39: More than Luck

39: More than Luck

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

More than Luck

In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.

~John Churton Collins

“Come to the party! Come, I miss you guys!” Ben screamed over what sounded like hundreds of people.

I put my hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and whispered to my friends: “Should we go?”

“It’s not like we have anything better to do,” Morgan, my roommate, responded. “We haven’t seen Ben since last semester; let’s just go for a little.”

“Ben,” I screamed into the phone. “Ben, where did you say the party was?”

• • •

We trekked three blocks and found ourselves staring at a huge house, bouncing with the booming bass. Ben was already outside waiting for us, sweating through his tight jeans and sweater vest. He was always well-dressed; I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a model. He was talking to a group of people I knew were some of his really good friends, holding his cell in his left hand, and a Keystone in his right.

After the usual hugging and chatter that comes with reuniting after a three-month-long summer vacation, Ben’s friends bid him farewell. “Take care of him!” they said, and I smiled, knowing that wouldn’t be a problem. He led us inside, where a thick fog and darkness immediately engulfed us. When Ben offered me his beer, spilling it on my new dress, I knew that he was drunker than I’d ever seen him before.

The party was like any other party, except it included more hugging because it was the first weekend of the semester. Ben knew so many people. He kept disappearing, but he always made time to come back and steal me away from whomever I was telling about my summer as a cashier at Bed Bath & Beyond in order to drag me to the dance floor.

We ran into Hannah, my friend who lives down the hall, and we all briefly remembered how good it felt to be back at college.

An hour and another beer later, Hannah found me and said she was tired. Morgan and others had already left, and now it was time for us to leave too.

I looked around for Ben, but he wasn’t there. I finally found him chatting up some girls, and told him that it was time to go. We all held hands as we walked toward the door, a chain of friendship that would be hard to break. It made me smile, but as I stepped out of the house, Ben let go.

“You know what Jen?” he said. “I’m going to stay — I ran into some people I haven’t seen in a while.”

“Ben,” I said. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“Of course, go home! Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine!”

As Hannah and I walked down the driveway, I was having second thoughts. “Should I go back in and get him?” I asked. Hannah told me to stop acting like a mother, that he was in good hands, blah blah blah.

We were halfway back to the dorm when I heard a girl clomping in her heels behind us.

“Oh my GOD!” she cried. “Oh my God, someone’s been hit by a car!”

Everyone on the sidewalk stopped walking and turned around, and sure enough, there was a crowd of people in the middle of the street, hovering over something, someone. I felt a pit in my stomach, and the girl who announced the news threw up all over herself.

Hannah and I didn’t know what to do or where to go. We stood there for a few minutes, praying silently under our breaths that whoever it was would be okay. An ambulance came a few seconds later, and cops started shining flashlights on the sidewalk.

“Everyone go home,” they shouted. “There’s nothing to see here, move along.”

I texted Ben a simple “Are you alright?” just to reassure myself of his safety, but he didn’t answer — even though he’s always glued to his phone.

We were silent the remaining block back to our dorm, not knowing what to say, and the second we got home we relayed the news to Morgan.

“Oh God,” she whispered. “I hope he or she is alright.”

“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

• • •

I woke up at eleven the next morning to a text from Ben, a simple “Yes.” I laughed. Of course he would respond to my frantic text the morning after I sent it.

At breakfast, we were all laughing at the grossness of the dining hall food that we hadn’t missed over summer, when Morgan got a call from an unknown number.

“Hello? Oh, hi! I’m good, how are you? WHAT? Oh my God,” we heard her say, as she got up and walked over to a corner, pacing back and forth.

“Jeez, I hope everything’s okay,” someone said. “I wonder who that could be,” I said as I ate my cereal. “Sounded serious.”

Ten minutes later, Morgan returned, her eyes puffy and wet. “Ben got hit by a car last night,” she whispered. “The kid everyone was talking about, that was him.” I dropped the spoon, milk splattered, and before I knew it, my face was drowning in tears.

• • •

“It’s all my fault,” I whispered as we waited in the entrance of the hospital lobby, three days after the accident. I was clutching a homemade get-well card, looking at the ground. “I should have forced him to come back with me.”

“It’s not your fault,” Morgan said, stroking my back. “It’s the drunk driver’s fault, and nobody else’s.”

We walked up to the fourth floor, intensive care, and took a deep breath before walking towards Ben’s room. From a distance, he looked so small. He was curled up on a cot, and I could see the purple bruises on his face from a distance. We walked closer — his arm was in a cast and his leg was wrapped up.

That’s when he started crying. His mom, who had come from home as soon as she heard the news, was standing over him, petting his hair, and a doctor came running in. Ben was moaning, and I wondered if it was as painful for him as it was painful to hear.

Doctors came from everywhere and told us we had to leave. We stood against a wall as Ben was wheeled down the hallway, screaming, and crying, not looking at all like the well-dressed, happy Ben we all knew.

The screams finally faded, and the silence cut me like a sword.

• • •

Every day, he got progressively better. I jumped every time the phone rang, waiting for updates. He survived with all limbs intact, minor scrapes and bruises, a few missing teeth, no permanent damage, and a strong will.

When I finally saw Ben a week after the accident, he smiled wide. He was looking great under the circumstances, and he asked just one question:

“Where is my vest?”

The doctors said it was luck, but I know it was more than that. And I’m certain it’s going to take much more than a drunk driver to break our chain of friendship.

~Jennifer Alberts

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