by Karen Kinley
You’re a freak.
The words echoed in Ben’s mind as he sped down the highway. His oldest brother was never one to hold back. He had made his opinion of Ben very clear the last time they were in the same room. But now that Gary was getting married, family obligation required that an invitation be extended.
Growing up as the youngest of four brothers wasn’t easy under normal circumstances. But when you added in a mental health disorder, things were downright unbearable.
Ben’s excessive cleaning became a family joke before he was 6 years old. And late at night, he would sneak downstairs after everyone was asleep and make sure the front door was locked. A few times, Rick caught him and ribbed him mercilessly.
Steering the car off the next exit, Ben thought about where he was headed. Gary and his fiancée were getting married at a country club in the town where Ben grew up. Earlier in the week, he had called Alex, the brother with whom he shared a bedroom for most of his childhood. “Is there a rehearsal dinner I’m expected to attend?” Even though he wasn’t invited to be a groomsman like his other two brothers, he assumed that he’d be invited to the dinner.
“No,” Alex had said. “They’re trying to keep things small.” Which was code for: Gary doesn’t want you there.
It was just as well. Eating a meal with his family had always been torture for Ben. Every action was under scrutiny. His sitting ritual (tap the back of the chair three times, sit, scooch the chair forward twice) was teased relentlessly. He felt his brothers smirk at the way he ate his food (finishing each item before moving clockwise to the next). If he touched food with his hands, he had to stop and go wash them before continuing with his meal, which also meant repeating the sitting ritual when he returned. His behavior wasn’t normal, and he knew it. When his mother wasn’t looking, Gary or Rick would mix Ben’s food together on his plate or lick his fork, knowing the stress it would cause.
Even Alex, who was nicer to Ben than the older siblings, got irritated when their parents made everyone stay at the table until Ben finished his meal, which often took long. “Ooh, poor little Benji needs us to babysit him so he can eat,” Alex would say in a mocking voice. “Do you want me to feed you, little boy?” Then he would hold his fork high in the air, swooping down making airplane noises as if Ben were an infant. Even all these years later, Ben’s stomach tightened at the memory.
When Ben was 12, his pediatrician suggested that his behavior might be related to OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was not something that ran in the family, so his parents weren’t convinced that’s what it was. They just thought he was an odd kid.
It wasn’t until a few years later—when Ben admitted to his mother that he had imagined taking his father’s hunting rifle out of the gun cabinet in the garage and shooting his entire family—that they started to realize that something was really wrong.
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