The Kid From New Hampshire
by: Samuel K.

Ben Hamilton looked out the window of the plane at the forests of Virginia. Ben had always enjoyed Atlanta. The city, big and exciting, had always thrilled Ben. He also happened to be the star linebacker for the Falcons and being popular among the citizens of Atlanta allowed him to enjoy the city even more. But flying over the forests of the north-east U.S, Ben was on a non-anticipated trip to his old hometown in New Hampshire. His brother, Josh, had died in Iraq, so it was his family duty to go up to New Hampshire for the funeral. It was the Falcons byweek, so the death and funeral of his brother had been unfortunately opportune. His agent had been a huge supporter for the trip. He knew that going up to visit family and attending the funeral of a person who sacrificed his life for his country is the recipe for a tremendous boost in popularity. Although Ben thought he needed the whole week to practice, he had reluctantly agreed to go because he had liked Josh and because his mother hadn’t seen him in a while.

 

Ben stared down at the rural countryside. He didn’t dislike his family; he had just never enjoyed the environment. He was the only one in his family who didn’t. His brother, Josh, had loved their hometown, Clarksville. He had married and started a family there. Then his wife had left him, and Josh fell into a bout of depression. He decided to join the military, much to his father’s displeasure. John, his father, had always wanted the Hamiltons to stay in Clarksville and start a large family. He had only had two children, but he had great expectations for his two sons. Thus, when Ben pursued his goal of being a professional football player, John was devastated. On top of Ben leaving, John’s dream was further ruined when Josh left as well. John had expected his youngest son, Josh, to stay when he married and had a kid. When Josh started talking about joining the military, his father expected Ben to use his influence as an older brother to talk him out of joining. Ben did try to talk him out of joining but, according to his father, not enough. John had always preferred Josh to Ben. Because of that, Ben never was overly fond or respectful to his father. When Ben was a kid, he and his father were constantly arguing and, as a result, Ben was always in trouble with his father. Their relationship was never a good one. So, when Josh joined the military out of apparent incompetence by Ben, John broke. All of the little grudges and all the bitterness he had against his son were released in a rush at Ben because of something Ben didn’t do. He called Ben on the phone and let him have it.

 

“Hello?” Ben had said quizzically after he answered the phone. He hadn’t recognized the phone number.

 

“Yeah Ben, this is your dad,” Ben’s father had said. He sounded drunk. How come you didn’t try, huh!” he yelled. “How come you didn’t try? How come you don’t care about your brother or me? How come you let him go away to war so he will die and break my heart? You hate me and you hate your brother!” He continued furiously yelling at his son then hung up without letting Ben respond. They had never spoken since that phone call.

 

As Ben left the terminal, he looked around depressed. Nobody knew him here. There were no wild fans waiting to ask for his autograph or shake his hand. He walked out of the airport on to the streets of Whitefield, New Hampshire. He flagged a taxi and got in. Everything is so small, he thought. There aren’t a tenth as many people in Whitefield as there are in Atlanta and the remote town I’m on my way to is even smaller. He got out of the taxi in Colebrook, and checked in to his hotel. The funeral was two days away. He went to sleep.

 

When he woke up the next morning it took him a while to realize that he was in New Hampshire. He had been in so many hotels before, but this one was so small, and so cheap. He got out of bed and got dressed, dreading the confrontation with his dad that he knew was inevitable. He flagged another taxi and started the short trip to his hometown. He knew his dad was going to be angry and blame him for Josh dying. Ben didn’t blame himself for Josh’s death. He had tried to convince Josh to not join, but thought the battle a losing one and didn’t keep up the fight.

 

He soon arrived in downtown Clarksville and walked down to his parents’ house. Many of the people of Clarksville had their American flags hanging from their windows in honor of Josh. Ben was surprised that so many people knew Josh went into the military, because his dad didn’t like to talk about it. But it seemed like everyone in the town had flags hanging from their windows.

 

As he walked towards his house, he saw Josh’s six-year-old son, Daniel, leaving it. Ever since Josh joined the military, Daniel had been taken care of by his grandparents. Ben felt sorry for the kid. He hadn’t enjoyed his childhood living with his father. Ben hoped that Daniel had a better relationship with Ben’s father.

 

Ben walked up the steps and hesitated a moment before gaining enough nerve to open the door.

 

He found his mother in the kitchen. “Hey mom,” said Ben.

 

“Hi Ben,” she said. She gave him a hug. His mother had always been supportive of Ben. She thought he should do what he wanted to do, not what his father wanted him to do. When Josh decided to join the military she had naturally been depressed, but, unlike her husband, she didn’t blame Ben for Josh leaving. She had always been the cheerful one in the house, but when Ben looked at her now she looked horrible. Deep sadness was clear on her face and there wasn’t the cheerful spark in her eyes that had been there the last time he had seen her.

 

“Where’s dad?” said Ben.

 

“He went down the tavern to get a drink,” she said sadly, “He said he needed to fortify himself before the funeral.”

 

“Oh,” said Ben; his father had a drinking problem. He used to get drunk. Sometimes he got so drunk he was violently abusive toward his family. Apparently he still had that problem. “How’s Josh’s kid taking it?”

 

“Daniel?” she said, “He’s fine. He never really knew Josh, poor thing, so it isn’t that hard on him.”

 

“When is the funeral?” said Ben.

 

“Sometime tomorrow,” his mother said curtly.

 

There was an awkward pause. Presumably his mom didn’t want to talk about the funeral, so to change the subject he said, “Is his wife coming back for the funeral?”

 

“No, and thank goodness,” She said indignantly, “She doesn’t deserve to come back, even for the funeral, after what she did to him. It wasn’t your fault, Ben, I know your father blames you, but don’t even think it was your fault. It was all her; he would never have joined if she hadn’t left him.”

 

“I know,” said Ben, “Well, I don’t want to get in the way of your preparations and I would like to take a look around the town, bye.”

 

“Bye Ben,” said his mother, “see you later.”

 

As he started walking around Clarksville he realized that he was going to have to confront his dad soon. He dreaded it, but he thought getting it over with is better than dreading it until you get forced into a conversation. He turned his steps towards the tavern. He’s going to kill me; he’s going to eat me alive, he thought. He got to the door of the tavern. This used to be the place he looked forward to going to. He and Josh used to hang out at the tavern, watching football, playing checkers or chess or just talking. It used to be the only good place in the town. Now he dreaded entering the door. It was harder to get up the nerve to open this door than his parents’ door because he knew his father was in the tavern. He stood there for a long time before he finally got up the courage to open the door. He slowly walked in and saw his father slumped over the bar. He was sitting in Josh’s old place. He hadn’t seen Ben and that fact made it even harder to walk up to the bar. I can chicken out now, he hasn’t seen me yet, he thought. I don’t even need to talk to him at the funeral. I can ignore him and leave after the funeral. He’s angry anyway, so he won’t talk to me if I won’t talk to him. These thoughts flew through his brain as he stood there in a moment of giant indecision. Though walking away was tempting, he started walking up to his father.

 

“Hi dad,” said Ben. His father didn’t move. “It’s me, Ben.” His father still didn’t move. “Dad?” said Ben. He sat down beside his father in his old place.

 

“Why are you here?” his father finally said something. He sounded angry.

 

Ben took a deep breath, “To get this talk over with.” he said.

 

“What talk?” his father gruffly replied.

 

“I don’t know,” said Ben, “but I knew we were going to have to talk sometime while I’m up here.”

 

“Well now we’ve talked,” his father said angrily, “now we don’t need to talk anymore, please leave.”

 

Out on the sidewalk Ben felt relieved. His father still was angry with him but at least they had said something and now he didn’t have to worry about his dad. His dad didn’t want to talk with him so he didn’t have to worry about it. He spent the morning walking around downtown Clarksville and looking at all that had changed in the seven years he had been gone. He ate lunch at one of the restaurants and then spent the afternoon checking in on his old friends that still lived in Clarksville. It was fun to look at all the things of his childhood but he knew that he was just remembering the good stuff. What he wasn’t remembering was the boredom. There wasn’t anything to do. With one movie theater and just a few restaurants and bars there was nothing new. He liked taking a trip to look at the sights, but actually living in his hometown was so dull. When it was getting dark, he flagged a taxi to take him back to his hotel. He had decided to rent a hotel room instead of spending the night at his old house because his didn’t like being around his dad. As he got into bed he suddenly realized that there wasn’t as much to dread about the next day as he thought. He didn’t have to talk to his dad. Thinking about that allowed him to ease into a peaceful sleep.

 

He woke up the next morning in a better mood then the last morning. As he was eating the hotel’s homecooked breakfast he realized that it was the day of his brother’s funeral. That thought dampened his cheerful mood. The joy of having his encounter with his father over with was replaced with a sudden despair that he was going to have to encounter and possibly speak with his father again. On top of that, the sudden realization that his brother was dead pounced on him with sudden violence. He had never really comprehended that his brother was gone for good. The whole ordeal of flying back to his hometown had wholly taken up his mind. Also, the dread of facing his father had pushed sadness out of his mind. But now that sadness came suddenly and clearly. His brother and he had been very close. They were each other’s playmates all throughout their childhood. They did everything together and all their friends were friends of both of them. When Ben joined the NFL, though, they started growing apart. Shortly afterwards, Josh’s marriage and subsequent divorce drew them further apart. But, even though they had been drawn apart, they still were fond of each other and did see each other pretty often. For that reason the sudden realization of Josh’s death was harsh.

 

The taxi trip back into town was a sad one. When the taxi got to Clarksville, he got out and started the regrettably short walk to his house. The courage needed to open the door was only a miniscule amount less than the other day, because seeing the hearse in the driveway only deepened his recognition that his father was going to be very, very angry with him. Fortunately though, he didn’t have to talk to his father at all during the short reception at his parents’ house. He saw Josh’s boy at the reception. Ben didn’t feel sorry for him anymore. He envied him. Since Daniel had never known Josh, he didn’t seem sad at all. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.

 

It seemed like the whole town was there to comfort his parents, but none of them seemed to have much sympathy for Ben. It was almost as if they had taken his father’s attitude that Ben had abandoned the town and was responsible for Josh dying. The feeling of being shunned is not pleasant, so Ben had a depressing reception.

 

The actual funeral was even worse for him. Standing at the grave next to his weeping mother was horrible. On top of his deep feelings of sadness and isolation, the nasty thought “this is the perfect thing for a boost in popularity for my NFL career” nagged his mind and filled him with guilt. That was the reason his agent had wanted him to go up to New Hampshire in the first place, but standing beside his brother’s grave he realized how heartless it was to take advantage of this horrible ordeal. His father stood on the other side Ben’s mother. That was the first time Ben saw his father all day and his father didn’t say anything to him. Ben’s father left after the actual burial and Ben didn’t have to talk to his father at all, much to his relief. He assumed his father had gone to the bar again. He had supper with his mother, but very little was said. He got into the taxi again and left for his hotel. He got into his bed and laid there. He was never going to see his brother again. He felt his mother’s sadness and his father’s mix of sadness and anger. He felt horribly guilty for his thought about his stupid popularity. He hated himself for his thought and not talking to his dad at the funeral. And on top of all that he felt dreadfully sad at losing his brother. It took forever, but he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

 

He woke up the next morning and drove into town. It was no easier to enter his parents’ house. He found them both huddled around a piece of paper on the kitchen table.

 

“Hi mom, hi dad,” He said, “What are you reading?”

 

“Ben,” said his mother in a shocked voice.

 

“What’s the matter?” he said.

 

She turned around and looked at him. She looked horrible. He had seen her sad, but now there was a trace of shock. “The boy,” she said, “he’s yours.”

 

There was a long pause. “What,” said Ben blankly. He hadn’t fully comprehended the news.

 

“He gave you the boy,” she said. Ben walked over to the table and looked at the piece of paper. It was Josh’s will. He grabbed it and started scanning through it. There was a bunch of stuff about money and Josh’s personal things, but Ben hurried through and found on the bottom of the page: “Give my boy to my brother, my wife doesn’t deserve him.” Ben straightened up. That was stunning. Absolutely bewildering. Because Josh joined the military shortly after Daniel was born, Daniel had lived with his grandparents for most of his life and he barely knew Ben. He looked down at his parents.

 

“Tell me you’re kidding,” he said.

 

“We’re not kidding,” said his dad, “and that means you have to take the kid.” That was the first time his dad had talked to him in two days. “Your brother gave him to you,” he continued, “and so that means you’re going to have to quit your hotshot career and settle down.”

 

“You don’t mean we’re going to give him away, John?” Ben’s mother said to his dad, then, seeing that her husband meant exactly that, she said to Ben, “You’re not thinking about taking him, are you?”

 

Ben’s father interrupted Ben before he could speak, “Your brother gave you the boy and you owe your brother enough to take him.”

 

“But I can’t take him” said Ben. He still couldn’t totally comprehend what had just happened.

 

“You have to,” said his father. Ben, overwhelmed, started backing towards the door. “Yeah, you go out and think about it,” his father yelled after him, “Go out and think about how much your brother deserves from you.” Ben left the house in deep shock.

 

Ben walked out on to the streets of Clarksville. Holy mackerel, he thought, so much for a short trip to my hometown. I came up here for popularity reasons and now I’m stuck in this whirlwind of problems. My dad will never forgive me if I decline taking the kid. I probably will never forgive myself if I don’t take him. My mom will hate it if I take the boy from her. Daniel probably won’t like it if I take him. But first of all, he started thinking, why was he given responsibility of the boy. Why hadn’t Josh given Daniel to them? Ben knew when his father was drunk he could be abusive, but Ben and Josh turned out alright with their parents so why couldn’t the kid be given to them. Maybe Josh didn’t want him abused, but Ben didn’t need a child. He knew nothing about raising children. A boy would get in the way of his career. His agent would be totally against taking him. But Josh had given Ben the kid. Daniel would almost certainly be abused if he stayed. It wouldn’t be good for him to stay. On the other hand, Daniel probably wouldn’t like Atlanta. He was a country boy. All of these thoughts went through Ben’s head. If I leave him I’m hated, if I take him I’m hated, He thought. He walked around the town all day debating with himself till he finally decided to go back to his hotel and turn in early. That made it worse. Laying in bed his future plagued him constantly. There didn’t seem to be a right decision. He was going to make someone very angry. He tossed and turned and finally fell asleep from totally exhaustion.

 

He woke up the next morning with great peace. The answer had come to him in the middle of the night. There were still going to be pretty nasty ordeals to go through, but at least he had made his decision. He got into the taxi once again and drove into town. His team, coach and agent were going to hate it. His mother wasn’t going to like it. Daniel might not even like it. But it was the best thing for the kid he had decided. The few times Ben had seen Daniel in his stay in Clarksville, Ben had seen some of what he had felt as a kid in Daniel. Ben saw that Daniel had a constant desire to get away from his house. He also saw that Daniel was afraid of his grandfather. Both of those feelings Ben had felt all too often when he lived in his parents’ house. Ben didn’t like those feelings. He wanted a home that was actually pleasurable to be at. Ben didn’t want Daniel to have to suffer through the childhood that Ben did. In the night Ben had realized how many downsides money and popularity had. Everyone wanted the money he had and with his popularity came total lack of privacy. Ben had never thought of that. He had always thought of the materialistic bonuses. In addition, Ben had recognized how empty his current life was. As a member of the Atlanta Falcons, there weren’t many really strong friends. There were lots of yes-men and people who appreciated his wealth or popularity, but pitifully few people who liked him as a person. He realized how necessary real family is. A family never leaves, or retires. He knew he had never been and never was going to be totally happy playing football and being so far away from any family member. Ben’s contract with the Falcons fortunately expired at the end of the year. He was going to finish the season in Atlanta and then come back and settle in Clarksville. He would raise Daniel away from his abusive grandfather, but close enough for his grandmother to see him often. The boy would live at Ben’s parents’ house until the end of the Falcons’ season.

 

Ben arrived at his parents’ house and went in without hesitation. He found his mother in the kitchen just like his first day. His father wasn’t there again.

 

“Hey mom,” Ben said. His mother looked even worse than she had looked the first time he had seen her.

 

“Hi Ben,” she said.

 

“I’ve been thinking about my decision,” said Ben he took a deep breath “and I think I should take the boy.” He didn’t like to break her heart, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

 

“It’s because your dad, right?” his mom said.

 

“Yes,” said Ben. It was horrible doing this to his mother. She had just gone through the funeral of one of her sons and now Ben had to tell her that she was going to lose her grandkid. “He will stay here for awhile,” Ben told his mom, “but eventually I will have to take him.”

 

“Where are you going to live?” his mother asked.

 

“In Clarksville,” said Ben, “I know Daniel and you wouldn’t like to be far apart.” She gave him a small smile at that.

 

“Thank you Ben,” she said, “I’ve thought about it too, and I know it is the right thing for the boy.” He couldn’t tell his dad because of his flight time, but his mom said she would tell him. Ben left the house relieved. His mother had accepted his decision. Ben was sad because he knew the only reason his father wanted him to take the boy was because he wanted to punish Ben. He had wanted to mend the relationship with his dad. Unfortunately, though, he knew his decision to take the boy wouldn’t do the job. But he knew there would be plenty of time for mending when he lived in Clarksville.

 

He drove back to his hotel to pick up his baggage then drove to the airport. On the flight back to Atlanta, Ben was able to relax. His mother called him just as he was about to take off and told him that she had told his dad. She had sadly confirmed what Ben had hypothesized. Ben’s decision had not mended his relationship with his dad. Ben’s dad felt triumphant that Ben was going to suffer for his brother. The confirmation depressed Ben some, but he had expected that to be his dad’s reaction so he wasn’t disappointed much. Besides that, though, there weren’t many things to dread. He didn’t have to speak with his dad for a while and he had committed to a decision. He wasn’t racked with guilt, because he was almost done with his NFL career and popularity didn’t matter. Ben looked out the window of the plane at the forests of Virginia. He smiled knowing that there was a right decision and he had found it.