I Love You, Daddy

PEACE OUT

Rob died a year ago today. I started to write about him one month later and promised to stop on the anniversary of his death. And, just like that, here we are.

I had a lot of ideas about how to end this thing—going to the cemetery and leaving rocks on his headstone, revisiting the last time I saw him, taking a one-year AA chip—but then I realized that there’s really only one way out. I wrote the ending 20 years ago in the Esquire story about adopting Robbie, never thinking that I’d ever have a reason to use it again.

***

You are the sand, little boy, and I will always be the water.

And that was where I intended to end this letter until you came padding into the room in your G.I. Joe pajamas. “What are you writing about?” you asked. And when I told you it was a story about you, you asked, “Is it going to be in a big magazine?”

And I said, “Yeah, how do you feel about that?”

And you said, “Scared.”

And I said, “How come?”

And you said, “Because I’m going to be in it alone.”

And I said, “No you won’t. I’ll be in it with you.”

And you said, “I love you daddy.”

And that’s when I had to stop writing.

Picture a Wave in the Ocean

ON THE BEACH

Me: Here we are again when we’re not supposed to be here. What gives?

Lar: I have something else planned for tomorrow, so I thought we’d have our last check-in today. Cool?

Me: In the immortal words of Rob, coo! I’m not really prepared, so we’ll just have to wing it.

Lar: Okay, I’ll start. You know what I wish?

Me: Tell me.

Lar: I wish I had more happy days with Rob. We had some, for sure, but there should’ve been way more. I know he had more happy days in him. It sucks that the unhappy ones always clouded the occasional rays of sunshine.

Me: That reminds me of the last line of “Emotional Weather Report” by the great Tom Waits: High tonight, low tomorrow and precipitation is expected.

Lar: There’s been a lot of precipitation lately. I miss his sweet smile. I miss hearing him say “Yeo.” I just miss him so much right now.

Me: It’s the stupid milestone/anniversary effect that makes you feel extra-shitty on top of all of the usual shittiness.

Lar: The way young people use the word “extra” these days cracks me up. They say, “That’s so extra!” about anything that’s over the top. I looked it up just to be sure and found this definition: The pal who is a pain in the ass, but whom you honestly kind of admire for it.

Me: Who was more extra than Rob? I still like your idea of using Rob as a verb or adjective: He was Robbed! That’s so Rob! Moving on…how do you feel about this being our last time doing this thing?

Lar: I think I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.

Me: You know, that makes you Dorothy.

Lar: And if we still had Wallace, he could’ve been Toto. Let’s get on with it, shit for brains.

Me: You know the first question I always ask, but I already know the answer to how you’re feeling.

Lar: Everybody knows. Next question!

Me: Okay, okay. How has your grief changed—or not changed—during this past year?

Lar: I’ve gone from an open wound to the walking wounded, and I still have some days when I feel like the walking dead. My heart was shattered and no amount of kintsukuroi can ever make it whole again. Sure, the initial devastation has worn off, but I’ll be picking up the pieces of this mess for the rest of my life.

Me: I notice that you’re not using the “healing” word.

Lar: I don’t feel healed and I’m not sure if I ever will. I like to think that maybe someday I’ll feel differently, but I know that one year is just the beginning. The pain is no longer relentless, but when it does drop in for a little visit, like right now for instance, it still hurts like a motherfucker, which, by the way, was my second choice for the name of this blog­: Hurts Like a Motherfucker.

Me: Not as poetic as The Sand and the Water, but definitely true. It’s interesting how grief is so often described in metaphors.

Lar: It’s the sugar coating on a shit sandwich. How’s that for a metaphor?

Me: Works for me. I just checked to see how many times you mentioned the G word, and it came out to exactly 100.

Lar: Seems low, but I know I’ve described it in at least 100 other ways. I remember calling it a fucked-up version of Groundhog Dayonly without Bill Murray. I also said that the good thing about grief is that you can’t really fuck it up too badly because it’s already fucked you up worse than you’ve ever been fucked up before.

Me: That was my personal favorite! Squeezing in three “fucks” in one sentence is so extra!

Lar: You mean so Rob. It’s always been our favorite word. And then there were those who were far more eloquent on the subject than I could ever fuckin’ be. Joan Didion wrote, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” Nick Cave wrote, “Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable.” My friend’s dad, referring to the loss of his son, said, “I’d give anything to have one more day full of worrying about him.” But the best description prize still goes to a father in my grief group who said, “My grief is my constant companion.”

Me: I thought I was your constant companion! Now I’m a little bit hurt.

Lar: You’ll get over it. As a matter of fact, where will you go when this convo ends?

Me: To the great beyond. Nirvana. Dreamland. That’s the thing—nobody knows until we get there or even if there is a there there.

Lar: It’s more about believing than it is about knowing. It’s more comforting to believe that there’s something after this lifetime rather than resigning yourself to the terrifying nothingness once the lightbulb burns out.

Me: Well, before I go wherever I’m going, let’s get back to this lifetime for a minute. How have you learned to live in a world without Rob?

Lar: I don’t think you learn to live with it, I think you just live. You wake up every morning and get out of bed and you do whatever needs to get done and then you come home, eat a little something, go to sleep, and do it all over again, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I don’t think you’re really learning anything other than that you have the strength to keep on going.

Me: You’re the strongest motherfucker I know, dude.

Lar: Everyone who survives this kind of tragedy is a strong motherfucker. Which makes me think of a classic Rob story. A few months after we bought him his first car, he got into his first—of many—major accidents. I don’t remember who called us about it, but it happened right around the corner from where we lived, so Caryn and I jumped in my SUV and raced over to see what was what. It was pouring rain, and I remember seeing the flashing lights of a firetruck and an ambulance and thinking that this was not going to end well. Then we saw Rob’s Ford Focus, which was T-boned and crushed like an accordion. But there was no sign of him or his girlfriend, whose name I’ve forgotten. Caryn and I were freaking out, and I remember bolting out of the car and running to the ambulance in this rainstorm—it was like a scene right out of a crappy made-for-TV movie. The first thing I saw was his girlfriend lying on a stretcher wearing a neck brace, and then I spotted Rob, sitting beside her with a few bruises but not really looking any worse for wear. When I asked him if he was okay, he famously answered, “I’m invincible!” And I never wanted to slap the shit out of him more than in that moment.

Me: He was invincible until he decided he no longer wanted to be.

Lar: He no longer wanted to be. That’s a perfect way of putting it. You know, I keep thinking about the last time I saw him—a year ago today. I’ve replayed that afternoon in my head hundreds of times, looking for clues.

Me: The fact that there were no clues was the biggest clue that he no longer wanted to be here. All the other times before that, he had reached out for help. Like we keep saying, dude, the soul knows when it’s time to go.

Lar: Well, my soul knows that it’s almost time for you to go. But there’s one last thing: A few days ago, when I mentioned how Rob and I had switched roles being the sand and the water, I didn’t realize how fitting that really was.

Me: Hold on! So now you’re the sand and Rob’s the water? Can you even do that? I’m so confused.

Lar: If you shut up for a second, I’ll explain it. Buddhists believe that dying is nothing more than the act of going home, like a wave returning to the ocean. So presto chango—Rob became the water.

Me: I just saw that on the end of The Good Place! When Chidi said goodbye to Eleanor, he started out with, “Picture a wave in the ocean.”

Lar: Well, I decided that I needed to see it for myself. So I took a walk to Venice Beach yesterday right before sunset and sat down where the sand meets the water. Aside from a few rowdy homeless guys arguing about who knows what and the steady beat of the drum circle, it was beautiful and peaceful and, of course and appropriately, smelled like weed. I was just watching the waves gently breaking on the shore, one after another, the white foam creeping up on the sand and then rushing back home to the ocean. It felt hypnotic. I closed my eyes for just a few seconds, and when I opened them I saw a small sailboat on the horizon. As it came into view, it looked like the one from Where the Wild Things Are, but instead of Max in his wolf costume it was Robbie in his Bitmoji catsuit. He sailed a little closer to shore and we both started frantically waving to each other, and he was yelling something, but I couldn’t hear what it was because the drums were getting faster and louder. And then the bow of the sailboat slowly turned around and headed out to the open sea, and that’s when my heart told me what he was saying. Robbie was still waving and I was standing on the shore waving back, and he kept sailing farther and farther away until he was just a speck. And then, all of a sudden, he was gone.

Rob Was…According to Taylor

TAYLOR

Rob and Taylor spent four years together, sharing some of the best and worst times of their lives.

It’s taken me almost a year to write about Robbie. I’ve tried so many times and I just kept deleting everything I wrote. And then I’d start all over again. Nothing ever felt like it was enough, and nothing I say will ever be enough, so here goes nothing.

Robbie and I met almost nine years ago when we were 20. I was visiting Long Island from Pennsylvania and we ended up going to the same rave in Brooklyn with some mutual friends. Robbie came up behind me and we danced together for most of the night. I immediately felt a connection. 

We spent that weekend hanging out and he even came along for the ride to take me back home. We texted non-stop until the next time I came for a visit, and after a few more times back and forth, I decided to stay in Long Island for good. 

Robbie, however, had already made plans to move to Binghamton and I was afraid that our summer of love would be coming to an end. But I didn’t let that happen. I’d get out of work every Friday, hop on the LIRR to Penn Station, run to Port Authority to catch a bus for a three-hour ride to Binghamton, and then I’d turn around on Monday morning to go back to work in Long Island. I didn’t care, I wanted to be with Robbie whenever I could. 

I could go on for days with stories about him, all the fun things we did, all the bad times we had, but I’d rather talk about who he was. Robbie was a diamond in the rough. He was the sweetest, most thoughtful person, who could also be your worst nightmare. He once surprised me with front row seats to Cirque du Soleil and then started a fight and got us kicked out. He so badly wanted to please the ones he loved and yet he often couldn’t control his temper. 

Someone once asked me why I loved Robbie. I just did! We got each other. We both loved to smoke weed and have crazy, fun adventures. During our early days together, I didn’t really see that much of his dark side, and even when I did, it didn’t change how I felt about him. 

Robbie was innovative, creative, imaginative, deep, daring and incredibly resourceful. He was also charming, passionate, loving and kind. He was surprisingly popular–everywhere we went in Binghamton or Long Island, Robbie had someone he knew and who loved him.

And all of us who loved him knew that he had two sides. Robbie was also depressed, angry, aggressive and dangerous. He was occasionally narrow-minded, harsh and impatient. He was impulsive and sometimes could be jealous. Robbie was Robbie and we all loved him for him. Even when we hated him, we loved him.

Our last year together was a rough one and when we eventually went our separate ways, Robbie said we couldn’t just be friends because he loved me too much. I thought maybe if we weren’t together, he’d find happiness. I thought it was my fault he wasn’t happy. I didn’t realize how deeply sad he really was. 

Even though Robbie and I hadn’t talked in a few years, I didn’t think he would leave this world before we got to make amends. I’ll always wonder if there was something more I could’ve done for him. In the back of my mind, I always thought we’d get to say our piece and would be happy for each other. 

I never thought that our final goodbye would be me and my six-week old daughter attending his funeral. I can’t seem to get that surreal day out of my head. I keep thinking that it was just a terrible dream. 

Now all the bad memories don’t seem to matter. I just wish I could’ve helped him realize how special he was and how much he was loved. Robbie was so much more than he gave himself credit for. 

My Shit’s Fucked Up

MY SHITS FUCKED UP

Dear Rob,

I was just listening to “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” I’ve always thought that it could’ve been your theme song, but today it’s mine.

So let me break it to you, son…my shit’s fucked up because this will be the last letter I write to you for a while. Don’t take it personally, dude. It’s not you, it’s me. We’ll still talk every now and then, but I need to take a break and here’s why:

You are dead. Your life ended. There is no more Rob.

You already knew this, I already knew this and everybody already knew this, but for these past 11 months, writing has been my way of keeping you alive. I’ve been holding on to you for dear life. Yours and mine.

The truth is that there’s nothing left to hold on to. The truth is that I’ve been scared to let you go. We all know that death is final. It’s the end. That’s the way all stories finish—THE. END. I hated that your story came to such an abrupt conclusion, and believed that writing and holding on to you was somehow going to…I don’t know what I thought, I wasn’t really thinking, I just didn’t want your story to be over.

Writing about you every day has kept us connected—the sand and the water—although I’m not even sure who’s who anymore. Sometimes I have to look at my tattoo to remind me, just like the guy in Memento. 

Remember when we first watched that movie and then immediately watched it again, trying to figure shit out? That’s what this blog has been for me—trying to figure shit out. I’ve been saying for a while that I was going to stop on the anniversary of your death, but I haven’t told you why. It’s simple really, and you probably know what I’m about to say because it always comes back to the same thing—love. I love you so much that if I don’t stop now, I’ll just keep on going until the day I die, which would mean that I’d never be happy again and wouldn’t have much of a life. I know you wouldn’t want that for me, so I think it’s best if we both take a little rest—me from you and you in peace.

In other fucked-up-shit news, Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter died in a helicopter crash a few days ago! The world is in mourning and everyone has been saying what a devastating tragedy it was—and for sure it was—but all I could think about was you. The unimaginable shock, crushing heartbreak and deep, deep sorrow that the world is feeling right now is what I’ve been feeling every day for the past year. And you sucked at basketball!

I was watching interviews with some of the players on the day it happened, and a few of them said that they were fathers and couldn’t imagine what losing a child is like. Other commentators mentioned that Kobe was a legend and there was no one else like him. An actor tweeted that we should show and tell our children that we love them every day and hold them close because it can be gone in a blink. And there I was, sitting on the couch crying, because I can imagine what it’s like to lose a child. I know deep in my heart that there was no one else like you, and I’ve been holding you close, telling you how much I love you ever since you were gone in a blink.

I don’t know why, and boy, have I said that a lot since you’ve been gone, but I’ve been saying the Serenity Prayer these past few days, and if that’s not a sign that my shit’s fucked up, then nothing is. Let me remind you how it goes:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Except for the God part, I’m down with that. It took me the entire year to accept the things I cannot change, and now it’s time for me to work on the courage and wisdom parts.

I love you, Rob, and I miss you like crazy, and hope someday to see you again, but not anytime soon. I also hope this afterlife thing really exists because if it doesn’t that would really be the fucked-up shit.

Peace out, dude.

Love,

Dad

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I'M THINKING ABOUT ENDING THINGS

Me: What the hell are we doing here today? It’s not February 6th yet!

Lar: I know, dude. I just have a lot to say before I end this thing, so I thought I’d start a few days earlier.

Me: The suspense is killing me.

Lar: Spoiler alert: They didn’t live happily ever after.

Me: Damn! What about bloopers? Do you have some funny cutting room floor stuff?

Lar: Wish I did. I think I’ve said everything there is to say about Rob. Or at least, everything I want to share.

Me: What do you mean?

Lar: I mean there are some things that I’ve purposely left out, that—for lots of reasons—I just don’t feel comfortable sharing.

Me: Fair enough. But let me ask you a question. Do you think you’ve been honest with what you did choose to share?

Lar: Yes and no.

Me: Explain please.

Lar: Well, I think I’ve portrayed my raw feelings and what I’ve been going through as honestly as I could. I’m aware that a lot if not all of it has been painted with a magic brush that I’ve often used whenever I’ve written about Rob.

Me: Like our good pal Emily D. wrote: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” You’ve always depicted Rob in the most positive light.

Lar: It’s the way I’ve always chosen to see him. I chose to view him through a prism of hopefulness…that he’d someday, someway be able to get his shit together. And sometimes I chose to view him as if he were me.

Me: Because the truth was too painful to look at.

Lar: Not entirely. I was always aware of the truth—I’m not that delusional—but it was complicated. My heart allowed me to be optimistic in the moment while my head knew what was coming down the pike for a very long time. Like I said almost a year ago, Rob’s death was a shock, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Me: What about the things you’ve left out?

Lar: I’m saving them for the sequel—The Sand and the Water 2: The Son Also Rises.

Me: As Rob would say, that sounds dope. So let’s get back to this magnum opus. How does it feel to come to the end of the Rob road?

Lar: Weird. Scary. Sad. Depleted. Relieved. Is there a word for hating to say goodbye? That! I guess the main thing is that there’s a part of me that feels I won’t stay connected to him once I stop.

Me: You’ll always be connected to Rob, you know that! The thing is—once you stop documenting your feelings, you may no longer be connected to the pain. You’ve been in the shit 24/7/355. And I know you can continue to do this for the rest of your life, but what kind of life is that?

Lar: I assume that was rhetorical. You know, whenever I think about not writing about Rob, I think about letting go. I think about how I could never let go of him in life and how it’s taken me a full year to let go of him in death. And at the same time, there’s a part of me that will never let him go.

Me: A year is a long time. It’s also a short time. You’re the only one who knows when it’s time to stop and when it’s time to let go.

Lar: I know the grief will never end, and I also know that I don’t need to be immersed in this unrelenting sadness. Writing about him every day has been almost like an act of self-flagellation. It’s penance for allowing Rob to slip through my fingers into the long, dark night.

Me: And considering that we’re not religious and don’t even believe in God…

Him: You rang?

Me: Not today, Lurch. We’re in the middle of something else.

Him: No problem-o. Peace out, boys.

Me: God, he’s so annoying! Where were we? Oh, right. Writing and not writing. What will you miss the most when you’re no longer writing about Rob?

Lar: I’m not really sure. I’ll miss these monthly check-ins a tiny bit…

Me: Nice. And fuck you, too!

Lar: …and writing letters to Rob and some of the sweet reminiscing about Rob and Zach when they were little boys. But what I’ll miss the most is the ritual of sitting down and opening up a new vein every day, and also the whole bearing witness of it all. I needed to get all of my shit out and I needed to know that someone was reading it. I needed to be heard. I needed to tell this fucked-up story and I needed my pain to be understood. It made me feel less alone. It made me feel that I could get through this nightmare in one piece.

Me: I know what you mean. It’s the way you feel when you see your sister’s heart emoji-thingy in the comments section on every post.

Lar: It’s the first thing Patti does every morning. Seeing that little heart every day means the world to me. It means that I’m loved and supported and that she’s thinking about me—always.

Me: You have plenty of people who feel that way about you, dude.

Lar: I know I do and I love and appreciate every one of them.

Me: So I couldn’t help but notice that for the past few nights, you’ve been rereading The Sand and the Water.

Lar: It was the first time I’ve gone back to these stories since I wrote them. I generally don’t like looking back at things I’ve written because I’m my own worst critic.

Me: So what was your takeaway?

Lar: Well, most of it made me really sad and some of it made me cry. I smiled at a lot of the jokes and I’m really glad I made them. It helped break up the sadness and the crying.

Me: I’m going to take a little credit here, just the way you like to take credit for Rob’s sense of humor.

Lar: Sure, fine, whatever. But more than anything and unsurprisingly, it was the photos that I liked best. That whole “a picture is worth a thousand words” thing is more accurate than I ever thought. I’ve written a little more than 100,000 words and there are a little more than 100 pictures. I suck at math, but that’s pretty much on the money. Sometimes I’ll just stare at a photo that accompanies a particular post. Like the one about detaching with love at the worst possible time. The photo is of baby Robbie smiling hard, and I kept enlarging it on my iPad, pinching my thumb and forefinger wider so all I could see were his beautiful blue eyes on the screen. I kept making his face smaller and larger, smaller and larger until I realized that nothing I do can change anything.

Me: That’s true, man, and speaking of, I wanted to talk about how you’ve changed during this past year, but we’ll get more into that next time. Tell me about Rob’s birthday. How did you feel? And how did you spend the day?

Lar: It was just another shitty day in a long series of shitty days. I played tennis in the morning and then checked in with Caryn and Zach. Caryn was in Florida visiting Jill and Jody, and Zach was golfing with his buddies, and it made me happy to know that they each had such excellent distractions.

Me: How did you distract yourself?

Lar: At first, I didn’t. At first, I leaned into it, almost out of habit. For instance, I listened to the new Mac Miller album, Circles, and immediately became obsessed with it. He died a few months before Rob did and Rob really liked him, so I always associate the two of them. The album is hauntingly sad and beautiful, and there’s this one simple song called “Everybody” that I particularly love. Here’s the chorus:

Everybody’s gotta live
And everybody’s gonna die
Everybody’s gonna try to have a good, good time
I think you know the reason why

Me: And it sounded like Rob was singing it!

Lar: Exactly! So after a few hours hanging with Mac and Rob, I decided that I was just gonna relax for the rest of the day and catch up on a bunch of podcasts. I was listening to one that was discussing upcoming movies for this year and the host mentioned a book called “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” which is being adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman. He was raving about how he couldn’t put the book down, and since I generally agree with his taste in movies, I was sold.

Me: So you one-clicked it on Amazon.

Lar: Yes, but before I did, I Wikipedia-ed it just to find out what I was in for. Here’s what it said: “The book has been described as a psychological thriller and horror fiction and is about an unnamed young woman who lets her boyfriend take her to see his parents on a remote farm, and the disturbing aftermath that follows.” So I was like, this is right up my alley! Just the distraction I needed!

Me: The podcast host was right about you not being able to put it down.

Lar: I spent the entire afternoon reading it and at about the halfway mark, I was fairly certain how it was going to end. I’m going to spoil it in a moment, so if you ever want to read this book or see the movie, stop reading this now and come back in a few days.

Me: Thanks for the heads-up.

Lar: Before we get to the ending, here’s how it begins:

“I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates. There’s not much I can do about it. Trust me. It doesn’t go away. It’s there whether I like it or not. It’s there when I eat. When I go to bed. It’s there when I sleep. It’s there when I wake up. It’s always there. Always.”

Pretty good, right? Hooked me immediately! And then the author lets you know that the unnamed female narrator is thinking about breaking up with her boyfriend.

Me: Wait! I’m closing my eyes and covering my ears. I may want to read this in the future.

Lar: I’ll miss your funny jokes. Okay, so here’s the twist ending: It turns out that the whole thing is really a dark fantasy taken from the notebooks of a sad and lonely, possibly schizophrenic custodian who, it’s revealed, has killed himself. And that’s the way I distracted myself on Rob’s birthday.

Me:  Larry, Larry, Larry, LARRY! I think it’s time to cut yourself a break, dude. I think it’s time for a little self-compassion. I think you’ve earned it. I think you owe it to yourself.

Lar: I think you may be right.

Castles Made of Sand

CASTLES

The word “heart” has always held a special sway over me. I’m pretty sure it started when I wrote about Robbie for Esquire all those years ago when he was 7 and I was only 42. It appears nine times in that story, but it’s the last mention that says it all:

Perhaps the only thing we neglected to consider at the time was your heart. Which reminds me of sandcastles. A few summers ago, you and I built a beauty on Uncle Stephen’s beach, and you wanted to surround it with a moat, so we started to dig a hole with your big yellow bucket. We kept digging faster and faster until the hole got so deep that you jumped in.“Daddy, get the water,” you said, and I ran into the waves, filled the bucket, dragged it back, and dumped it into the hole. The sand quickly drank it up, so I kept going back and forth, trying to fill the hole with water, but it was like pouring the water down a drain, and after a while we finally said the hell with it and ran into the ocean. You are the sand, little boy, and I will always be the water.

***

That’s a lot of fuckin’ heart, but at the time, mine was overflowing with love. And from that day on, anytime I heard the word, I’d immediately picture sandcastles and think of Rob.

We’re coming up on a year since he passed and broke my heart forever, and I can barely see where the sandcastles once stood. They’ve been washed away by the winds and the tides, leaving me alone on the shore staring out into the ocean.

I am now the sand, little boy, and you will always be the water.

What Kendra Told Me

WHAT KENDRA TOLD ME

I recently had coffee with Rob’s friend, Kendra, and she was not what I expected.

We decided to meet at a Starbucks in Santa Clarita, which is where she lives and about an hour north of Venice. I, of course, got there early. While I was waiting, I reread the letter I’d written to her a few months ago, explaining what had happened with Rob, and just as I was finishing up, she walked in.

We awkwardly said hi to each other, grabbed some coffees and then sat outside, where it was much quieter.

“So where should we begin?” I asked tentatively. “I guess, maybe at the beginning. How did you know Rob?”

This is what Kendra told me.

Kendra immediately surprised me by saying that we had met before. She was the girl who was with Rob the day his landlady frantically called and said that I needed to get him out of the apartment in Beverly Hills right away or she was going to call the police. Kendra first met Rob at the pie shop (which came as another surprise), where she was one of the bakers, and they became fast friends. She was also with Rob the night he got into a car accident a few days before Thanksgiving, but later on that evening, she was smart enough not to get in the car with him and the driver, who were both wasted.

Some months later, she lived with Rob for a short time in Long Beach after her mother kicked her out of their house. She had brought along her cat, who didn’t get along with Rob’s cat, Biscuit, and they had to keep the two pets separated. So Rob gave her his bedroom while he and Biscuit slept on the couch. She was mourning the recent death of her boyfriend—who, coincidentally, had also taken his own life—and mentioned that Rob was consoling and understanding. When I asked her how someone as young as her had endured such twin tragedies, she just shook her head as tears welled up behind her sunglasses.

Kendra then handed me an old iPhone with a cracked screen, which reminded me of every phone Rob had ever owned. It no longer worked, and she only kept it because of a 10-second voicemail from Rob, softly saying “I love you.” I listened to it three times and could’ve continued to listen all day.

It was clear to me why Rob loved Kendra. She’s a smart, funny and damaged soul—his kindred spirit. In a lot of ways, she reminded me of a West Coast version of Rob’s friend Sarah.

We talked for almost two hours. I told her that I’d thought they were more recent acquaintances and had known each other from Long Beach or from the casino. I asked if she had any idea about the severity of Rob’s depression and if he had ever mentioned suicide, and she said he had hid that side of himself from her. That was Rob’s go-to move in L.A.—hiding in plain sight. I told her that he had always been an unreliable narrator. She smiled and said, “That’s Rob.”

She was totally shocked to hear about his passing. The last time they had texted each other was in early February, just a few days before his death. She was living in Chicago at the time, and he texted that he was at O’Hare Airport, about to get on a plane. He told her that he had recently had his heart broken and was going backpacking in Europe to get over it. That’s where she’d thought Rob had been for all of this time.

Then Kendra showed me another text message thread and pointed to two photos. They were close-ups of Rob’s left hand—there was the four-leaf clover tattooed between his thumb and forefinger—holding a black revolver. One photo showed the gun’s cylinder open and the chambers filled with bullets. I don’t remember the exact date of these texts, but it was apparent that he had been thinking about doing what he finally did for some time.

I asked Kendra what she was doing these days, and she told me that she coaches a girl’s swim team, though she might get back into baking or doing something else culinary-related, she wasn’t sure. She lit up a cigarette after finishing her coffee (a signature Rob move) and smiled. Kendra couldn’t have been any nicer or kinder to me, and I felt heartsick about everything she’d gone through.

We sat silently for a moment, and as she stared into the winter sun, I stared at her and saw a familiar look—one that I’ve often seen in the mirror this past year. It’s a manufactured mask that we show to the world, barely concealing the enormous pain of loss hiding right beneath the surface. It’s impossible to notice unless you’ve walked a mile in those shoes.

Feeling I had taken up too much of Kendra’s time, I thanked her for meeting with me and for sharing her thoughts on Rob. Then I asked if I could give her a hug and she said sure. I held Kendra in my arms just a few seconds longer than I ordinarily would. I didn’t want to let her go.