Benny and Miriam



Valerie Byron    

© Copyright 2023 by Valerie Byron  


Photo property of the author.
Photo property of the author.

In June 1959 I was not quite seventeen years old. Mum had made the decision for us to return to England, in order to nurse her ailing lover. I was to leave Beverly Hills High School in my sophomore year, and it was planned that I would attend secretarial college in Manchester the coming September.

A few weeks before we were to return to England for good, I had been invited to a college party by a young East Indian friend, named Al. We had driven to a frat house at USC in downtown Los Angeles. I was quite overwhelmed at being invited to a party of this nature, since I was generally used to high school activities.

I conveniently “lost” poor Al during the festivities, and proceeded to pick up a likely looking lad by the name of Steve. As we were about to leave for his pad in a place I had never heard of - Hermosa Beach - I wandered into the living area to find my handbag. There I noticed a young man perched on a stool in a corner of the dimly lit room, playing a guitar.

He didn’t appear to be very tall, but had deliciously curly brown hair and a gentle aura which drew me to him. As I entered the room, he looked up and our eyes met. As if hypnotized, I walked over and stood by him, listening as he strummed his guitar. When he finished playing, we started talking, as if we had known each somewhere in a prior existence. The connection between us was instantaneous, something this girl-child had never experienced before. He told me his name was Benny, and I said, “Hi, I’m Valerie.”

Some unknown impulse made me yearn to stay with him for the rest of the evening, but my date was stamping impatiently at the door, waiting for me to join him.

Can I see you again?” he asked, in a low voice.

I’m returning to England next week,” I said, disappointed.

May I write to you?”

Yes, oh yes. That would be wonderful.”

I reached for my purse and tore out a piece of paper from my diary. I scribbled my name on it, with all I could remember of my uncle’s address in England. Handing it to him, I smiled longingly, and then reluctantly left, having no idea how old he was, or if he was even single.

We left for England, by sea, the following week, and I locked his image away in my long-term memory. The months flew by and I settled into a new life, attending secretarial school during the day and partying at night at the local dance clubs. One day a letter arrived for me with a brief address on the envelope. Scrawled across the envelope were the words, “Good job the postman knows you!”

I eagerly tore open the envelope to find a letter from Benny. I was in ecstasies of happiness and devoured his words, making sure to send a long handwritten letter back that same day.

Over the next two years we wrote back and forth, with me usually asking his opinion regarding my love life, and he responding with admiration and sage advice. I received many letters over the next two years, and saved them all in a folder. By early 1962 the letters stopped coming and I put Benny to the back of my mind. Soon, he would become just a faint memory. It would be forty-eight years before I saw him again. 

* * * * *

 Being alone after thirty-six years of marriage was proving to be quite difficult. Although I was starting to enjoy my independence, there were moments when I longed for someone, anyone, to give me love and understanding. “Thank God for the Internet,” I thought. At least I can track down old friends and perhaps even make new ones on the dating sites.

            By late July 2005, I had been separated from my husband for almost five years. I was sixty-three years old, living a celibate life, and spending most of my free time with girlfriends or family.

            It was on one long drive back home from a party in the San Fernando Valley that I started reminiscing about my youth, and all the men who had made protestations of love to me. Of them all, only one had retained a purity of emotion in my memory. Benny!

            I returned home that evening filled with a pressing desire to find him. Naturally, being lonely and without love, I had been looking back to my youthful days through rose-tinted glasses. All I could think of was finding “My Benny” – the man who had truly loved me. Of course I was totally delusional, since Benny and I had never actually even had a date – just that one brief meeting all those years ago followed by several years of angst-filled letters. Even so, although emotions and self-pity can make one behave irrationally, I was determined to find my “one true love.”

            Climbing the stairs with a heavy tread, I entered my small third bedroom, which had been turned into an office. Although it was late, I was determined to find him.

            Switching on my computer, I started to search. It was a huge task because it seemed as if there were many in Los Angeles County who shared his name. I wrote down addresses of every match and composed a letter that I planned to send. The next day I went to the library and picked up various telephone directories, making note of all the Benny G’s in the greater Los Angeles County area. With a long list before me, I took a deep breath, typed the letter, made copies and mailed them out. It cost a fortune in stamps.

            A few weeks passed by and I forgot all about the letters. It had been a shot in the dark, and I had never really expected a response. After all, he could be living in a different country for all I knew, or even be dead -- and who was to say he would even remember me after all these years. 

I arrived home from work one afternoon in early August 2005 to hear the phone ringing. I picked it up and said 'hello'.

            A deep, gravelly voice, with what appeared to be a slightly foreign accent, inquired, “Valerie?”

            “Yes,” I said, having no idea who it was.

            “This is Benny.”

            I took a deep breath, and fell onto the sofa, clutching the phone in my suddenly sweaty palm.

            “Benny? Is it really you?”

            He seemed a little confused, not certain if he actually was talking to the Valerie he had met all those years ago. I had to reassure him that yes, it was me, and that I was living in California now, not England. I asked him a few questions to make sure he was one and the same person: 'Where did you live in 1961? Did you play the guitar? Did you have curly hair?' He assuaged my doubts and I was relieved to learn that he was one and the same Benny from my past.

            After a brief conversation and an exchange of email addresses, we hung up. I was thrilled and excited to have finally found him, and wondered what life had thrown at him after so many years.

            I didn’t have to wait long. A greeting card arrived in the mail a few days later, filled with words of happiness and delight that I had found him. He promised to email me soon to let me know what had happened to him over the years.

            Over the next few months Benny corresponded with me almost daily. It was as if he had been waiting a lifetime for me to return and his letters were detailed and rambling, filled with stories of his life that made my heart ache. He told me what had happened to him after he had stopped writing to me. He sadly reported that all my letters and pictures, which he had saved over the years, had been lost in the Northridge earthquake of 1994. He was thrilled to learn that I still had a few of his letters from 1960 and 1961, and I promised to transcribe them onto the computer and email them to him.

            The stories that were tumbling out of Benny were troubling and very disturbing to hear. He told me that he had married soon after he had stopped writing to me. He had met a Jewish divorcee, Edith, who was a few years older than him, who had two children. He married her and soon after they had a daughter together who was the light of his life. His Jewish wife's family had taken a long time to accept him because he was not Jewish, but apparently his loving manner had won them over. He told me that married life was not what he had hoped for, and apparently his wife had not only refused him sexually, but had had an affair.

            In one conversation, he confided that he had come home from a jewelry convention to find his wife recovering in bed.

            “What happened? Why didn’t you call me?” he asked her. “I would have flown home immediately.”

            His wife reassured him she was fine. She told him she had undergone a hysterectomy but would recover. Benny, being the dear, trusting man that he was, believed every word. It was only later that he discovered that she had become pregnant by an ex-boyfriend, and had aborted the baby, not had a hysterectomy. He was not to find out about this until many years later when the information slipped out at a party.

            “So sorry to hear about your wife losing the baby boy,” a friend commiserated.

            It was then that Benny found out that all the years of pretending she could not have sex, due to “female problems” was a lie, a way to avoid being intimate with him. Nevertheless, he was determined to remain true to his wife, no matter what.

            Slowly but surely I was beginning to see a very clear picture of his life. Being one-quarter Hopi Indian, he had a very close affinity to the Indian Reservations in New Mexico, where he was born and the Self Realization Fellowship on Sunset Boulevard, which he told me he had helped to build.

            An incredibly spiritual man, he believed in past life regression and was an aficionado of the ways of the Indians. He would meditate for hours and chant in the tongue of the Hopi. Because he had married a Jewish woman, over the years he had adapted to her way of life and customs, learning to cook a mean brisket, and proudly producing authentic kosher meals on all Jewish holidays.

            Later, in a poignant email, he explained what had happened to him over the past year and how a debilitating illness had struck him down in 2004, the year before I had contacted him.

            He wrote that after being hospitalized for his low blood platelet count, he had returned home. He was not able to work at his beloved jewelry-making for many months, and spent days in reflection. The day that he returned to his workshop, he received my letter. He wrote to me of his joy and elation at my contacting him.

            'I will never forget the day that I was allowed to go back to my shop,' he wrote. 'It was like I had been born again. But most importantly, it was August the 2nd. It was the day I opened your letter. Valerie, I was trembling as I opened it. After all those years! couldn’t be.......could it? Talk about the Twilight Zone. I thought that I had entered it. I asked myself, Is this that young beautiful lady that I met so many years ago?

            'I was afraid of calling lest I be really disappointed. I was still not sure what was happening. Well, I called and was still not sure. Anyway I searched for any letter that I may have kept, but alas everything was destroyed in the earthquake of ‘94. I was hoping that I could confirm it with your handwriting. But no luck. It was at this time that I had decided to do my farewell goodbyes to all the wonderful people that I had known throughout my years in business.'

            He went on to say that he had decided, on the very day he had received my letter, to leave his wife, Edith, and travel on a tramp steamer. To where? He had no idea. Depressed and discouraged, he had been taking steroids for his disease, which took a huge toll on his body, swelling it out of all proportion. He told me a little of his early life and promised to fill me in later with more information, but for right now was staying put, now that he had found me again.

            I eagerly read the emails that followed in swift succession filling in the missing years. I was sad to see what he had gone through, yet amazed at the thrilling pictures his words evoked. We occasionally spoke on the phone, and I asked when we could meet. I begged him to send me photographs, but he refused, telling me that the steroids he was taking for his blood disease had made him huge and he felt ugly. On an impulse, I wrote to my physician brother, who lived in France, asking him if he had heard of Benny’s blood disease.

            Indeed, he had, and my brother immediately wrote back giving instructions for Benny to find another doctor and to ask for a specific treatment that would help his blood disorder. While Benny was following my lead and finding a new doctor, I looked through his most current email. He was filling me in about what had happened to him back in 1961.  

            As I read his words, I started to mentally gasp at what he was telling me. Apparently, soon after I had met him, he had gone back to school at the University of New Mexico and intended to specialize in the field of politics and propaganda.

            Oh, my God, I thought, as I read further. A soldier of fortune? A mercenary? My Benny? How could this be? Such a gentle soul could never kill another person. I read on, in shock.

            He explained how, after making a life-changing decision, he soon experienced a spiritual awakening when he took a trip on his spring break into the mountains of New Mexico to seek the advice of his friend, Jeremy, a shaman, or leader, of the Hopi Indians. He spent a week there, meditating and learning with his mentor, and when the day finally arrived for him to leave, he felt that he had found his ancestral home. 

            I read his emails dumbfounded. I found it hard to believe that the Benny I had once briefly known, that gentle young man, had ever intended to become a soldier of fortune. His descriptions of the Indian country were breathtaking and mind-boggling, and I found his stories of becoming a jeweler, a silversmith, enchanting. I hoped one day to see some of his wonderful work myself, and searched on the Internet to see if it was advertised there. I found several art shops displaying his magnificent turquoise and silver jewelry and was very much impressed. 

And so our correspondence continued. Weeks and weeks of letters and phone calls, me learning more and more about this very interesting and deeply spiritual man. He talked of past life regression and how he was certain we had been together many times in prior lives. 

            The pragmatist in me scoffed inwardly, as I am not a religious or even spiritual person. But a tiny part of me wanted to believe this, especially since I had been so drawn to him at our first meeting. He begged me to come with him to meet a friend who would hypnotize me so I could experience my past lives, but I refused.

            In one telephone conversation, I asked, “Benny, do you remember all these past lives?”

            “Oh, yes,” he said. “I remember every one. And I remember YOU.”

            “Tell me,” I urged. “Who was I? What was I like?”

            And so he related every life and the person I had been in each of them.

            As the months went by, I began to see that here was a very unhappy man who yearned not only for love, but to travel and see the world. He was living in a loveless marriage, with a woman who was only interested in entertaining her family, at Benny’s expense, and denying him any physical intimacy. Amazingly, she refused to accompany him on the trips he longed for. Poor Benny had never left the United States, and I could tell from his correspondence that he was ready to take off, although it was doubtful his wife would join him as she had a fear of traveling. Apparently he had thought that by denying himself the joy of travel, it would make him a better person.

            By now, I was becoming quite angry with this dreadful woman, and longed to shake her to make her see how unfair she had been. But I kept my mouth shut, and let him ramble on. I was curious as to why she was so unappreciative of this sensitive and generous man, whom most women would be thrilled to marry. 

My emails were supportive and sympathetic, and I tried to reassure him that he was worth loving, and that he should follow his heart. I knew he was scared of meeting me because of his weight gain, and I pleaded with him not to feel uncomfortable in my presence, as it was his inner beauty that appealed to me. I was anxious to meet him as I was beginning to have strong emotional feelings, probably because he made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I put aside the notion that he might be unattractive, and kept staring at the photograph I had of him from when he was a young man. I had kept that photo since I was seventeen years old, and had recently had it framed, placing it next to my computer.

            In May, 2007, almost two years after we had started corresponding, he phoned me.

            "Hello, darling," he said when I picked up the phone. "I just want to thank you for all the kind things you have written to me. You are so generous with words. You make me want to cry with emotion. I never thought of myself as all those things."

            "Oh, Benny, you are the dearest man," I said. "You have such a knack of making people feel good about themselves."

            "Well, I have to tell you that I've always been interested in people – what they like – what makes them happy, and that's why I am so fascinated by you," he said. "You take yourself for granted and put yourself down. You have so many things in that beautiful body of yours that it just needs someone to pull them out."

            Sinking down on the nearby couch, I pulled my legs up underneath me.

            "So when can I see you, Benny? Don’t you think we have waited long enough? Don't you want to see me?"

            "Oh my dear," he said in a strangled voice. "It would be wonderful to see you again, but I cannot bear for you to see what God, nature, time and doctors have wrought in these past two and a half years. You would probably cry, and I certainly would not like to see you sad. I am desperately trying to get myself presentable. I really do want to see you. I'll probably need to be sedated. We'll see." 

            "Oh, well," I said, filled with disappointment. "Let me know when you're ready."

            A package arrived a few days later. He had sent me a present. I wondered what it could be.

            I opened the parcel with trembling hands to find several rings made of turquoise and silver, bearing his engraved name on the back. I was transported with delight, and eagerly tried them on. They were unusual in design and I loved them. I wrote back to thank him, still wishing he would make an appearance.

            We were not to meet until much later that year. So much was happening in Benny’s life that it was difficult to keep up with him. He seemed to be traveling a great deal – spending time at Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, working on his jewelry or vacationing in Carmel. One moment he would be in New Mexico, and the next in Arizona. He never seemed to sit still for a moment. I didn't hear from him for a couple of weeks, and then one day he phoned me, sounding terrible.

            "What's wrong?" I asked when I heard his voice. "Are you all right?"

            "No, I'm not. I just wanted to call in case you were worried about not hearing from me. I've had an accident."

            "Oh God, no! What happened?"

            "I was hiking in New Mexico with my friend, Jake. He fell down and hurt his leg, so I picked him up and hoisted him on my back. He was just too heavy, and I fell on a tree stump and pierced my groin.”

            "Oh, no! So where are you now?"

            "I'm in the hospital. Valerie, it's bad. They think I might have lost my manhood. The doctor said it will cost a fortune to repair the damage, and will be very painful, but I have to do it. That's why I'm here in San Antonio. They are going to do the procedure in a few days and then I've got to go through months of rehabilitation."

            "Do you want me to fly out to be with you? I'll come right away if it will help."

            "No, darling, I'll be fine. I just need to get through this. Thanks for offering though. I'll keep in touch."

            Bewildered, I sat there after I'd hung up the phone, pondering what we had talked about. 

            A thought crossed my mind for a moment – why is he going through this torture? He is almost seventy years old with a wife who refuses him sex. Why would he spend all this money to go through such a delicate operation? To have sex again? With whom? With me? Part of me felt a frisson of excitement – but another felt anxiety. We had still not met – I had not seen him, nor he me. What made him assume we would be having a physical relationship?

            I kept in constant touch by email and phone, and he seemed to be rehabilitating nicely. His blood disorder eventually cleared up, the operation had seemingly been a success, and he had lost a great deal of weight. By the end of 2007 he was finally ready to meet me.

            I invited him to come to my home for tea. I spent the morning tidying up, bathing, applying make-up and attempted to look as attractive as I could. My heart was beating a mile a minute, so anxious was I to feel the same way I had back in 1959.

            It was around three o'clock in the afternoon when he arrived. I had been pacing up and down, peering through my kitchen window in anticipation, when I finally saw him walk through the white gate at the end of my driveway.

            As I stood to meet him in my patio, I watched him approach. Less than average in height and a little stout, he was neatly dressed in black slacks and a white shirt with a very large, but interesting looking silver and turquoise belt buckle. He wore a matching bracelet on his wrist and a thin Indian style tie. Without stopping to take a closer look, I flew into his arms, and held him tightly. I could feel his body trembling as he embraced me, and I could feel tears pouring down his face onto mine. We had been apart for so many years yet I knew instinctively that this man truly loved me.

* * * * *

Read the rest of the story in Valerie's book.       

Benny and Miriam’ is based on a true life relationship and is Valerie's fourth piece of work.  She currently lives near the ocean in Torrance, California.

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