Coming of Age

by Benjamin Kimble, , May 20, 2010

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My first year of college was the year I discovered that I had no idea who I was, or where I was going in life. I had just graduated high school, foregone going away to school and made the decision to stay at home while going to the local community college. I was making the transition from carefree teenager to mature and self-reliant adult, and I was conflicted about which of those I would rather be. Living with my mom and two younger brothers was by no means a picnic, since I had to live by the rules of the former and deal with the hassle of the latter. There were aspects of being someone else's dependent, however, that were actually quite nice: no bills to pay, no anxiety about putting food on the table, and no one to worry about but myself. I knew that someday I would have to change, but I wasn't sure that this point in my life was the right time. Beyond that, I didn't know who or what could possibly make me want to settle down and be responsible.

Having a job was the one way that I held myself accountable for the fun that I had. If I wanted to go to the movies with my buddies, or go out to eat at the local pizzeria, I had to pay for it myself. My mom was busy working two jobs just to keep a roof over our heads, and I am sure that she wouldn't have simply handed over the money for me to use as I may. Mom had a funny habit of making me earn my keep. The job that I had was at a small town grocery store where there was every kind of product that a person could want, from everyday groceries and a deli, to video rentals and an ice cream counter. The night manager that had hired me was an extremely hard worker, but did not demand the same of her subordinates. Except for her, all of us who worked at night were either high school or college kids. As one could expect, keeping us in line was not an easy task. I remember one particular incident that occurred towards the end of my shift on a Sunday night, when there hadn't been a customer in the store for two and a half hours.

"Erik, where are Ben and Ashley? I haven't seen either of them in quite some time," the manager said a bit hastily.

"I think the last time I saw them was out back in the deli," he replied.

The manager walked from the register, past the new release videos and behind the ice cream counter. Upon entering the back of the store, the manager saw nothing and heard even less. Half confused and half annoyed, she was about to call for Ashley and I as loud as she possibly could when she heard a faint giggling coming from inside the tiny bathroom in the deli.

"Ben? Ashley?" she cautiously inquired. "What are you guys doing?"

No sooner did the words leave her mouth, than the door swung open with such force that anyone standing behind it would have surely perished. Before the manager could see anything, my voice echoed from inside the lavatory, "Erik had this crazy idea, and Ashley and I decided to try it!" Out I stepped, donning the petite Express jeans that belonged to Ashley. Not far behind was Ashley, wearing - no swimming - in my husky, size thirty-two Levis. If the manager was shocked, she did a fantastic job of hiding it.

"C'mon guys, we may FINALLY get a customer, and when we do it will without a doubt be Deb's [the owner] husband or something. What kind of manager do you think she'll think I am then?"

Ashley quietly assured her: "We're really sorry, but we thought it would be funny and I promise we will switch back in two shakes of a lamb's tail."

"Yeah, we just thought it would be funny - plus I got to see Ashley in her PowerPuff Girl panties!" I piped in. After carefully examining the look on the manager's face, my smile faded and my eyes shifted toward the ground. Despite my enthusiasm, there was a part of me that realized how ludicrous our behavior at work was.

Dejected and feeling guilty at the thought of risking our manager's job merely for a little juvenile fun, we went back in and exchanged pants. These were the moments when I felt like I could be better than I was. I wanted to have fun, but looking back I should've known that there was a time and a place.

As the year wore on, and warm summer evenings full of excitement and anticipation for that night's party turned into cold winter nights devoid of thrills, a friendship was spawned between the manager and I. We couldn't be further apart on the spectrum of life; she was a divorced mother of four and I was like a puppy that had lost his way after chasing the wrong car halfway across town. She knew what she wanted in life and I was trying to figure that out. But for some unexplainable reason we clicked. We became incredibly close unbelievably fast. Our friendship began with phone conversations into all hours of the night, to me hanging out with her and her kids at the playground, to not going a single day without seeing each other at least once.

It would be impossible to describe what it feels like to fall in love, because even if I could, it's not the same for everyone. What transpired in my first year of college was something that I never could have predicted. Between driving to class everyday, going over to friends' houses, and quietly sitting at home, all I could think about was this woman that was nine years older than me who had captured my heart. I also happened to know that she felt the same way because we exchanged letters almost daily. I have always been able to express myself much better on paper than I can orally, but sooner or later I would have to let my true feelings be heard. It happened to be sooner than later, and it was in the car one night after work.

"Thanks again for giving me a ride home," I said to her. There was a different aura than normal in the atmosphere between us, and I think we both sensed it.

Smiling, she soothingly said, "No problem, Ben. I would do it every single night if you needed it."

"Can I tell you something?" I blurted out rather randomly. My heart was pounding so hard and so fast that I thought it would pop out of my chest and fall on the floor.

She began to speak, but momentarily hesitated, seemingly wondering whether I was going to say what she was already thinking. "What is it?" Her voice trembled and I could see her delicate hands curl inward as if to brace herself for something.

"I think I'm falling in love with you, Becki." As I said the words I leaned across the middle of the blue velour seat, ran my fingers up her neck and through the hair behind her head, closed my eyes and pressed my lips against hers. Our passionate embrace did not last very long, but it felt like an eternity. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.

Over the next few years, the relationship between Becki and I had its ups and downs, as all of them do. But the ups were so much better and a lot more frequent than the downs. I never thought I could love someone so much, and I never thought that I could be in a relationship with someone who had kids. I had always adored kids, I just didn't know if I was ready for them; to be responsible for someone other than myself and to care for these little people who were unable to grasp the idea that mommy and daddy would no longer be together.

After having moved in and out of a couple apartments on my own, yet spending the majority of my time at Becki's house, we decided we were ready to move in together. It just made sense. And I found out very quickly that being a parental figure, while learning how to live with a significant other, was an undertaking of epic proportions for a twenty-two year old guy. Becki and I couldn't have a normal relationship in the traditional sense because everything we did revolved around the kids. There would be no weekends away, outrageous parties at the house, or even a good nights sleep. At the same time, we had to make sure they had all of their meals every single day, their clothes matched on the way out the door to school, and their homework was done before they went to bed. And, oh, did I mention that entertaining the kids was part of the deal?

As crazy as my life had become and as much as it sometimes killed me not to be able to go out, get drunk, or do absolutely nothing with my friends whenever I felt like it, I knew that the sacrifices I was making were worth it. I couldn't lead as rewarding a life as I was, and am to this day, if not for having someone in my life who loves me no matter what, and would do anything for me - it is a remarkable feeling. Some people aren't blessed enough to find that their whole lives, and I was fortunate enough to find it early on. Not only did I find and marry my soul mate, but I also found the joy of children. Kelsey, Lydia, Olivia, and Tyler, who are now my step kids, are one of the reasons my life is full of happiness and laughter. I am so lucky to be a part of their lives, and I love the fact that every single day I wake up not knowing what to expect. They keep me young at heart and I absolutely could not live without them. The most profound effect that meeting Becki has had on my life is that I have discovered what it is like to love someone more than I could ever love myself.
I can't say for sure, but God only knows where I would be without Becki and the kids. I know that I would probably still be lost, wondering what I wanted to be - instead of graduating college. I know that I would probably be carefree, sporadically paying bills and filling the fridge with Coors Light instead of chicken nuggets, French fries, and T.V. dinners. I wouldn't be as responsible; in fact I might still be switching clothes with my co-workers in the bathroom for giggles. I knew that one day I would change, I'm just glad that day finally came. Looking back and reflecting on my life thus far, and where I am going, I realize that I couldn't be happier.

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