The Helmet

Ryan Bertrand

© Copyright 2009 by Ryan Bertrand


Ben Willows lived in Renchester, a small town in West Virginia. Renchester was a quiet place nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At first, the evaluation was hard for Ben to get used to since he was from New York City. However, Ben’s respiratory system soon adjusted, and he built a humble life for himself.

 Ben’s life was normal, or as normal as his could get. When he was living in the city he saw a therapist for a condition she called obsessive-compulsive disorder, a problem that she abbreviated to OCD. This abbreviation bothered Ben at first because he felt the abbreviation downplayed the severity of his disorder. He soon learned to cope and used the abbreviation himself. He used the abbreviation not because of conformity, or because of the repetitious nature of his doctor, but because of a personal philosophy of his. Ben believed that life is measured in a series of breaths, and that to save a breath by abbreviating things whenever possible, he would save precious minutes.

 Ben’s life was made difficult by his disorder, which is why he moved to a smaller town. Renchester made it easy for Ben to live comfortably. His disorder made it hard for him to complete even the simplest of tasks. Most OCD’ers are horrible clean freaks, but not Ben, he had only one clean freak like problem when he was a teenager, but that is no longer an issue. From the age of fifteen to the age of about nineteen, Ben could not have a bowl movement without bathing directly afterwards. This became a problem when his three sisters lived in the same house, so Ben worked through this ritual. The last time that Ben left his house was a month ago. The trip should have taken only fifteen minutes, but do to Ben’s OCD issues the trip turned into a five-hour fiasco. The item that brought on all this was a currycomb. Ben thought that this would be the best devise to straighten the fringe on his carpets. It was an episode of Montel Williams that gave him this idea. Ironically the show was about people with extreme OCD problems, and how rehabilitation and therapy had helped. Instead of using the show for its intended purpose Ben used other peoples problems to hone his obsessive behavior into a more manageable situation. However it was all for not because the comb ended up almost destroying his rug.

 Ben’s mom started to notice his problem in his mid-twenties, and suggested he see a therapist. This therapy ended two years later when he got into a debate with his therapist, a debate that escalated into a verbal screaming match. The debate was over his condition because Ben thought that he was just superstitious, and his therapist did not agree. Tempers flared, and it ended when Ben told the therapist that he could no longer see someone that could not have an intelligent conversation without becoming verbally violent. He felt this was not the proper conduct for a professional, and left the office, but not before he straightened the fringe on her rug, and righted the painting on the wall.

Now that Ben is in his early thirties, he has consolidated most of his rituals into a handful of issues. Ben cannot go into an office building, or a bank or any building that plays music because he cannot leave until he recognizes the tune and can hum or sing at least two lyrics from the song. The secretaries in his therapist’s office would turn off the music before his appointment to ensure that Ben would not be stuck in the office until a tune was familiar to him. This interesting problem was taken care of by Ben. He would do all his banking and bill paying from his computer. Ben read books to a tape recorder, and sent them to a company that produced books on tape. This job could be done from the comfort of his home and mailed to the company.

 One day the inevitable happened, his computer froze up, and he had to make a trip into town to pay his cable and gas bill. After straightening the fringe on all his rugs, he left the house and prepared for the drive into town. Before Ben left the driveway, he put in his own music so the music blaring from other cars did not drive him nuts. Driving a car was a real hassle for Ben whenever possible he liked to take the side streets to avoid red lights. Not because the frequent stops annoyed him, but because at red lights he was compelled by a force unknown to honk his horn and yell the first line of the Charles Dickens classic “A Tail of Two Cities”. To avoid this potentially embarrassing situation, Ben would drive almost twice the distance to his destination.

So this is why Ben found himself driving the back streets, with Otis Redding wailing through the speakers about love, sorrow and loss. Ben had an idea on route to the bank, and had to make a crucial stop first. About two blocks from the bank, there was an army surplus store, and Ben parked his car in front. Ben was so jazzed about his idea that he forgot the possibility that there might be music playing in the store. He rushed from his car and entered the building. The door banged an old rusty bell that caused dust and debris to cascade down onto him. This thought Ben just will not do. Ben brushed himself off and gazed around the dimly lit store. The front counter was constructed from the front end of an old army jeep. Ben fiddled around with some grenades in a bin near the jeep when the door behind the counter opened with a creek that reminded him of his grandparents screen door.

What you need boy”, the man said between lips filled with chewing tobacco.

You aint them bastards from Dateline is ya.”

No”, Ben remarked.

Cause them dirty sons a bitches been try’n to infiltrate my business cause they’s been thinking I sell illegal weapons or suppon, them dumb shits is lucky I aint got notin like that roun her or ies libel to blast them from here to Saigon no what I mean”.

 “I guess so”, Ben said with confusion. “What I need is a pair of ear muffs.”

 “If in you mean them kind that they use at a firing range then you is shit outa luck.” Said the clerk.

 “Well then, do you have anything that could be used to muffle sound?” asked Ben.

 “I aint rightly sure, let me go look in the back”.

 The man disappeared behind a net of some kind Ben guessed it might have been used to camouflage a vehicle or an anti aircraft gun or something. Ben wandered around the store and gazed at all the army gear. There were land mines on a rack that looked like it could barley contain their bulk. “I hope these are not live”, Ben said to himself.

 “Course they is dumbass”, the owner said from behind him. Ben jumped and nearly knocked over a rack of canteens and army boots.

 “Her” said the greasy redneck, “try this on.”

 “This is a friggin helmet”, Ben said.

 “No it aint just a helmet, this is an official Kevlar chopper pilots helmet.”

 “I wore one these sons a bitches when I was on evac detail back in NAM.”

Reluctantly Ben tried the helmet on and looked in the mirror. It was to his surprise a perfect fit. He looked at the storeowner and realized that he was trying to talk to him, and Ben could not hear a thing. He took off the helmet and said “what?”

 “You can’t her shit can ya boy.”

 “Not at all thank you very much. How much do I owe you?”

 “Bout fifteen bucks oughta do er.”

 Ben paid the man and asked if he had a stereo he could turn on so Ben could see if they would work for what he needed them to do.

 “You listed to Skynard?” replied the man.

 “I’m sorry what?” asked Ben.

 “I said you into friggen Skynard or what man.”

 Although Llynard Skynard was not a band that he liked at all, Ben did unfortunately know some of the lyrics to their music.

 “Yes I am familiar with there work”, said Ben.

 The man put the music in, and Ben put on his new helmet and could not hear a thing. He took it off and thanked the man for his help. On the way to the bank, Ben reflected on the truly disturbing encounter he just had. Ben shrugged it off and parked his car in front of the bank. He practiced a breathing exercise that his therapist taught him to calm his nerves. Ben realized this was the first time that he had left his house in a month. Putting his fears behind him, he placed his hand on the door to the bank. Just as he was about to enter, he heard a voice behind him tell him not to move, and the assailant poked what felt like a gun into the small of his back.

 “Turn around nice and slow.”

 Ben followed the man’s instructions without question.

 “What’s with the stupid helmet man?”

 “I a don’t know.” Ben gazed down at the helmet in his hands and was too scared to remember what it was for.

 With the gun pointed at his stomach, the man handed Ben a note and instructed him to hand it to the teller.

 “Your gonna rob this bank for me, and if you think of doing anything stupid think again. There is a colleague of mine inside with a gun trained on you at all times, so no funny stuff. Do you understand?”

 With a slight stutter, Ben replied with a shaky “yes.”

 Ben turned around slowly and headed for the door to the bank, but just before he entered, he remembered what his helmet was for and put it on. Before he entered, he turned to look at the man to ascertain if what just happened was real. The man was leaning against a rusty old car parked right behind Ben’s. With the weapon concealed beneath his coat, the man waved Ben to enter the bank, and said something Ben could not hear. With his hand on the door and the note in his hand, Ben found the courage to enter the bank.

 People bustled back and forth and waited in line. No one noticed the strange man who just entered with the official Kevlar chopper pilot’s helmet circa 1965. Ben made his way to the counter to fill out his withdrawal slip. He grasped the pen and attempted to write his name on the slip, but could not stop shaking. Ben tried to relax, and once again tried the Zen breathing exercise his therapist had taught him. He turned around and scanned the crowd for the gunman who was to shoot him on sight if he made one false move. Ben looked around and saw no one out of the ordinary, or no one that looked suspicious, except for his own reflection with his ridiculous helmet on. There was a armed guard just to the side of the exit door, and Ben contemplated running over to the man and telling him what was going on, but he still was not sure if the man inside was here or not. Ben instead walked over to the end of the line and waited for his turn.

 In line people around him began to notice his odd accessory, and many were reluctant to ask why they were just pointing and talking amongst themselves. Ben could not hear them or the music that would have kept him in the bank all day. A woman in front of him held a small child that could not take her little eyes off Ben and his helmet. The little girl smiled and Ben smiled back, forgetting for a moment that he was going to have to rob this bank.

 The woman in front of Ben was called to a teller, and it was Ben’s turn next. He began to shake as beads of sweat gathered beneath his new hat. He could feel his pulse rise as someone from behind poked him in the ribs, and pointed to the teller waving her hand at him. How long had the teller been trying to get my attention, thought Ben.

 The bank teller seemed like she was a million miles away as Ben walked up to her, and handed her his withdrawal slip. Ben felt a thousand eyes stabbing small holes in the back of his head. He did not exactly look inconspicuous enough to be robbing a bank. When he thought that his nerves would overcome and throw him to the ground in a defeated hump, the teller handed him his money and said something that Ben could not hear. Forgetting about the helmet for a second Ben yelled, ”WHAT.”

 “Jesus sir keep your voice down there is no reason to shout.” said the teller. “I said is there anything else I can help you with?”

 Ben remembered he had not handed her the note yet and proceeded to do so. In the excitement he once again forgot he was wearing the helmet and made a crucial error. “I’M SORRY I DID NOT INTENT TO ROB YOUR BANK MA’AM. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE ME”

 After Ben let his intentions be known, everyone in the bank in unison hit the floor. Woman slid their purses across the floor, and to Ben’s astonishment five purses slid into his feet at the same time. Still wearing his helmet, Ben pleaded with the patrons and the bank staff.


 Ben at that time realized two things, one that the man outside was working alone, and two who the hell is going to believe the crazy man with the official Kevlar chopper pilot’s helmet. The guard to the right of the door had his gun drawn and pointed at Ben’s head. When Ben realized that the volume of his voice is what botched the robbery, he reached up to take off his helmet. Unfortunately, he had not heard the guard yelling at him to freeze, so when Ben reached up to remove his helmet, the guard opened fire on Ben. Two bullets hit Ben in the helmet, knocking him off his feet and skidding along the floor. Ben came to about ten minutes later, and realized that he was able to hear again and looked next to him at his helmet. There in the front not one inch above the rim of the helmet were two dents where the bullets ricochet off the Kevlar coating. This explained the juggernaut like headache he had. The EMT helped Ben to his feet as a police officer asked Ben for a description of the man that had approached him outside the bank. “I don’t remember sir I was so scared that I have forgotten his face completely. I do, however, remember his car.”

 “That would be great sir.”

 The classical music played on in the background as Ben gave the officer the description of the car. When he was done, the officer said he needed to go to the hospital to get checked out.

 “You know, son, if it was not for that helmet you had on, you’d be deader than a door nail.”

 That’s when the music was made apparent to him, and he massaged his temples and shook his head. After two hours of arguing, Ben was led out of the building to his extreme objection. This was not good for Ben although he had survived this traumatic experience his OCD problem in the end was all he could think about all the way to the hospital. It was driving him nuts and he thought how difficult this disorder had made his life. He also remembered that his therapist had always told him to be more optimistic. It is then that he realized what just happened. The disorder that he loathed his whole life, that dictated every aspect of his life from what job he could take to how he paid his bills, in the end saved his life. Because the disorder that he hated caused him to buy the helmet that ended up saving his life. Ben smiled at this newfound realization as the ambulance came to a stop at a red light. Ben, compelled by the disorder he now loved, rushed to the front of the ambulance and honked the horn, and yelled, “IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES.”

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