“Stuck with Ben,” New Era, June 2016, 30–31
When I walked into my 10th-grade biology class the first day, Mitch and Amanda* were standing near the front of the room, over by the wall. I hurried over to visit with them.
“You’re stuck with Ben.” Amanda motioned to a list on the wall that told who our class partners would be for the semester.
“Who’s Ben?” I asked as I glanced over the list.
“That’s Ben.” Mitch pointed toward the back of the room to a boy with curly red hair and glasses. He was staring at the floor.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked softly.
“Watch this,” Mitch said. He quickly made five or six spitballs and aimed them in Ben’s direction. One of them hit Ben in the head; he didn’t even look up.
“Stop that!” I said. “It’s mean!”
“Oh, Ben doesn’t care,” Amanda said. “He’s always like that. He lives in his own little world, oblivious to everyone.”
The bell rang, and we took our seats. I looked back at Ben. He still hadn’t moved. Mr. Davis stood at the front of the room.
“Have you all seen the class list?” he asked. “Now I want you to find your partners and sit together. That will be your assigned seat for the semester.”
I picked up my books and headed toward the back of the room.
“Hi,” I said. Ben stared at the floor.
“Are you Ben?” I asked. There was a long pause.
“Yeah,” he muttered, still looking down.
“I’m Beth. I guess we’re partners.” He almost looked up.
“Uh, hi,” he said.
We both sat silent for a few minutes. Then I noticed a book on his desk. It was one I had always wanted to read.
“Hey, are you reading that?” I asked. Ben didn’t say anything.
“Would you mind if I looked at it?” Ben half glanced up and tossed the book to me. I leafed through it for a few minutes.
“I’ve always wanted to read this. Is it any good?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Ben answered quietly.
I thanked Ben and gave the book back. As class went on, I asked Ben a few more questions, but I got very little response. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the bell rang.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said. Ben muttered something, and I picked up my books and walked out of class.
As the semester went on, I talked to Ben every day. He never said much, but little by little I began to notice changes. First, the snickers became less common. Ben actually looked at me instead of the floor when I asked him questions. He always completed his half of the assignments, and once I even caught him smiling.
On the last day of class, Ben said, “I hope I have another class with you, Beth.” It was the most he’d said all year.
We never did have another class together. I would see Ben in the hall occasionally, and I would smile and wave. He would wave back. A couple of times, I sat by him at lunch, and once I ran into him at an assembly and talked with him for about 20 minutes.
At the end of our senior year, there was a dance. I was standing with a group of friends when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. It was Ben.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. We walked to the dance floor.
“So, what are you going to do now?” he asked.
I told him I was headed to BYU.
“I’m going on a mission,” he said.
We danced silently. As the song ended, Ben suddenly threw both arms around me and gave me a giant hug. “Can I sign your yearbook?” he asked.
I walked over and got my book. I handed it to him, and he wrote for a few minutes.
Thank you. I don’t know how I ever would have made it through the last three years without you. You probably don’t realize how often I would wake up, dreading the school day, and then I would remember I had a friend! What a wonderful thought. Somebody cared about me. When I felt like I just couldn’t go on, I would think of your beautiful smile and your little waves, and I would feel like maybe I could face another day, because I had one friend.
Thank you. Love, Ben
I never saw Ben again. We graduated and went our separate ways. But I will never forget him. I didn’t realize a simple wave and a little smile could help someone so much. I am glad I was his friend.