd of strangers, when his wife was feeling unappreciated and neglected?
Peter reaches the outskirts of Garden City, a little beach community near Myrtle Beach. He stops by the Inter Coastal shop, a local convenience store, for a few supplies. He checks into a seaside condo just off Ocean Boulevard, a few blocks down from a house his grandparents rented as a vacation spot when he was a child.
He unpacks his few belongings, throws on some shorts, and heads down to the beach for a long walk. His heart is heavy—full of regret and shame at how he has neglected Elizabeth and Ben.
The rhythmic crashing waves and whipping of the warm summer breeze soon begins to calm his agonized soul, bringing the level of pain down a little so he can think. He walks past the pier and the groups of merry beachgoers.
Peter replays in his mind every detail of the steady downhill spiral that had been Ben’s life. He keeps coming back to one particular evening when they were kids…an evening in which Ben was accused of something he didn’t do.
Though Ben’s life had many dark moments, including rejection, depression, drugs, jail, and now, apparently, suicide, this one event seemed to have set the whole sour story into play.
As the regret Peter feels continues to grow, he wishes he had stood up for his friend more adamantly that night. He should have insisted that Ben was innocent. He wonders if the events of that one night had been different, whether Ben would still be alive today.
As he walks along the edge of the surf, thoughts of what could have been fill his mind as the waves wash over the sand at his feet.
Between the pier and the condo he replays the details of that summer evening in June when they were twelve. He thinks of how the trauma of that evening had been so overwhelming for Sarah that it eventually drove her to Bull Street, the state mental hospital in Columbia. He thinks again of how he had tried to comfort her that night when Ben had gone back to the house to look for the gun. The vision of her shaking body in his arms, her blond hair wet with desperate tears, plays like a vivid movie in his mind, like it had a thousand times before.
What a horrible night. Though he was only a supporting player in the drama of that summer night, he could still feel the trauma 34 years later
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