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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The longest journey of Robert Glenn Bennett

The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny.
— Dag Hammarskj√∂ld
He must have walked this very path.

Just south of the bridge over Mill Creek I turn right and bounce down a hardpacked dirt road past an auto body shop where the road deteriorates into ruts and hard edges and the woods, now stripped of foliage and singing in the bitter north wind, close in as if mantling the lumps of rusted machinery, smashed cars and scattered piles of appliances and hot water heaters, the detritus of a failed civilization remitted to the forgotten places. The road curves sharply and drops into the lower fields. I park and set the brake and listen to the engine tick as it cools. The gray sky shades to a deeper gray and the woods grayer still.

He was here when the world was green and Mill Creek swollen with rainwater roared as it plunged foaming over the dam. With a bungee cord in his pocket he left the road and walked uphill on a faint trail skirting the fenceline.

He was here and I am following though where he went I cannot follow. But I can follow a little ways behind.

Once I took the same journey. I returned. He didn’t.

His name was Robert Glenn Bennett and he disappeared from Washington on August 2, 2007. He was 46 years old and married to a woman he called his dream girl. I had no part in the news or the search that went on for weeks, nor did I meet his family. I was no more connected to the case than any other reader, a spectator only and only then half-interested. Car troubled had stranded him on his way home to Alabama. When his father arrived he found the vehicle at the campground on the south edge of town with everything in it, expensive cameras, lenses, food. His dog, too. The creek was swollen with rains and the search focused on that raging current. Nothing was found. The car was towed away. The family returned home. It could have been the end of the story, or what passes for the end when there is no end. It could have been, but it wasn’t.

And all the while I crossed that selfsame creek four times a week, twice incoming, twice outgoing, and all the while Robert Glenn Bennett grew on my heart like the expression of a thought that had no words but only feeling and the feelings dark and lonesome and inexpressibly sad.

Why this was so I cannot say. People disappear all the time. Sometimes they’re taken and killed, their bodies hidden in woods or shallow graves. Sometimes they simply get on a bus and leave, start over elsewhere with a new name and a new persona. Sometimes the bodies are discovered weeks or months or years later. Sometimes nothing is ever found.

Robert Glenn Bennett was found three months later, his body beneath a tree, cord tight around his neck and no evidence of foul play. Which means that something drove him to these woods, drove him to the most desperate act imaginable, one few people can accept and fewer still comprehend.

I step from the truck and the rising wind rakes my face and stabs my eyes until they blur. My mind is a wild tangle of thoughts and emotions and I say aloud to no one, “I never asked for this,” though what I wanted to say, meant to say, was “Please remove this from me.”

I have so many questions, more questions than answers, and none to be answered in this lifetime. The odometer read a little over a mile from the campground if he walked the road but I don’t think he would have when he could have escaped attention by crossed the field or following the creek to the main road. It’s what I would have done. The bridge was the only way to ford the waters. If anyone saw him he must have been an unremarkable sight, a man walking his dog on a warm late-summer day. A man walking to his death.

Before coming here I’d looked at his photos on the Internet. Those taken of him and his wife reveal a man totally at peace with the world, totally in love, utterly content. What changed? Scrolling through brought me to a blank screen that I puzzled over, and then to an image of an incomplete circle of tiny rectangles, shaped like a string of pearls or diamonds in a necklace, smaller at the end where the clasp would be and larger at the opposite end. It said, simply, MoonOnlyWC.

At the bottom of the page is a single comment.

“Bob – I love you and I am here for you. Come home. Love you bunches. Judy.” The date is 19 Aug 2007, 19:51.

At that moment my heart stopped and only fitfully restarted thereafter. I have not stopped thinking of him since.

A man at a local business said he didn’t understand why anyone would commit suicide. “Nothing’s worth doing that,” he said. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” As if it were really that simple. And then, with a harder edge in his voice, he thumped his chest and said, “When the going gets tough, I get going.”

Sometimes when the going gets tough, the tough fall apart. They disappear into summer woods and never come out.

I understand that kind of thinking. It’s the toll depression exacts.

Visibility is fading fast and the cold burns my resolve. I take one step and another and follow him into the trees. I think that sometimes this is a road we all take, but some come back, and some, like Robert Glenn Bennett, do not. And while I know that the distance between thinking about something and doing it is a universe away, I also know that sometimes it’s the closest thing of all.

9 comments:

Cheryl said...

So few writers would even attempt an essay on a delicate / gut-kicking topic like this. You take us into those shadowy woods - and it's not a place we want to stay very long. You write with such loving kindness. Thank you, Tom, for sharing his story, your story.

tom said...

Cheryl -- Indeed, I think this is a taboo topic people want to shy away from. But sometimes it behooves us to stare it in the eye and demand answers or a reckoning. I need to know what happened to Bob Bennett. Thanks for reading and understand that his story isn't his alone but ours.

prairiewiter said...

Parker,

someone told me to read your blog recently. I've seen some of your pieces in the Washington County News, but I haven't been reading that paper lately. This essay is good, very good and causes the reader to be introspective, at least a reader who knows full well he/she isn't tough enough to face some of the things that can lead to a dark walk in the woods and a pile of bones dressed in camo. Mill Creek will never look quite the same and Robert Bennett will haunt us. I second Cheryl's response. Thanks,

Laurel Johnson said...

You never cease to amaze me, Tom. You are a literary LIGHT in a sometimes dark world. I can't think of any other writer -- famous or otherwise -- who can take stark topics and spin them into gold like you do. You express the inexpressible, possibly because you've danced on enough razor's edges to know your topics well. Some major publisher is missing out on a rare talent.

pcossel said...

Tom,
I have been reading your blog since you stopped in at the Beloit Call.
Generally I am content to sit back and read without saying anything. This last piece really struck me as being quite good.
What a dark subject matter in what many would consider a not so dark spot in Kansas.

tom said...

Pcossel -- Good to hear from Beloit! Bob Bennett's story deeply affected me, more than I like to admit. After interviewing his wife, I realize how alike we were. It is indeed a dark subject matter but such are the journeys we take sometimes. Thanks for reading and commenting. (By the way, the new iMac is getting closer by the day.)

Robbie said...

Me and my family would like to thank you Tom for such a wonderful article. God Bless You.


Sincerely
Robbie M. Bennett
and family

Anonymous said...

Cheryl flagged this for those who read her excellent site.

A lovely, measured piece of work about a topic that most lovely, measured people will do all they can to avoid. Thanks for your story.

gene said...

thank you mr tom parker from the bennetts of amory mississippi we have family all over this nation that was a very good story on robert bennett our nephew whom we loved very much and so little was said for so long that it was great to have you tell the story . I leave you with one good thought .
robert had expressed to me on several occasions when he e mailed pictures to me that he would some day like to write as well as photographyI tried to encourage him as I had also had such dreams in my younger days . I am now near 70 and have given up that dream but I have a young brother in the news at wtvm channel 9 in columbus ga. that writes on the side as he is an anchor man there again thank you so much for the fine job you did on roberts story. robert was a good christian man his problems all started as the result of an auto accident in his upper twwns
sincerely
uncle gene bennett