Why I Write

WHY I WRITE 2I’ve been writing about Rob nonstop for the past six months. I kept telling myself that I needed to do it, that I’m compelled to do it, that Rob had become my muse, that I have to get it on the page while it’s still fresh in my head and heart.

I also needed to make you feel what I’m feeling right now because in six months I know I’ll be feeling differently. I worried that I wouldn’t remember certain details or exactly how I felt about a certain shitty thing that had happened to Rob.

I’ve been driven to write these stories because I thought it would be a way to ventilate, that keeping it all bottled up inside would stress me out further and give me a heart attack, that if my thoughts and feelings didn’t find an escape hatch they would remain forever buried deep inside me like what happened when my mom died. Writing about Rob has helped me process what happened to him, what happened to us and what happened to me. It’s a document of our love and loss. And someday we’ll all look back on this and cry.

I thought this would somehow make me feel … better? … good? It certainly helps make me feel, but I didn’t realize that it would sometimes make me feel worse. That reliving the past, particularly the last two years, would feel like a recurring dream—more often than not, a nightmare. Still, it has always seemed worth it—I can take it if you can—because it keeps me connected to Rob. And I need that more than anything. I need it like I need air. Every word I write is like taking a breath. It’s like breathing life back into Rob.

Staying connected to him, however, is a doubled-edge sword. It cuts me open and makes me bleed these words of love and pain, and sometimes it’s sad and beautiful and sometimes it’s agonizing and ugly and sometimes it’s all of the above swirled together like a shitty Mister Softee ice cream cone.

I write to honor his memory and also to curse him out. I write so he can hear my anguish and also how much I miss the sound of his voice. I write to remember and also to forget. I write because it’s the closest thing to Rob still being here and also to acknowledge his monumental absence.

Sometimes I write because I want to tell you what a great father I was or how guilty I feel because, no matter what Rob’s problems were, we ultimately lost him, and that will haunt me forever. Sometimes I write because I’m an emotional exhibitionist seeking adulation or a broken shell of a man who will never be the same again.

Sometimes I write to avoid things that I’m too scared to write about. Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do, and sometimes I write because it’s the only thing to do. Sometimes I write because all of these contradictory thoughts are just too much to bear, and sometimes there’s a moment of peace and clarity that allows me to keep going.

The words pour out of me every day, forever trying to fill the hole, trying to explain the unexplainable, trying…. I don’t even know what I’m trying to do anymore, but I know I must continue to do it. It’s become an obsessive act. It’s the only way I know how to grieve. It’s what I do with all the most important things in my life—I write about them. I express my unconditional love. I express my agonizing pain. I express what it means to be a father and what it means to lose a son. I know it can’t bring Rob back, but it makes me feel alive and gives my life meaning.

When we first adopted Robbie, I knew it was the best thing we would ever do in our lives, and I feel more strongly about that than ever before. And even though he’s no longer here with us now, his story must live on and that’s why I write.

Answers from the Great Beyond   

ANSWERS FROM GREAT BEYOND

If you’ve never gone to a psychic or medium before, here’s your chance. It doesn’t make a difference if you believe in any of this woo-woo stuff or not. I didn’t believe until I desperately needed to. Maybe that’s the way it works, who knows?

I went to see Fleur twice–once before Rob died and once after. I’m pretty sure she’s the real deal, but feel free to draw your own conclusions.

What follows is an edited and annotated version of our second session. (My takes on what she said are in bold.) Keep in mind that I didn’t tell her anything about Rob other than that he took his own life.

***

I see your own father has also passed. Because I feel your son coming in here on the right-hand side, your father comes in on the left and both stand side by side. When your father steps in, it feels to me that prior to his passing, he’s not done right by you, so he’s acknowledging that. All the same, he wants to recognize that he was there with your son to aid and assist in making it an easy transition.

Okay, so I pretty much told you all of that last time

They’re bringing up addiction, but I think your father just started it and now we’re switching into your son. There’s a recognition of not just alcoholism, but also drug use.

Duh.

I would also say that he does talk about receiving help for sobriety and this doesn’t just feel like AA, but also rehabilitation centers or there’s the feeling of going in at least once and really attempting a period of sobriety.

This is a stretch. She’s in the right ballpark, but Rob never went to rehab. Maybe she’s referring to him living in a few sober houses.

And I want to acknowledge that he does feel in his mind that there’s a moment where he’s on the right path. Not prior to his passing, but in this battle of sobriety, there’s a moment where he feels like he’s able to see some clarity and understand that he’s an addict. It feels like he knows that about himself.

It feels good to hear that he actually gave it a try. I always thought his attempts at sobriety were more about complying to the rules of wherever he was living rather than him really wanting to change.

He has very separate relationships with you and his mother. The two of you would be very split, very distinct, and he does get to witness in his lifetime the two of you making peace.

Accurate and I’m glad that he knew that.

It feels peaceful and he wants to acknowledge that because he doesn’t want you to feel that this has anything to do with the dynamic between the two of you. He felt loved and supported by both, and I feel like in his struggle with addiction, the two of you actually came together at points to help and he’s very aware of this.

Also on the nose.

There’s the recognition that as an adult, he goes back to living with a parent for a period of time.

He lived with Caryn for more than a year and about four months with us.

He wants to acknowledge that and wants to thank you for it because it does feel that every opportunity was given in that regard and he needs to address it.

You’re welcome.

It doesn’t appear to me when he passes that it’s simply an overdose. There is a recognition that there may have been drug use or addiction issues in the past, but the way he chooses to go feels more deliberate to me.

Now she’s getting warmer.

The way it would be perceived here in the world is that it was not an accident, that it was intended.

Accurate.

He acknowledges that. I do feel him to say that he wasn’t in any kind of distress. That feels to be important. I do feel like he wasn’t sober at the time, so I don’t really experience the passing because I feel very disassociated with him at that moment, but there’s a lot of pressure on the neck and around the head space. He must have had a gun registered to him.

He definitely had a gun; its provenance remains unknown.

He’s also acknowledging that it would have been a surprise to people that he had one. That doesn’t feel like information anyone is aware of.

Sounds about right. He once mentioned that he was thinking about getting a gun to protect himself from a loan shark, but the subject never came up again. 

Even though he hides this very much, I actually feel like this is preplanned for quite some time with that intention…that the purpose of this gun is for that reason, nothing else. I just feel very much that he hides that very well and very deliberately and is certainly aware that he did not show any signs because he seems to put on a very bright face, like he was doing much better.

That’s right on the money. I’ve never seen him look happier than when he and Zach were at my house this past Christmas.

He knows that and is aware of that false presentation of himself and doesn’t want you to feel or his mom to feel or his sibling to feel that there is any kind of sign that was missed. He very deliberately didn’t want anyone to know.

That’s when I knew she was talking with Rob.

It doesn’t feel like there’s a physical note. There is something written on a laptop. There’s some sort of writing on a laptop that might actually need to be recovered, almost as if it was written and deleted.

She was correct about there not being a note. I didn’t find anything on his laptop and didn’t dig any further for deleted files.

Where does the skateboarding come in? He would have really liked skateboarding at one point.

This kind of blew my mind. Rob fell in love with skateboarding when he was a teenager–for a short time, we called him “Grinder”–and rediscovered it when he lived with us in Venice.

At some point, he was prescribed psychiatric drugs for depression…that I don’t feel like he was taking even though he said he was.

Rob got into a few legal jams when he was 17 and seeing a shrink and taking meds was part of his probation deal. Some years later, he admitted that he never took any of them.

He is well, he is good. He met your father the moment he crosses. There’s also a grandmother he meets when he crosses over too. They’re both there.

Rob and his grandma Phyllis shared a very special bond. It was good to hear that they’re back together.

He doesn’t struggle with addiction anymore. He doesn’t struggle with depression anymore. All of that feels very important to have you know.

It was and has helped me make peace with what he did.

He feels a desire to tell his mom that he’s completing part of his education on the other side. There’s something incomplete about his education here in the world, and he wants his mother to know he’s going to work on it.

Rob never cared much about school and dropped out of college after one semester. He told me once that he felt stuck working in the restaurant business and regretted not taking his education more seriously.

He places sunflowers all around his mom.

Caryn told me that she sees sunflowers almost everywhere she goes! When the two of us went to visit Rob at the cemetery last month, there was a giant one right next to where he’s buried.

He’s talking about you listening to music of his…

True.

He’s been beside you or sat beside you as you listened to it…I know it may sound strange in a way, but he keeps making me feel that no one could have changed or altered this. That he very strongly and stubbornly made up his mind. It just feels very much that he couldn’t have been talked out of it. I feel like in his lifetime he’s someone that gets very fixated on something and just doesn’t change course. He had a real struggle with the feeling that he has control over his addiction. It just feels like an incredible struggle for him, which he does find relief of.

This made me cry a little.

Did you ever get matching tattoos? There’s a feeling of being tied together by a tattoo, but it was already in existence so he’s wanting to acknowledge that. He’s making me feel like you want to add to it.

100% accurate. Caryn, Sarah and Chad all got matching four-leaf clover tattoos. Caryn already had a “Life Rolls On” tattoo on her foot and then Zach got the same on his forearm. I had one with the kids’ names on my shoulder and then got “the Sand and the Water” tat on my arm. And Caryn just got a sunflower tattoo. So big yes on Rob ink.

Do you see that at the funeral or memorial service that there were plans to say certain words that you did not say or that you had changed?

This gave me chills. If you recall, I totally changed the eulogy I originally wrote on the plane ride to N.Y.

He was right there with you at the time. He makes me feel that you wore something very unlike yourself. He’s like “Why is he wearing a tie?” I don’t feel like you’ve worn one in decades.

So true! I didn’t even pack a suit and had to ask Maura to bring it with her when she flew in for the funeral.

He found what you were wearing to be…ridiculous.

That sounded so much like Rob that I felt like I was actually talking with him.

He feels like he was also dressed the way he wouldn’t have wanted to be dressed.

Also so true! We were such a mess when the funeral director asked us what clothes we wanted him to wear that we just said fuck it, and let them wrap him in a burial shroud.

He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s very funny, very much wants to make people laugh, wants to be a clown in a lot of ways.

As you’ve heard me say numerous times, Rob was funny as fuck.

He also remembers long car trips growing up, but it’s in a car that’s like a station wagon. There’s a feeling of a road trip, not with his mom but with you and one other person, but there’s a recognition of road trips together that he has very fond memories of.

I drove an SUV, but close enough. Me, Rob and Zach rode around together a lot, always listening to our favorite songs. They were some of the best days of our lives.

He really wants you to know he had an amazing childhood and is very happy to reflect back on his life, especially the younger years. It just feels like there’s a lot of joy there to be found.

There was most definitely joy, but it was interesting that he didn’t bring up the non-joyful parts. I guess every family’s history is a variation on “Rashomon.”

He’s acknowledging that you’ve started speaking to him, connecting with him quite regularly. I know he likes that. It feels like it’s on a nightly basis, and I know he’s just there with you every time. It may sound silly, but he also wants you to look for feathers. He has come to visit even though you may feel like you haven’t seen many signs or had any dreams or haven’t really had much connection. He’s very much around you, but it will start to increase when the heaviness of initial grief starts to lift. He’s very strong as an energy, so he will certainly come around.

All true although still no sign of the thing with feathers.    

Does his mom live somewhere where she would see wild rabbits, wild bunnies? Keep a look out for the bunnies, he’s going to send those to her.

I told Caryn about the bunnies, but she hasn’t seen any yet. Maybe he’s just been too busy with the sunflowers.

It feels like this departure of his, he doesn’t want it to change…he wants it to ultimately strengthen the bonds in the family, and right now it feels like that’s not happening, so I just feel that there’s a sense of really needing to hold your people close. He really wants the family to come together, and that even though your other son may think he’s fine, there’s very much the need to reach out on a very regular basis and to connect, connect, connect because he doesn’t live nearby you. He’s far away.

Good advice and deeply appreciated. 

Your other son is getting married or is married?

Um…no!

He’s going to find someone soon, I think. It’s a feeling that there’s a new partnership coming his way…like a serious one, potential for marriage, all of that.

Note to Zach: Get on it! At this point in our session, Fleur asked if I had any questions for Rob, and the first thing I wanted to know was why he didn’t ask me to help him at the end.

There’s a really strong feeling of his perception on life in that moment that he’s very much in a Catch-22. He just doesn’t see a way out at that time and doesn’t feel like you helping would change the pattern that’s in place. Like I said earlier, he also feels very fixated on this and very much like his decision is steadfast. He wouldn’t have allowed anyone to change his mind.

Fair enough. I then asked about the night he killed himself and mentioned that there were two people with him. 

I do feel like the two people there called for help immediately, but I don’t feel them to be responsible. He’s wanting to acknowledge that. They don’t feel responsible. It just feels like it also takes them by surprise.

That’s what I was getting at, so asked and answered.

There’s some sort of thing here where he is premeditating it, doesn’t mean to do it in that exact moment, but is almost like playing it out in his head at the time in a way that has been…it’s a very unnatural feeling in my physical body. He doesn’t hold a gun in the way that he normally would. It feels like he’s either doing something with it or contemplating doing this without actually meaning to do it.

“Accidentally on purpose” was how I’d been thinking about it.

I also feel when he’s doing it that the two people that are there aren’t necessarily seeing him do it physically. He’s kind of on his own doing something and they’re talking in the corner and they only hear it or then turn around. It would not be how I would feel someone deliberately commits suicide. It feels like he’s messing around with it, but with the intention I think in the future, just not in that moment.

This was a better explanation than what was in the Police Report. It all made a kind of heartbreaking sense. I had two final questions: Does he know how much we all love him?

Absolutely. There’s a huge familial connection here, a huge familial bond. Like I said before, the decision for you and your wife to separate doesn’t change the dynamic of the family because he continues to be very connected to you, very connected to his mom. There isn’t that feeling of abandonment that you would have felt with your father. I don’t see that at all.

This also made me cry. Last question: how does he feel about me writing about him?

He’s okay with it. It feels like his mom has hesitation, but he’s okay with it. He says you’re going to get a lot of heat from her.

Accurate.

Sisyphus at the Beach

SISYPHUS AT BEACHFrom the day he was born to the day he died, Rob always came first. Our hearts were hard wired together right from the start. As you well know, he was the sand and I was the fuckin’ water. I drenched Rob with buckets of it throughout the day, only to find him bone-dry in the morning. I was Sisyphus at the beach.

I spent Rob’s entire life trying to fill the unfillable hole, often to the detriment of everyone around me. Rob came before Zach, Rob came before Caryn, Rob came before Maura, and I couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t do a damn thing about it. Rob was a total eclipse of a son. I know how messed up that sounds, but that’s just the way it was.

Nature and nurture conspired and made us a perfect match for each other. I’ve often said how I was the perfect dad for him. I don’t mean that I was perfect (every parent knows there’s no such thing), just that I was perfect for Rob.

My father’s one gift to me was displaying the finer points of how not to be a father. He went to prison when I was four and came back when I was 12, and I’m not sure what was worse—when he was away or when he came back. I don’t think it ever mattered to him—either way he was just doing time. I hated him for that and for so many other things. I hated him until the day he died. No, that’s not quite true. I hated him until the day Rob died. I’ll come back to that a little later on.

I vowed that when I became a dad, I’d be great at it, truly worthy of the #1 Dad coffee mug the kids gave me back in the day. I’d love my children with all of my heart and always be there for them. It was easy! All I had to do was be the exact opposite of my father. After a million years of therapy, I came to understand that this was my way of healing my childhood wounds and it mostly worked out pretty well (despite the one time Rob bought me a World’s #3 Dad T-shirt for Father’s Day).

Rob, for his part, was needy from the day we brought him home from Joplin. He cried incessantly and threw temper tantrums when he was a little boy. As he grew older, he became angrier, more demanding, and plain annoying as fuck.

But the most important thing about him, the thing that made me do all of the things I did for him, the thing that I instinctively knew and felt connected to, the thing that he eventually learned to hide so well was his unambiguous fragility. I handled him with care right until the bitter end.

In the early days, we naturally thought it was about the open wound that comes with being adopted. How many times have you heard me trot out “I have a space in my heart that never closes”? That was partially true, but he was broken the day we removed the gift wrapping and took him out of the box. He needed to be loved desperately and I needed desperately to love him. I sometimes make it sound almost poetic or like a fairy tale, but I knew that there would be no happily ever after. We all knew.

Rob was always in need and I was always there for him. He needed endless affection and reassurance and I tried my best to provide both, that is, when I wasn’t yelling at him to stop tormenting Zach. Later on, Rob knew exactly how to manipulate our dynamic to get pretty much whatever he wanted right up until I finally “detached with love” and he detached from the universe.

I did everything in my power to fill the hole with love, happiness and all types of other assorted crap. I’d do anything (which frequently involved some kind of a wild goose chase) just to see him smile. When Rob called, I ran right over. When he needed money, I was his ATM. When he cried for help, I did whatever I could to alleviate his pain. I often second-guessed myself knowing that I was his enabler, knowing that I could never allow him to hit rock bottom, knowing that my head would forever be overruled by my foolish heart.

And yet when we came to the end, on the last day I saw him before he killed himself, I couldn’t do a goddamn thing. I certainly couldn’t make him happy; he didn’t ask for money or cry for help. He was at his neediest and yet he wasn’t demanding or the least bit annoying. He was at his most fragile and I was right there by his side. The sand said, “I love you, Dad” and then the water cried.

As I’ve noted before, Rob’s death has broken me wide open, and one of its unexpected “benefits” was that I became more forgiving. I was able to let a lot of things slide because I was finally able to just let go. It came as less of a relief and more of an exhale after a lifetime of holding my breath. I was no longer holding on to Rob or myself. Or, for that matter, my anger towards my father.

I have Fleur, the psychic/medium, to thank for that. When I visited her to seek answers from the great beyond (which I’ll tell you more about next time), she informed me that my father was there with Rob to help him make an easy transition to the other side. I just lost it and burst out crying.

My father and my son were together. I loved one and not the other, but, in that moment, I forgave them both.

Life of Pie 

PIERob lived with us in Venice for four months and I’m still not sure if it was a short or long time. Probably both. Anyway you slice it, it was time for a change, and we were all relieved when he told us the good news—he was going to be the manager of new artisanal pie shop in Brentwood called Winston Pies.

Rob loved working at the pie shop. Until he didn’t.

That’s how most of his jobs went. He’d get super-excited about landing a gig, have a million ideas for how he could transform the place, bust his ass working brutally long hours and then, usually after a few months, the thrill would be gone and he’d just robotically walk through it until he finally pressed the self-destruct button and everything would turn to shit. There was usually some girl who would go along for the ride, joining his other traveling companions, alcohol and drugs.

And that’s pretty much how it played out at Winston Pies. He started right around Labor Day almost two years ago and lasted until the day before Thanksgiving.

The first thing I remember about that time was how much I worried about a background check the pie shop was running on him. He had been arrested for a DUI in Upstate New York before he moved out to L.A. and never showed up for his court date, so technically there was a bench warrant out for his arrest. I was positive that that was going to come back and bite him in the ass. He never seemed too concerned about it, and as it happened, he was right. For whatever reason, the background check checked out. It never ceased to amaze me how lucky he was and how meaningless that luck would invariably turn out to be.

I’ll get back to the pie shop in a moment, but first I want to tell you about him moving into his own place. He found a basement apartment in a big-ass house on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. It was on a beautiful tree-lined block and had a separate entrance in the back, so he could come and go as he pleased. It was really more basement than apartment, furnished with a beat-up, pull-out couch, a tiny kitchenette with a hot plate, a dresser and not a whole lot else. I went with him to check it out and thought it was pretty fuckin’ dreary, but he was psyched, so I faked my enthusiasm the best that I could.

Rob and I sat down in the backyard with the owner, a middle-aged divorced woman with two young girls. He was, as always, his charming self, answering her landlord-ly questions about work and his personal life with some version of the truth that he knew she wanted to hear, as I remained noticeably silent.

“You know, I’m a psychologist and I’m very good at reading people,” said the owner whose name I’ve forgotten. “I can tell that you’re a good person, Rob.” Two minutes later, I wrote her a check for first and last month and it was a done deal.

I’ve had that kind of thing happen to me a number of times when I was with Rob and always felt torn about going along with his lies. On the one hand, I was happy to have our house back to ourselves and wasn’t about to dissuade her about Rob being a good person. On the other hand, he was Rob and I knew that it was only a matter of time before she would find out for herself.

Maura and I helped move him in a few days later and we tried to make it as cozy as possible with fresh bedding, a new Keurig coffee maker and a few plants. One of the first things he did while we were unpacking his stuff was place that stupid lighter collection on top of a dresser, and it took everything I had in me not to cry.

Like I said, Rob loved working at the pie shop in the beginning. I’d swing by on the weekend to grab lunch with him (this was before our customary dumplings run), and we’d get burgers or go to California Pizza Kitchen right across the street and just shoot the shit. He’d talk about his co-workers or tell me his big ideas for how he’d like to reorganize certain things and he genuinely seemed into it. He particularly liked hanging out with Dan, one of the owners, who came by late in the afternoon to relieve his wife Brianna, who really ran the whole show. Full disclosure: One of the side benefits of visiting Rob on the weekend was going home with delicious pie.

Everything seemed to be going along fine for the first few months and then Rob started to complain a bit at lunch. It was usually about someone not coming in for their shift and how he had to cover, and how he had been working for two weeks straight without a day off. I’d occasionally ask if he was going to AA meetings and he always had some type of bullshit excuse or he’d just tell me that he had gone a few days ago because he knew that’s what I wanted to hear.

A few days before Thanksgiving–the busiest time of year for the shop–I got a call from Dan asking me if I had heard from Rob. I told him that I hadn’t and just assumed that he was working long hours in preparation for the big holiday push. Dan said that Rob didn’t show up for work that day and that he was worried.

“Here we go again,” I said out loud as soon as I hung up the phone.

Long Ago and Far Away

You know the famous aversion therapy scene from a Clockwork Orange when they stretch Malcolm McDowell’s eyeballs with a pair of clamps, and force him to watch ultra-violent images? That’s what I decided to do for fun a few nights ago by watching a variation on that theme—hours of home movies of the kids when they were little. I chose not to play Beethoven’s Ninth.

The last time I had watched these blasts from the past was a few days after Rob died while we were all miserably hanging out at Caryn’s house in Long Island. I remember how we were crying and laughing at the same time, which isn’t that easy to do, and finally had to shut it off because we just couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t sure why I was putting myself through this time-travel torture again, but something told me that I’d find out soon.

I popped in the first DVD (I had digitized our old videotapes a few years back), poured a glass of Syrah and pressed play. I was fully prepared to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest puddle of tears.

Watching our old life flash before my eyes almost six months later was different right from the start. The first thing up was Robbie (it was always Robbie and Zachy back then) in one of those baby walker things that looks like a car with a tiny steering wheel. He was talking gibberish a mile a minute, which was just under the speed limit. Five seconds later, he began to cry bloody murder.

“He’s just sad that he’s a Jew!” I said.

I found myself laughing at this little joke, which took me by surprise.

I fast-forwarded every few seconds because, let’s face it, watching hours of any baby, even the cutest infant in the world (which Rob most definitely was) doing plenty of nothing is boring as hell. I stopped on Caryn bathing him in the sink. According to the time stamp, he was three months old.

“This is what Robbie loves the best,” she cooed. “He loves his bathes!

“And…” I prodded.

“And what?”

“And he loves his Daddy!” I said, right before the little asshole shot a stream of pee at me. That was the beginning of Rob’s sense of humor.

Speaking of beginnings, Robbie was tooling around in his walker and babbling up a storm again on May 23, 1991 when I said, for the first time ever, “What are you looking at, idiot?” Even then, I knew.

More fast-forwarding and there was Robbie eating plastic keys and there I was saying, “He’ll love to see this 20 years from now!” Which, luckily, he got to do when he came to visit me a few years ago before officially moving to California. He couldn’t believe that he was once so little, the same way I can’t believe that he’s no longer with us.

I put in another DVD titled “Robbie’s Next Six Months” and it began with Caryn reading him “Pat the Bunny.” Robbie seemed to really like it and a few moments later, began chewing on his new favorite book. He was a little cranky on this day, teetering on the verge of tears, but mainly he sounded like he was trying to tell us something very important.

“Who is he talking to all the time?” Caryn asked.

“The aliens!” I said as he started to munch on his foot.

Next up was Robbie eating baby food for the first time and washing it down with a few hits from his ba-ba. Marty and Phyllis were there, as they often were in those early days, and after feeding Robbie a few more spoonfuls, Caryn asked, “Is he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“Yes,” I answered softly from my couch as I took a long sip of wine.

Music was always playing in our house back then and Robbie had impeccable taste right from the get-go. He seemed to like Dylan’s version of “This Old Man” but he really smiled hard when Caryn was dancing around with him to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” God, how we loved that little boy! A few more fast forwards and splish, splash we were takin’ a bath with special guest Marty singing “Mother and Child Reunion.” It made me happy to think that they were now back together again.

I loaded in another DVD called “More Stuff” and it started with Robbie sticking out his tongue again and again as if he was licking an imaginary ice cream cone. Caryn was cracking up, and then Marty picked him up and rubbed his little belly on his bald head, and Robbie was giggling and we were all laughing, and there I was sitting on the couch with such a big smile on my face remembering back to this sweet, sweet time in our life.

The biggest surprise of all was that I only cried three times, all triggered by music. The first time was watching Robbie at five months old, zipping around in his walker while holding a Mylar balloon for Caryn’s birthday. James Taylor was singing “You’ve Got a Friend” and you’d have to be made of stone not to blubber while hearing “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call…”

The second time was when the kids were four or five (there was no date stamp) and they were dancing around maniacally to Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” while playing with our new Wheaten Terrier puppy, Mookie, who, like Wallace, didn’t last very long. Robbie was chasing Mookie all around the living room until they finally plopped down on the floor together. Zachy, for reasons unknown, ran over and started to rub Robbie’s head.

“I’m messing up his hair,” Zachy said, and the three of us were hysterically laughing. Then to top it off, Zachy danced over to the camera and blew a kiss, which just got me into the Guinness Book of Records.

The third time is the video you see above–the poorly shot and unedited version of Zachy singing and dancing to “Wonderwall,” a Carlat family favorite. It’s just about the cutest and happiest thing I’ve ever seen and I didn’t realize how badly I needed to see it again. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to see all of this, and just how fuckin’ good it would make me feel. I needed a reminder that, long ago and far away, our life was beautiful.

I watched that Zachy video over and over again (there’s a little surprise at the very end) and cried for joy each time. It was the first time in a long time that I had cried for that reason.

For at least one night, to paraphrase Alex, I was cured.

The Half Year of Magical Stinking 

ROB DIED

Me: Is there anybody celebrating six months of losing their child today?

Lar: I’ll take my chip, but only if it’s chocolate and in a cookie.

Me: How you doin’, my dude?

Lar: I feel like a broken record—literally and figuratively. I’m broken and this blog is a record of my feelings, which haven’t really changed all that much. It’s been six months and we keep having the same Groundhog Day conversation. You ask me how I’m doin’ and I tell you that I’m feeling like shit, and you tell me that that’s the way I’m supposed to be feeling. And then I say something about how I thought grief would get easier and you tell me that it’s only been a very short time since Rob passed, and then we go back and forth with whatever has been going on in that month (my visit with Fleur the medium, hanging out with Zach and Caryn in Tampa, missing Maura and kintsukuroi), and then one of us ends this check-in with a Joan Didion quote, which we think will make us sound smarter than we really are. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. Everything’s going along as usual and then all shit breaks loose. A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty. Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. And blahdy blah blah. It’s been the half year of magical thinking, or in my case, stinking, because nothing has really changed.

I’m still fuckin’ heartbroken and can barely function as a human being. I still miss him every day, every hour, every minute. I don’t cry as much, but when I do it still hurts like a motherfucker. When I hear a song or watch a TV show or when something else flies into my head that reminds me of him, it feels like the giant ball in the box is smashing into the pain button again. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. I am changed, Caryn is changed, and Zach is changed and none of it has been for the better. What’s changed the most is that we feel so much more—because without Rob—we are so much less.

Not only did we lose him, but we also lost an essential piece that touches the core of our being. He drove us fuckin’ crazy and was a major pain in the ass, and yet we’re the ones with the space in our hearts that will never close. You said it, Rob. You called it a long time ago.

I keep saying the same things to you, month in and month out—grief sucks, Rob not being here sucks, missing him sucks, feeling like crap sucks, talking to you sucks. Everything I say and feel has been said and felt before. Speaking of which, here’s yet another, as the kids like to say, “on point” Didion “Magical Thinking” quote: “The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.” Truer words were never spoken, Joanie. I’m exhausted from all of this. You must be too!

After six months without him, there’s nothing left to say yet every few days, I find new ways of saying these bittersweet nothings. And I do it because I can’t imagine not doing it. I do it because I don’t want to go through this alone. I do it because it keeps me connected to him. I do it because it keeps him close to me. Writing about Rob is the closest I can get to feeling that he’s still here.

So how am I doin’? I go to a therapist once a week and I’m in a grief group that meets every other Tuesday. I can’t sleep without a little piece of Xanax and the last things that tasted any good were the soup dumplings I had with Rob the day before he died. Nobody knows what to say to me anymore because there’s nothing left to say. How am I doin’? I’m doin’ fine, I’m great. I’m excellent, thanks for asking.

That was my grandfather’s standard answer to that question. I’m excellent! It always cracked me up and I once asked him why he didn’t just come out with the truth. “People don’t want to hear about the problems of an old man,” he said.

Rob will never have to worry about that, and I no longer have to worry about Rob. So what am I supposed to do now? As his friend Jacob so movingly put it, “He was definitely a handful, but now that he’s gone, I don’t know what to do with my hands.”

He was such a fuckin’ idiot! He was my little boy. And I loved him like I’ve never loved anyone else because there was no one else like Rob.

That’s all, folks! That’s all I got for you today. Happy six months without Robbie James! Hooray! If this was one of his AA meetings, we’d at least have a cake, and today would be Father’s Day.

That’s All, Folks!

THATS ALL FOLKS.jpegMy new therapist Katarina and I were talking about suicide last week, and she told me a story about a man she met who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.

He told her that he had regretted it the moment he leaped, like when Wile E. Coyote looks down and realizes that the cliff he’s been running on is no longer there. In that split second, the man knew that he wanted to live. He miraculously survived and now helps other people who struggle with what the pros like to call “suicidal ideation.”

I like to believe that Rob was Wile E. Coyote. He often leaped without looking, but I don’t think he had planned to kill himself that night. Whenever I try to piece it all together, I always come to the same conclusion—that what he did was both opportunistic and impulsive. Shooting yourself with two other people in the room who you’ve been drinking and playing video games with all night is just not a premeditated act. And don’t forget about Biscuit, the cat he had rescued and cared for with all of his heart.

We’ll never know what he was thinking in that horrible moment when he pulled the trigger, and I’m not saying that he hadn’t contemplated taking his own life—I’m pretty sure he had been thinking about it for some time. I’m just suggesting that, like a lot of Rob’s plans, this one played out differently than he’d thought.

I’ve heard that people who are suicidal commonly have blinders on. They can’t see past their pain. They can’t bear feeling the way they feel. They just want it to stop. They don’t think about the people who love them. They don’t think about getting help. They don’t think that anything can ever change. They only see one way out. Rob—drunk, depressed, desperate—saw an opportunity, grabbed it and that was that.

Unfortunately, there’s no going back when you put a gun in your mouth. There’s no edge of a cliff to hang on to, no chance of surviving a fall into San Francisco Bay. It was one and done, which reminds me of another classic Looney Tunes cartoon.

It’s the one where Bugs and Daffy are performing vaudeville acts and they’re going back and forth, trying to top each other, with Bugs always getting the better of Daffy until we get to the end. Bugs has just finished juggling and the audience is applauding when Daffy runs on stage and says, “I hate you! Now you’ve forced me to use the act I’ve held back for a special occasion. Just try and top this one!”

He proceeds to drink nitro glycerin, a goodly amount of gun powder, some Uranium-238 and then lights a match—“Girls, you better hold on to your boyfriends!”­—and swallows it.

Kaboom! He blows himself up (I remember loving this when I was a little kid) and the audience erupts with applause.

“That’s terrific, Daffy!” says Bugs. “They want more!”

“I know, I know,” says Daffy, who is now a ghost, “but I can only do it once!” And then Daffy rises toward Heaven right before the closing credits music kicks in, accompanied by the famous words, “That’s all, folks!”

That’s what I imagine Rob saying right before he did what he did.