Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uncle Ben Dead


I don't remember my friend's name. His dad's name was distinctive and unforgettable. Barry Berry. We were friends by proximity. My step-dad Daniel was a contractor worker, and was involved in a project with Barry. An electrician, perhaps? Anyway, he had a son my age. We were both 13, and we both read comics. 

After a few meetings we were hitting it off pretty well. Most of our friendship happened in Spring of 1984. We lived in different counties, so our adventures were pretty limited by our parent's business needs. Still, we saw each other a couple of times a month, mostly him coming over to my house.

One evening, he brought over some comics that included two issues of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I had been collecting it, and owned the first 12 issues, but was struggling to get the final few. The series was an encyclopedia of Marvel's characters, featuring drawings and profiles of all their heroes, villains, and a few supporting characters. They were perfect for a child of 13 looking to dig further into the history of Marvel. The two volumes that eluded me, numbers 13 and 14, were subtitled The Book of the Dead. They featured Marvel's "confirmed dead" characters. Phoenix, Bucky, Uncle Ben, Banshee, Captain Marvel, and others all got an entry. Unsurprisingly, most of the dead have resurrected at least once in the intervening decades. 

My friend was into comics, but not as deep into it as I was. One hard-earned dollar got both issues from him to add to by collection. This transaction permanently cemented him in my memory. 

The last time we hung out was at the beginning of the Summer. We were drug to the grand opening of the house Daniel and Barry built. We met the interior designer they had hired, a curvy robust woman who I instantly fell for. In my teenage mind I schemed to someday date her. To this day I enjoy the company of curvy women with intelligence and sass. 

Anyway, we got permission to use the  swimming pool that weekend, under certain restrictions. We couldn't have food anywhere near it, and we had to wear our t-shirts for some reason that escapes me after 30 years. I am sure my 125 pound self in a wet white Hanes Tee looked dead sexy to a 27 year old woman. A boy can dream. 

The Summer started to reveal itself. It was a blur of breakdancing and Ghostbusters. 

One night in June, Daniel took me aside. 

My friend was dead. He was crushed to death while playing with their garage door. Playing chicken with the garage door was a pretty regular game at our age. Some dark part of me was jealous. I didn't have the space to process it, and don't even remember crying. It was just weird.

His death came up as a topic of discussion when the school year started. The teacher was a little incredulous that I was friends with "that kid who got killed playing with his garage door".

As it turns out, a second and more famous case from that same summer happened in Nebraska. It received national TV attention, and may have intermingled with my memories of the events.

Attempts to Google the incident just brings up an episode of Rescue 9-11 from 1991 detailing the NE tale. 

In the intervening 30 years Captain Marvel, Phoenix, and even Bucky have all come back to life in comics. My friend is still dead, and there's no encyclopedia with a record of his existence. All I have are scant childhood memories, and some uncomfortable irony.

I'm sorry I lost your name, and I'm sorry the internet doesn't know who you are. I found your father's LinkedIn profile. He's still in construction, so I guess he's doing OK. 

Thanks for the comics. 


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