Dear Kendra

DEAR KENDRA

Another friend of Rob’s from Long Beach recently sent me an email saying she had just heard that he’d committed suicide. She said that she was struggling with the news and looking for answers. I wrote back and included a link to this blog, figuring that it would answer some of her questions, and also gave her my number if she wanted to talk about anything in particular. We’ve been leaving each other voicemails and texts messages for the past few weeks, but still haven’t connected.

I was thinking about what I would tell her if and when she calls again, and then I had a better idea.

***

Dear Kendra,

I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to talk, so I thought I’d write you a letter. You mentioned that you’re especially interested in what exactly happened and when, so I’ll start there.

It was Wednesday night, February 6, and Rob was hanging out at his apartment on Ocean with two friends, a man whose name I don’t know and a woman named Jillian. They were drinking 40s and playing video games and I’m not sure what else was going on. At some point later in the evening, his two friends went into another room. That’s when Rob picked up a gun. It’s still unclear to me what it was doing there and who it belonged to. According to the police report and a few psychics that I’ve been to, Rob started to fuck around with it, and we’ll never know if he really meant to do what he did at that actual moment, but he put the gun in his mouth and that was that.

I got a call from the coroner’s office early the next morning. As I told a bunch of people when I first heard the terrible news, Rob’s death came as a shock, but it wasn’t a surprise. I had been waiting for that phone call for a long time.

I knew that he was struggling, but Rob was famous for being an unreliable narrator and often told me stuff that he thought I wanted to hear. He also didn’t share a whole lot of personal things with me because, among several reasons, he knew that I always worried about him. He’d probably be happy to know that I’ve finally stopped.

Everything seemed to turn to shit for him right around Christmas. He had lost his job at the casino, he was no longer sober, he was about to be kicked out of his apartment, and he had just had his heart broken.

I had lunch with him the day before he died and he seemed depressed and exhausted. He was juggling three or four crappy restaurant jobs just to scrape a little cash together. He said he owed a loan shark thousands of dollars, and my guess is that he just felt some unbearable combination of desperation and helplessness, like there was no way out. Rob was lost and, more than anything, wanted the struggle and pain to stop.

I don’t know if he ever showed you his fragile side. He certainly kept it hidden from me. Again, I’m not sure he had planned to take his own life that night (I always thought that suicide was a more private act), but I believe he had been contemplating it for some time. In other words, what happened was sort of accidentally on purpose.

We had the funeral a week later in New York and it was a packed house. We then buried him in the same Long Island cemetery where his grandparents are interred. As you can imagine, it was the worst week of our lives.

The next few months weren’t much better. The heartache and despair were unimaginable. Rob’s death broke me open and crushed me into tiny pieces. There were many days where I don’t know how I even got of bed.

The thought of not seeing Rob again, which I’m sure you’ve had, is a bottomless pit of anguish and sorrow, and the only thing I can say about that is the grief keeps changing. I’m hoping that years from now, it will hurt less and maybe even transform into something beautiful, like the way a moving song from long ago can still make you cry.

Rob was truly, madly, deeply loved by so many people and even though he sometimes, okay, mostly, didn’t show it, I believe he knew how much we all cared about him.

We all loved him, but we couldn’t save him because Rob didn’t want to be saved. I understand that in my head, but it still keeps my heart up late at night. Loving Rob wasn’t enough to keep him here.

And yet we’ll never stop loving him, wherever he is.

Best regards,

Larry, Rob’s Dad

 

Promise That You Will Sing About Me

PROMISE

I was recently listening to a podcast called “Dissect,” which does deep dives on songs and albums, and this season’s subject is DAMN by the genius rapper, Kendrick Lamar. As a sort of preface, the host was talking about some of Kendrick’s older material, and he focused on one song in particular called “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” It’s a masterpiece, and one of my all-time faves, especially the first part, which takes up seven of its 12 minutes.

I never really knew the story behind the song, other than it was based on real people from Kendrick’s life, but it moves me as much as any song I’ve ever heard (and big h/t to Zach who turned me on to it in the first place). Before Kendrick sings one word, there’s a catchy yet plaintive instrumental melody that instantly found its way into my heart. And the opening lyrics, which turn out to be the chorus, just about ruined me:

When the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me

I said when the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me

The song is obviously about death and being remembered, and really so much more than that (you can listen to it here). But from the moment I first heard the opening drumbeat and guitar riff back in 2012, I’ve always associated it—for reasons that were then unknown—with Rob and me.

I’d play it whenever he came over to my apartment in Brooklyn, and later on in Venice. I don’t think he liked it as much as I did, but I didn’t care. There was just something that made me play it for him, and it was more than just sharing something I loved with someone I love.

At least that’s what I like to believe now. It’s one of those things that, in retrospect, seems like it could’ve been some type of cosmic sign, but who the hell knows? Back then, I thought Promise that you will sing about me meant me. How could I have possibly known that Kendrick really was a prophet and this song was a warning from the stupid universe, telling me that a kid who grew up in Long Island could end up in the same dark place as a kid from Compton?

I keep playing the first 30 seconds of “Sing About Me” until I have to pause it because it always makes me cry. And then I rewind to the beginning and listen to it again. And again. How could Rob have been the one to settle down when the lights shut off? How could it have possibly been his turn?

In the first verse, Kendrick is telling the story of his friend’s death through the eyes of the friend’s older brother, and there are a few lines almost two minutes into the song that have become even more haunting since Rob died:

And I love you because you loved my brother like you did
Just promise me that you’ll tell this story when you make it big
And if I die before your album drops I hope…

…and then, out of nowhere, we hear BANG! BANG! BANG!—three chilling gunshots that lead back to the chorus.

So when Rob’s lights shut off and it was his turn to settle down, this became my main concern: to keep my promise that I’d sing about him.

And that’s what I’ve been doing here for the past eight months. This is my album. DAMN.

 

 

The Long Goodbye

IMG_1952

Most, if not all, of what you’re about to read really happened. It’s just that the timeline remains fuzzy and I don’t remember exactly what was said. All I can tell you is that it was almost as crazy and fucked up as the way things ended because things could’ve easily ended right here.

The fun started around the first week of December two years ago. Maura called me at the office and said that Rob’s landlady had just called her (I have no idea how she got Maura’s number) to say that she was about to call the police and have Rob arrested on her suspicion that he was dealing drugs out of his apartment.

Given how he looked and acted when we saw him at Thanksgiving (as you may recall, he’d been in a car accident, lost his job and definitely wasn’t sober), this sounded completely plausible. More tellingly, I felt that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that signaled we were officially in Bad Rob deep shit.

I immediately called the landlady and she launched into this rant about Rob being holed up in the apartment with some girl from the pie shop. She went on about how they were blasting music all night long with shady-looking people coming in and out of their place to buy drugs from them, probably coke because they had been partying for the past few nights and sleeping during the day like vampires, and how she was scared for her two little girls, and if I didn’t come right over and get him the hell out of there, she was going to call the cops, and by the way, Rob had been late with the rent for the past two months and hadn’t yet paid for December.

So I bolted out of the office and raced to his place, which was luckily just a few minutes away from where I worked in West Hollywood. I knocked on the front door and the landlady came outside to talk to me, repeating the same story she had just told me on the phone, but even more frantically. I tried to calm her down by telling her that I’d take care of it, and then I went around to the back of the house, climbed down a few stairs that led to Rob’s garden apartment and knocked on the door.

No answer. I knocked again and told Rob it was me, and about a minute later he opened the door. He looked like he had been sleeping in his clothes and had just woken up, and had no idea what I was doing there. I asked him to come outside with me and then calmly explained that his landlady wanted him out, and told him that if he didn’t leave with his girlfriend right away, she was going to call the police and tell them that they were dealing coke.

Rob became angry at some point, but I specifically recall not arguing with him. I left it very cut and dried: Leave the apartment by yourself or the cops will help you leave. It was his choice.

After a few minutes of his Rashomon retelling of the last few days, he went back inside. I saw his girlfriend just standing there in one of his T-shirts, looking like a deer in the headlights. Rob quickly threw a few things in a Ralph’s plastic bag (he always traveled light), and then he and the girl walked out of the apartment. I assured him that I’d pack up his stuff, including those stupid lighters, and store it in my garage, which he didn’t seem to acknowledge. I had no idea where he was going or if he had any money or what. He and the girl walked to her car and drove away without saying another word.

I didn’t hear from him again until Saturday morning. I had just finished playing tennis and was sitting in my car when the texts started. The first one he sent thanked me for trying to help him and the second one said he was leaving and saying goodbye. For a split second, I didn’t understand. I thought he was leaving town, maybe even going back to New York, but then I realized what he was saying, and that’s when the panic set in.

I asked him where he was and said that I’d come right over and pick him up, but he wouldn’t tell me. I told him that I’d get him help and that everything could be worked out, and we went back and forth like that for a while. He had also texted Caryn and Zach to say goodbye, and the three of us were all freaking out and unsure what to do next. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, Rob stopped responding to our texts.

I spent the next few frantic hours on the phone with Caryn while texting with my shrink, who reassured me that Rob would be okay, that this was a classic cry for help, and that I should try to get him to the hospital as soon as possible. She reminded me again and again that under no circumstances should I allow him back in our house.

The rest of the story is like a fever dream. My anxiety must’ve been through the roof, I can feel it in my chest as I write this now, yet I remember trying to remain calm later in the afternoon, hoping that he’d come to his senses and reach back out to me.

A few days before all this went down, I had bought tickets to see The Shape of Water for that evening. I decided to go to the movie with Maura, thinking that maybe it would be a small distraction, and at least I would get some popcorn out of it. Right around the scene when Sally Hawkins is about to have sex with the creature in the bathroom, I felt my left leg vibrating with text messages, so I ran outside.

Rob was alive, thank god, but still wouldn’t tell me where he was. I again offered to take him to the hospital, but he didn’t want to hear it, and after a little more back and forth, he went silent again. Fuckin’ Rob! I waited outside for Maura until the movie was over and then we went home.

The next thing I remember is our door buzzer waking us up at one in the morning. Thinking it might be Rob, I looked out the window but didn’t see anybody there. About 20 minutes later, the buzzer woke us up again. This time I went downstairs and walked outside to the front of our house. I saw Rob standing under a palm tree at the end of the block.

“Yeo, I came to say goodbye,” he said, and stuck out his hand for a shake. He was either drunk or high or both.

“I’ll take you to the hospital right now, Rob,” I said, “Just gimme a minute to get my stuff and we’ll go.”

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“I can’t let you come in, Rob. But let’s go to the hospital now and we’ll get you some help.”

“I’m not going to the hospital, Dad,” he said in an unpleasant voice that was always accompanied by that scary face-changing thing he did. “I don’t need any fuckin’ help, so can I just come in to your house for a while?”

“You can’t, Rob.”

We just stood there for I don’t know how long, both of us not knowing what to say next.

“Okay, Dad,” he said with a long sigh. “Goodbye.” And then he walked away, this sad and broken little boy, my little boy, and it took every ounce of strength I had not to run after him. I walked back inside my house instead. I was too drained to feel anything, which is a perfect description of “detaching with love,” and I have no idea how I fell asleep that night.

Rob texted first thing the next morning. He was at the skate park on Venice Beach, so I made a beeline over there. He didn’t look any worse for wear, but when I asked him if he was ready to get help, he said he wasn’t. I lost my shit for a few seconds and then just turned around and went back home. I was seething and exhausted. About an hour later, he texted again and said he was ready. I picked him up under the famous Venice sign, and we stopped off at Subway because he was hungry.

I remember him asking me what soda I wanted, and then we just sat there eating sandwiches and chips like it was an ordinary day. When we were done, Rob gathered up our trash and gave the table a quick wipe, and then we drove to the Emergency Room at UCLA Hospital in Santa Monica.

We had to fill out some papers when we got there. The only question I remember was something like “Do you have thoughts of taking your own life?”

After we checked in and Rob spoke with a triage nurse, there were no available rooms, so Rob wound up lying on a bed in the hallway waiting for a psychiatrist to come and evaluate him. I sat in a chair next to him and had déjà vu—I had done the same thing with him a decade ago.

There was a strange, older dude in a bed diagonally across from Rob who was also waiting to be admitted, and he asked me if he could tell Rob something very important. I said I’d prefer that he didn’t, but he ignored me and said something to Rob about God putting him here in the hospital at that particular moment. Rob almost jumped out of the bed, cursing him out, and I had to get a nurse to move the evangelical asshole to the other end of the hallway. 

I waited for six hours and it was getting late, so Rob told me to split and I’d see him in the morning. One of the nurses gave me a phone number to call before I came back to visit. There was a good chance they would move him somewhere else, she told me, since he didn’t have health insurance.

“I love you, Dad,” he said as we hugged, and then I went home.

When I called the next morning, a nurse told me that he was still in the hallway, but was about to be transferred to a county psychiatric hospital in Rosemead on a 5150 hold (the California code for involuntary commitment), which meant he’d be there for at least the next three days. It also meant that I’d be there with him.

 

Love Isn’t Enough

Roll 13 - 98

There’s this great line from the sublime new Pedro Almodóvar film Pain and Glory that has stayed with me as a sort of mantra:

Love isn’t enough to save the person you love.

I can’t get it out of my head because for the longest time, I thought it was. I always thought that love would be enough until Rob­, the person I loved, made it very clear that it wasn’t.

I thought love would be enough when we first adopted him. I thought love would be enough when he cried incessantly and insisted that I pick him up. I thought love would be enough when we had to deal with every shitty thing that ever happened to Rob. Because, no matter what, we loved him with all of our hearts, even when he was at his most unlovable.

Admittedly, I was often blinded by that love. It was so strong, so immense, so all-encompassing that I believed it could do anything. Saving Rob was not only my job as his father, it was my superpower. I can’t tell you how many times I swooped in to save the day. He’d call and I was always there in a flash.

But as Rob got older, I became brutally aware of another truth that I had to contend with, which is summed up by another great line from the not so wonderful movie that is my life, a line I repeated to myself as a sort of mantra before I ever heard Pedro’s line:

You can’t save a person who doesn’t want to be saved. 

And Rob, the person I loved, made that pretty fuckin’ clear too.

Love isn’t enough to save the person you love because you can’t save a person who doesn’t want to be saved.

That all became crystal clear to me a few weeks before Rob died. We were walking to the Greek diner that we’d occasionally go to for lunch, and I had asked how he was doing. I was expecting the usual one-word answer, but he surprised me by saying that things were really bad, and proceeded to tell the story about borrowing $5,000 from a loan shark. I wasn’t working at the time and had also recently talked myself into “detaching with love,” so I told him that I couldn’t give him the money. I know I’ve told you this before, but sometimes when I revisit a memory, I remember something else.

“I’m not asking you for money,” he said in a quiet voice, a voice that, in retrospect, screamed that he had made up his mind this time and didn’t want to be saved. “And even if you had it, I wouldn’t take it from you.” We then sat down at the diner and ate bacon and eggs while I listened to how he got himself into such deep shit.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said after he had told me the whole sad story.

“I know. Me neither.”

So we both just sat there not saying anything. Rob was looking at his phone while I fought with myself over the question of whether I should give him the money. My head and heart were duking it out for what would be the last time. That afternoon, my head won­, not knowing that it, along with my heart, would soon be crushed into a million tiny pieces.

There are no beautiful words, even from the great Almodóvar, and the not so great me, that can undo what Rob did. Love wasn’t enough to save him because he didn’t want to be saved. There would be no happy ending to the movie that was Rob’s life.

Gimme a Call Back. Bye.

GIMME A CALL

I was sitting on a bench in the park the other day (I’ve turned into an old Simon & Garfunkel song), thinking about what to write next when Caryn texted me.

“So I was deleting my voice messages on my phone and found one from Rob on Valentine’s Day 2018,” she wrote. “So fuckin’ weird.”

“Wow!! Can you send it to me?” I asked. “I don’t have anything with his voice.”

A few minutes later, she did. The whole thing lasted less than 10 seconds. This is what he said:

Hey mother. I just wanted to call and say Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you. Gimme a call back. Bye.

That was it!

Of course, I cried the moment it began, but then I just kept playing it over and over because I was so happy to hear his voice again. Strangely or maybe not so strangely, I don’t have any video of Rob as an adult or any saved voicemails. In other words, this was the first time I had heard his voice since the day before he died.

“I miss hearing his voice,” I texted Caryn.

“Me too.”

“How many times have you listened to it?” I asked.

“Once. I found it this morning and I still feel sick from it.”

“Hmm…I wonder how you’d feel if you just kept playing it,” I suggested. “I’ve heard it about six times already. I wish there was just a little more.”

“I know. It’s such a tease.”

“If I was more musically inclined, I’d loop this voicemail and make some type of a song out of it.”

“That would be very cool. Very Kanye of you,” she said. “Hope you feel something positive from it.”

So far, I’ve listened to it 38 times…no, 39, and on the surface, it’s really nothing special. He’s not in a particularly good or bad mood…make that 40…it just sounds like he’s still here with us, waiting for Caryn to call him back.

To my ears, it was just a quick hit kind of thing, better (and cheaper) than sending a card, candy or flowers. But the truth is, I can’t think of a finer gift for a mother than hearing from her son on the sweetest day of the year.

The 41st time, I heard Rob, the good son: Hey mother.

The 42nd time was thoughtful Rob: I just wanted to call and say Happy Valentine’s Day.

The 43rd time was Rob, our little boy: I love you.

The 44th time was Rob, who loved you, Car, and wanted to hear your voice: Gimme a call back.

The 45th time sounded exactly like the last time I saw Rob: Bye.

The Heart Is a Very, Very Resilient Little Muscle

THE HEART

Rob…pain, sorrow…blahdy blah blah…heartbreak, grief…yada yada yada…healing, hope…yabba dabba do…check-in, myself…coo coo ca choo.

Lar: I can’t believe that it’s already October. Time flies when you’re having funk. Rob left us eight months ago today, but who’s counting?

Me: We are. We’re in this together.

Lar: I know, dude. I’m counting on you to keep me sane. I’m counting on you so I don’t have to be alone in the dark with my scary monsters. I’m counting the days that have gone by without Rob because I don’t know what else to do.

Me: I think you’re doing as well as anybody can possibly be doing, all things considered.

Lar: All things considered. You sound like NPR. All things considered, I’m still all over the place with my feelings. I tried to suck it up and live my life, live my life, live my life, but that’s just it. I was trying too hard. I was trying not to feel what I was feeling. I was trying to outmaneuver grief.

Me: I don’t remember that one from the Kubler-Ross stages, but I’d put it somewhere between bargaining and acceptance.

Lar: I didn’t bargain for any of this and I never really understood acceptance. What does that mean exactly? It implies that there’s a choice. Can I not accept that Rob’s dead? Can I take it back to the store for an exchange or refund?

Me: Acceptance is just about learning to live without Rob and, maybe in the future, having more good days than bad ones. It’s basically what Maurice Sendak said to Terry Gross.

Lar: Let the wild rumpus start!

Me: I’ll eat you up—I love you so!

Lar: Those are really the only two lines that I remember.

Me: And boy, did that movie suck! How did they screw up one of the most beloved children’s books of all time?

Lar: I don’t know, but I never really pictured Tony Soprano as one of the Wild Things.

Me: So I have to ask, because that’s my job as whatever the hell I am here: How are you? What’s been going on?

Lar: The usual. Up and down and all around. But basically, I’m the old man in the “Bring Out Your Dead” bit in Holy Grail: “I’m not dead! I’m getting better! I feel fine!” One of the fun PTSD things that Caryn, Zach and I have been experiencing is checking in with each other. For instance, if one of us texts or calls another and doesn’t get an immediate response, we get all antsy and text the third person something like—Have u spoken to mom recently? So we made a pact: If we don’t hear back, let’s just assume that we’re still alive.

Me: There’s a pinch of PTSD there, but it really shows how deeply you all care about one another.

Lar: Absolutely. I told Caryn that Zach was trying to FaceTime with her the other day, and she said that she felt very loved by how concerned he was!

Me: He’s the greatest! He’s the very best of you and Caryn. You know, I was thinking about how we’ve come a long way in the eight months since Rob passed.

Lar: That’s a sign right there. I’m not sure when I started to say “Rob passed.” For the longest time, it was always just “Rob died.” I was very emphatic about it. I wanted it to feel like a gut punch when I said it because that’s the way it made me feel. The “Rob passed” thing is fairly recent.

Me: Maybe you’ve softened up a bit.

Lar: I don’t know if I’d put it that way. It wasn’t that I was ever a hard case about it. On the contrary, I’ve been the tallest puddle of tears for most of these months, but something has changed and that’s where the softness came in.

Me: Maybe you’re finally able to be a little gentler with yourself.

Lar: You’re filled with maybes today, aren’t you? But you’re right. When Rob killed himself, I was in so much pain, so gutted and raw, so incredibly broken that the only words that could describe how I was feeling were “Rob died.” Those two words explained everything you needed to know about me at the time, the same way “mental illness” described everything you needed to know about why Rob did what he did.

Me: It’s funny, well, not really funny, it’s interesting that you say “Rob did what he did” instead of “Rob committed suicide.”

Lar: It’s the same deal. “Committed suicide” sounds so violent and unforgiving. “Did what he did” comes from a more compassionate place in my heart because I’ve come to understand why he didn’t want to be here anymore. Do you know what I mean?

Me: I do, Mister Softee, I do.

Lar: So Rob passed and he did what he did. Now what do we do?

Me: Well, I think we have a few choices. We can continue to mourn. We can continue to miss him. You know that we’ll always love him. And then…I’m not sure.

Lar: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I was going to say that we can just get on with our life, and live each day to the fullest and all that other crap that people have been saying far less eloquently than Maurice.

Lar: You know some people call him the Space Cowboy. Sorry, couldn’t resist that cheap joke.

Me: But seriously, I’m not sure what comes next. I know that we’re forever changed. I know that life without Rob is a different life than we could’ve ever imagined. I’m hoping that we’ll find some joy in it again. I’m hoping that for however many years we have left we’ll find some real purpose. And that’s all I got. I wish I could see into the future, but I’m not your friendly neighborhood psychic/medium.

Lar: I’m okay being Mister Softee, but I thought you were supposed to be Mr. Insight with all of those fake-smart Joan Didion quotes and books about grief you’ve read.

Me: Well, now you’re making us sound like characters in Reservoir Dogs. So okay, Mr. Softee, dazzle me with some of the brilliant insights and perceptions you’ve picked up over the past eight months.

Lar: Well, the biggest one has been something that Woody Allen said in Hannah and Her Sisters before he was a well-known child molester and all-around pervert. Right at the end of the movie when he’s kissing Dianne Wiest on the neck (in a more romantic, less pervy way) and telling her how much he loves her, he delivers the immortal line: “The heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.”

Those words have a much different connotation for me today. I still feel the same way I did when I first heard them. I cried then and I cry now because now it’s about Rob, and how I never thought I’d feel whole again and how I can’t believe that I’ve made it through in one piece for as long as I have. And even though a day hasn’t gone by where I don’t miss the hell out of the idiot, even though he was an all-around pain in the ass who was deeply loved by many, and even though his death has caused incomprehensible anguish, depression and exhaustion, that’s my brilliant insight. That, after all is said and done, my heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.

Me: Fuckin’ A.

At Seventeen

AT SEVENTEEN

So this is what happened exactly 11 years ago, when Rob was 17…

I was on my way to work when I got a text from Rob saying that he was in some kind of a fight with two girlfriends, and how both of them totally hated him. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so didn’t.

The first phone call from Caryn came as soon as I walked into my office. She said that Rob was freaking out and wanted her to drive him to school so he could talk to the two girls. When she refused—Rob was in no condition to go anywhere, not to mention he’d recently been expelled—he began to scream and curse at her, blasting loud music and slamming doors. The next time Caryn called me, a few minutes later, I told her I was coming home.

Meanwhile, Rob began wildly searching the house, looking for Caryn’s handbag so he could take her car keys and drive himself to school (even though his license was suspended). When she tried to stop him, he picked up a small serrated knife and threw it at a cabinet, shattering glass all over the kitchen floor. That’s when Caryn called 911.

When Rob saw the cops at the front door, he bolted out the back and then called me, screaming and crying how he didn’t want to go back to jail. He’d been arrested and charged with aggravated harassment for threatening one of his ex-girlfriends just a few weeks earlier. I told him to take a deep breath, turn around and go home and that if he did, the cops would treat this as a psychiatric incident and take him to the hospital instead of arresting him. And that’s how it played out.

After a torturous hour on the train, I met Caryn at the emergency room. Then she went home to decompress while I sat with Rob, waiting for him to be admitted. He was perfectly calm and we started goofing on the drunk and crazy people the cops were bringing in. We sat there for almost four hours before they finally found a bed for Rob in the adolescent psych ward. We hugged and kissed and then some orderly took him upstairs.

*

The next morning, we went back to the hospital to talk with Rob’s doctors and social worker. We were escorted into a day room and on the walls were these weird murals of Rugrats and Winnie the Pooh characters. Whoever painted them was just a little off in the composition and scale departments, like most of the kids in this place.

The first doctor walked in and introduced himself, but I didn’t catch his name because it was long and African-sounding. He shook my hand with two fingers, mispronounced Rob’s name and then proceeded to ask us the routine questions every psychiatrist and psychologist had ever asked us about Rob. Caryn and I responded robotically until we were joined by the social worker.

After that, we directed our conversation toward her, which was a good idea because she proved to be a more attentive listener. Then another woman came into the room and it turned out that she was the head psychiatrist for the unit. She told us that she wanted to put Rob on three or four different medications for bipolar disorder, and in the moment, what she was saying made perfect sense to us.

On the way home, I began to change my mind. I started thinking about the last time Rob was in this hospital, several months earlier, and how they kept him there for 11 days and pumped him full of drugs and how he stopped taking them as soon as he came home. I didn’t want to go through that again.

Friends of ours who had been down this road had suggested that we yank Rob out of the county snake pit and place him in a private hospital to be properly and comprehensively diagnosed. And after an hour or so of weighing the pros and cons, we did just that. I called the private hospital to see if they had an open bed (they did), and then I called the social worker we had just met and arranged a transfer.

Then we turned around and drove back to the crappy hospital. Not surprisingly, Rob flipped out because he had no idea why he was being moved and, as much as he hated the place, had already figured out how to game the system. But when I told him that they wanted to keep him there for at least two weeks and pump him full of drugs again and how he could wear his own clothes and be outside in the other place and how I thought this was the right thing to do because I fuckin’ love him to death and only wanted to see him get well, he relented. He even almost smiled when he saw that I brought him his baseball cap and black leather jacket.

I was allowed to ride along with him in an ambulance to the new hospital and when they wheeled him out on a stretcher because of insurance-related idiocy, I started to make annoying Hannibal Lecter jokes—“Hey, they forgot your mask!” Caryn drove up ahead by herself.

It was dark and much colder when we arrived. The three of us had to speak with yet another psychiatrist, who I immediately liked because he looked like an old freak with hair down to the middle of his back. I could tell he was no-bullshit because he said things to Rob like, “You just need a little something to smooth you out.” I could tell that Rob liked him too. We then had to talk to another psychologist, who was fat and distracted and all-bullshit, and we yessed him nonstop because we were exhausted.

Right before we split, I kissed Rob goodnight and told him that everything would be better tomorrow.

*

A few days later, I went to see Rob by myself. I brought along some Burger King and other crap like Kit-Kats, Reese’s Pieces and Swedish Fish. Just your average visiting day at Camp Mood Disorder.

Actually, he was in this unit called The Lodge and it was really more of a dorm setting except that everyone there was majoring in anger or depression. Rob, I’m proud to say, was carrying a double major.

When he came down from his room, he looked tired and cranky and I don’t know why this made me so sad, but it did. He hadn’t even been there a week, so I don’t know what I was expecting.

We sat down to eat and I began to ask him questions, really just to keep the conversation flowing. He answered with single syllables (“yes,” “no,” “meh”) until we started to talk about what would happen after he was discharged. I explained that we couldn’t continue to live the way we had been living.

He didn’t really see a problem in the way we had been living, which, of course, was our biggest problem. I brought up the fact that he was getting high all the time, and he said that he was going to continue to party because that’s who he is. Then I brought up his female troubles and he said that I couldn’t tell him who he can or can’t go out with. I kept at it, asking about some money that went missing and he said that he didn’t know anything about it. A few seconds later, I saw his face change right before he angrily stood up from the table and walked away.

I just sat there, knowing he’d return, and in about 15 minutes, he did. We sat in silence, watching some androgynous kid play Connect Four with his (or her) folks. And then I gently repeated that, with the help of the right meds and therapy, he needed to change his attitude if he wanted to come back and live with us, and that maybe we needed to change a little, too. He nodded and said that he didn’t want to fight anymore and I said that I didn’t come there to fight and we were both crying as we hugged each other tight. Then he looked at me and said, “I’m glad we had this talk.”

*

While Caryn and I were visiting him a few days later, Rob kept busy by drawing a picture. Like all of a sudden he’s fuckin’ Van Gogh. Or back in kindergarten. I noticed that none of his colored pencils had erasers on them and he explained that some kids would rub the eraser on their arms and legs until it burned their skin.

We then started talking about how things needed to change when he came home in a few days, and he sat there quietly coloring in small circles, which he then strung together into something that resembled a rainbow of candy necklaces. As we continued to draw our own lines (stay on meds, go to school, stop smoking weed), he did the same.

Keeping his head down as he sketched large clouds over the rainbow, Rob said that he wasn’t going to stop smoking, and then he drew a sun with a sad face on it and said that he didn’t care if he went to jail. As a finishing touch, he picked up a black pencil and wrote FUCK LIFE under the rainbow, folded up the paper and told us to go home and put it on the refrigerator. Two hours later, he called me to apologize.

*

A few days later, I picked up Rob and drove him home. He and Zach were elated to see each other, and for me there was no better sound in the world than when they were laughing together. After a few minutes, Rob came downstairs, gave me a kiss and said that one of his friends was coming by to pick him up. I then went out to run a few errands. A few minutes later, the phone calls started.

I immediately heard the agitation in Rob’s voice. He said something about how Caryn had run into one of his girlfriends and told her that they shouldn’t see each other anymore, and how that girl went and told his other girlfriend some shit, and now both girls weren’t talking to him again. And then he said that he wasn’t going to follow any of the rules that he had just agreed to follow when we did the exit interview at the hospital two hours earlier.

I called Caryn at work, and she told me that she hadn’t said what Rob thought she had said. Then I called Rob back and he became angry at me for taking Caryn’s side. He announced that he wasn’t coming home, wasn’t going to take his meds and was going to get high.

I explained that if he chose to throw everything away, he was going to suffer severe consequences this time around, and we went back and forth until I suggested that maybe one of the girls had told the other girl some shit because she was trying to get him all for herself, and that maybe he should trust and believe us more than his girlfriends. Click. Dial tone.

For the rest of the night, Caryn and I zombie-stared at whatever was on TV until we eventually fell asleep. Around 11:30, I heard the front door open and both kids came into the house and went up to their rooms. A few minutes later, Rob sent me the following text:

I want to apologize. I fucked up on the first day. Mom really pissed me off by talking to my girlfriend and I took it out on you. N e thing you want me to do for you, tell me. Like they said in the hospital, I gotta give back. N I’m on a stronger dose of meds tonight. My girlfriend’s still not talking to me but ur right. Everything can be fixed. I didn’t see it b4. 

I went into his room and he said that he had just taken his meds, which knock him out pretty quickly. I asked him if he had gotten high earlier and he said that he hadn’t. He apologized again and I cut him off. I don’t remember what I said after that.

*

I don’t remember a lot of things about what happened after that. It’s all kind of hazy and unreal—like a long bong hit—except for when the really serious shit went down with Rob. Try as I might, that stuff is impossible to forget.