Benjamin Robert Carrillo passed away last week. He was my friend. Heartbroken doesn’t do this justice. Shattered: mentally, emotionally and physically; is the only way to describe it. There’s a Ben sized void in the lives of his friends and family right now…and Ben was a big guy [Bane voice: “For You”].
Tall, dark, handsome…loud. That was Ben. The life of the party. He was a joker, a button pusher, a smooth talking smart ass who loved making fun of everything; especially me. He rarely if ever used my real name; I was always “The Douche.” We first met when he “transferred” to my store; of all the In-N-Outs in all the world he walked into mine. We butted heads immediately. He was so arrogant and standoffish; he managed to piss me off within the first five minutes of meeting him. I would have never guessed that this jerk would wind up becoming one of my best friends.
We were both left handed; with short tempers and sarcastic tongues. We bonded over music and movies, talking shit about everything and laughing. We were always laughing. We worked well together, an unspoken competition pushed us to try and outdo each other. I was the faster cook, but he was more consistent. He was so tall and strong, he could scrape the grill and throw rows of seven like nothing. I’d work twice as fast to compensate; working until my paper hat disintegrated; or until his bad knee flared up and he’d demand a break ASAP.
That was the difference between us. Ben always spoke his mind. He wasn’t one to sugarcoat things or kiss ass. Sometimes that meant he didn’t play well with others, but he was always upfront about how he felt. I tend to over analyze things, Ben was blunt and to the point. Whereas I have an unusually high tolerance for pain/bullshit; he was straight up allergic. In Fight Club terms: Ben was like my Tyler Durden, he was free in all the ways I was not. I like to think we rubbed off on each other in a Yin and Yang sort of way. Ben was an ardent DC comics guy. Batman and Superman were his BOYZ. In 2012, we went and saw The Avengers on it’s opening night at the Arclight in Pasadena. It was packed to the brim with Marvel fanboys like myself. Ben was the only guy in the theater shouting “Justice League baby!” at the screen before the movie started.
The Justice League film finally came out last week; but Ben never got to see it. He passed away on November 16, 2017 at the age of 30. For the past year, Ben quietly fought against cancer. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma specifically. That’s the son of a bitch that did it. It’s a rare and aggressive cancer; but cancer all the same. It pains me to acknowledge this but, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone has a personal cancer story of their own. I did. I’d seen the different results of this fight before; but was convinced cancer picked the wrong dude this time. Ben was the most stubborn, strong willed human being I knew. He rode his bike, was an early riser, he watched what he ate and although that late 20’s beer belly started creeping in, he still busted out handstand pushups from his CrossFit days whenever challenged. Ben was also a musician. Hell, I was convinced he would just plug in his guitar and bludgeon the cancer like Marty McFly in Back To The Future. If anyone was going to beat this, it was Ben.
But cancer doesn’t play fair. It’s not an evil, malicious entity, it just doesn’t care. Cancer, nature, the universe in general, they’re all cruelly indifferent to our wants and needs. They’re going to do what they do, our hearts and psyches be damned. Ben being taken in the prime of his life is a tragedy. It’s mind boggling, infuriating and yeah, utterly unfair. I still can’t wrap my head around this; I just know it’s real and not the most fucked up dream I’ve ever had. Ben kept many people in the dark about his illness. Perhaps to shield them from the harsh reality he was facing, or maybe to save his time and energy for the fight of his life. He told me in August and I was shocked. ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner’ I thought? Let me just get this PhD in Molecular Biology really quick so I can kick this cancer’s ass for you dude. That’s probably how all his friends felt. Ben was that type of influence in our lives. He was the biggest shit talker, but also, the biggest champion/supporter you’d ever have. I wanted to offer him that same support ten fold. I saw him in October and it was hard. Very hard. I thought I did an admirable job keeping it together in front of him but looking back, Ben’s bullshit detector probably saw through me in a second. We laughed, and talked about old times but most importantly we talked about the future. He seemed determined to fight and turn the tables on this thing. But unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
I’m going to miss my friend. A lot. To this day, Lebowski Fest remains one of my favorite movie going experiences, ever. When I needed help busting my car out of this expensive ass parking lot in Korea Town he was the first person I called. His impromptu, intentionally out of key singing will always be in my head. I can’t hear “Jesse’s Girl” or “Beverly Hills” on the radio without thinking of him. He claimed to hate heavy metal music [probably just to piss me off] but he cut his teeth learning guitar by playing along to Metallica tunes while growing up. There are so many good stories in my brain’s ‘Ben’ sub folder. I just wish we could still add more. The last time we hung out before this nightmare took over was in April. He came by with Sophia to see Linda and I’s new place. It felt like old times, like a throwback thursday but in real life. Instead of talking in the back room at work, we sat on our couch and took goofy pictures with my DSLR outside. Although the girls looked exactly the same as the decade before, Ben’s beard and my ever present grey hair made it obvious that we were all in fact older and more appreciative of silly moments like these. Ben was ready to start a new chapter in his life, these pictures were supposed to mark it’s beginning. They’re great photos, some of my favorites I’ve ever taken; but it’ll always kill me a little inside knowing what should have been.
I would have liked to have said my goodbyes in person but I know Ben would have hated getting all mushy and probably would have called me a pussy like he always, so lovingly did. The pain and anguish he endured in those final months is over. As much as I miss my friend, I’m relieved to know that he’s finally at peace.
I’m writing this to help work through my grief but mostly, to reflect on how fortunate I was to have met Ben in the first place. Truth be told, we actually first encountered each other at Coachella 2007. We had mutual friends rocking out in the desert, we crossed paths but but never actually spoke to each other. It wasn’t until he wound up at my store that we became friends. All the burger joints in all the world and he walks into mine remember? How tragic would it have been if we never, really met? So I’m sharing this to celebrate the impact he had on my life, and introduce a little Ben magic to those who never had the privilege of knowing him. As much as it sucks eulogizing one of your best friends, keeping his spirit and memory alive is well worth it. I’ll never forget you Ben. Thank you for all the encouragement and support over the years. You had faith in my abilities long before I ever did. No matter what I do in life, I’ll always strive to make you proud. We love and miss you dude.
Here is a link to information regarding Ben’s memorial service and fundraiser to help cover his medial expenses:
Feel free to donate whatever you’d like or just share the link to spread awareness. Anything will help. Thank you.