November 12, 2022

Ben couldn't get the woman leading the first group he attended out of
his mind.  He had been scooped up from a homeless existence, patched
up on medicine, stuck in a tiny studio apartment, and mandated to
attend the groups.  The woman had told her story to everyone the first
night.  Years ago, she had been someone like they all were.  She had
almost died in an abusive relationship.  Her boyfriend had attacked
her brutally, collapsing her ribcage into her internal organs, leaving
her for dead, but she had managed to call an ambulance.  He had been
sentenced to prison when it went to trial, and he had been murdered in
prison.

Ben had been early to the first group, he had been the first one
there.  Hearing the nice woman tell her story so calmly had turned his
blood as cold as ice.  He had sat there as she talked about it,
shivering.  She had been so nice when he had walked in at first.  He
might have imagined it, but thought there was some attraction there.
As everyone got to know each other at the sessions, Ben's story
started coming out of him, new even to Ben himself.

He had had no mother figure to speak of, really.  The woman who was
probably his mother had kept him locked in a cellar like an animal
until he had escaped at a young age to be homeless.  He had grown up
in that environment, a completely feral human being.  He was almost a
fully grown man when he first fell in love, with a prostitute.
Nothing could have ever happened between them.  One night a man beat
her so badly that her face was bleeding, dragging herself on one bad
leg down the busy strip.  Ben was there in the shadows, trying to look
out for her, but too scared like an animal to do much.  An expensive
sportscar pulled up to her, the window rolled down, and another man
tried to hire her again on the spot.  Ben lept out of the shadows,
through the window, and pulled the man out by his throat.  The car
kept rolling, Ben dragging the man out and beating him to death with
his bare hands.

Ben made that shit up for that nice lady's benefit.  He wanted to
impress her.  Unfortunately, she believed him.  She was scared of him
for a long time after that.  Ben was just crazy, he didn't even know
what hole he had climbed out of.  It was bad.  He had fallen head over
heels for that nice, traumatized, wonderful lady.  He was always early
to the groups, he was usually the first one there.  Her fear subsided
as he was always respectful to her.  She probably figured out how
crazy he was.  He couldn't do anything about it.

His mind involuntarily fantasized about her in strange ways.  She
would stand there naked in his mind, but it wasn't even sexual.  She
stood there as if for a medical examination or to get a tattoo.  Ben
started to realize that she was crazy too.  He made the most progress
out of anyone in the group.  He was extremely motivated, and it was
all by his love for her.  She wore a wedding ring, but she never spoke
of any man.  Ben was going to be a leader of one of these groups
someday.

It hurt to be around her.  It hurt to wake up, to fall asleep,
everything in between, and to dream.  Ben started to figure out his
actual story.  It hurt to not tell anyone.  The world felt like it was
melting sometimes when he sat there in the groups, struggling to hold
it together, to not be crazy.

One night he got there early like he always did, he was the first one
there like he always was.  She awkwardly walked right up to him before
she started like she always did, and she gave him a hug that left him
dizzy.  She stared him down as she turned to continue getting
everything ready for the group.