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Benjamin V. Bajaj '14
Simsbury High School, Simsbury, Conn.
The phone buzzed, the number distantly familiar. I instinctively held my breath and took the call. “Ben,” he said… “It’s John, Ben.”
I met John in the fourth grade, and ever since we have been like brothers. A year younger than me, he acted old for his age even when we were both very young. In many ways, we were opposites and maybe that’s what fueled our relationship. I wanted the freedom he had and he wanted the security I took for granted. He watched R-rated films at the age of eleven and played M-rated games throughout fifth grade. I, on the other hand, had Legos, Kumon Math, and, “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis” (educational software for ages eight and up). My parents kept a close eye on me. Spending time with John just made them worry, especially my mother.
With high school, John’s freedom increased and he got into far worse things than “Saving Private Ryan” at the age of thirteen. It wasn’t long before he started smoking pot and with that came the urge to steal small items from convenience stores. He was constantly in trouble, yet he always knew how to handle himself. He had the confidence and the guts I wanted. Unlike him, I couldn’t lie easily, and I certainly couldn’t stay calm when being addressed by an adult when I was in trouble. He was good at playing the innocent, and he knew how to avoid getting caught. I’d say he was street smart but that implies city living. John was “cul-de-sac” smart, he knew how to manipulate the suburban culture of unlocked doors, sleepovers, wooded trails, and the perks of being the son of divorced parents.
Sophomore and junior year brought police, more drugs, and a growing dependency on cigarettes, and the start of a separation between the two of us. As we grew older, we became more distant from one another – as brothers tend to do when peer groups and polar interests reign over family ties. But still, John’s growing indifference to me, the “younger” brother, hurt. Writing this now, I realize he was protecting me. Health classes always teach you to say no, to prepare for the day when you are offered drugs. John never put me in the position of having to say “no.” He kept me out of trouble as he dove in.
By junior year, John was taken out of school and put into rehab. It was like a member of my family was taken away in the night, without discussion.
In his absence, I was able to put our relationship in perspective.
He helped me grow up. I was and still am somewhat of an uptight person, but he helped me leave my bubble and embrace the world around me. I did things with him that I would not have done on my own – air soft gunfights, midnight bike rides, fireworks in the woods, jumping off roofs into pools, crazy things. Thanks to John, I learned how to let go. I was truly the apprentice to the master of “going with the flow.” He taught me not to judge, to be confident, and to relax sometimes and just let the randomness take me away.
Ever since I met him, I have tried harder to find the good in people. When others saw John, they saw a rebellious teen and a bad influence. But bias and nerves, I realize, often cloud first impressions. Today, I reach out more and make friends easier. There is a student in my high school named Matt. When I first saw him in tenth-grade Art class, he was one of the quietest and strangest kids I’d ever met. Luckily for me, about a week into Art, I decided to talk to him, and, after a semester of talking, we became good friends. Granted I still think he is one of the strangest kids ever, but he is also one of the easiest to get along with and possibly the funniest. If it weren’t for my relationship with John, I don’t know if I would have gotten beyond my “first impression” of Matt to initiate a conversation with him.
Knowing John has had a huge impact on my life. For more than a year now, he has disappeared from view – rehab having evolved into an out-of-state school for troubled teens. Until a late afternoon this December, a part of me thought he might be dead.
"It's me Ben, John,” the voice said on the other end of the phone. "John,” I exhaled, “…I don’t know what to say, I’m just so happy you called.”