Terrible, Thanks for Asking

TERRIBLE THANKS FOR ASKING

“So how ya doin?”

I’m never sure how to answer that question. Should I really tell the truth or should I just tell whoever asked me what they want to hear? (Spoiler alert: I wrote this when I was in a crappy mood, so apologies in advance.)

One of the most difficult things among so many terribly difficult things about grief is that the person who grieves, the person in pain, particularly the person in the worst type of pain (and really, any pain is the worst kind of pain when it’s your pain), almost always has to wear a mask.

I’m not talking about in the beginning, when that’s impossible and no one expects you to. In the beginning, you have no control of your emotions and you couldn’t hide them even if you wanted to. In the beginning, people couldn’t be more empathetic and kinder, not just your friends but almost everyone you encounter. Total strangers are understanding and supportive. In the beginning, you see the very best in people.

As time wears on, however, things change on both sides of the grief conversation. The griever (moi) is still in severe pain, but feels like he/she is inflicting his/her heartache on a friend or loved one. So we tend to shut the hell up or, even worse, pretend we’re getting along just fine. Cut to Dick Van Dyke singing “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face!”

And for the most part, your friends and relatives are more than happy to go along with this deception. They’re relieved to hear this hopeful news because they love you and only want the best for you, and also because talking about this sad stuff is incredibly uncomfortable and nobody is any good at it. It’s easier to just talk about whatever you usually talk about—Are you watching Watchmen? Did you catch the end of the 49ers–Saints game? You must see Knives Out! And let’s just say that talking about your dead kid is generally not one of those things.

It’s also important to note that your friends have, more or less, moved on from your tragedy, and rightfully so! That’s just the way life works; everyone has their own crap to deal with. Yet at the same time, they’re also aware and respectful that we’re still in the worst shit in the history of shit, so we tacitly make a deal.

This is when we slip on our mask and enter the world of make-believe. We tell you that we’re hanging in there. We tell you that we’re doing the best we can. We say that we’re taking it one day at a time and that we’re not crying as much as we used to. My go-to is “I’m not terrible,” which for me is the highest level of good, and that’s on a good day.

So yes, I’m hanging in there, but only by a thread. I’m doing the best I can, but that doesn’t alleviate the pain. I’m taking it one day at a time, but many of those days are pretty much a nightmare. I’m not crying as much, but when I do it still hurts like fuck. “I’m not terrible,” but I am miserable and haven’t had many good days since we lost Rob.

I have to wear an extra-special mask with Zach, Caryn and Maura. The last thing I want to do is make any of them feel worse than they already feel. Sure, we talk about Rob sometimes, but we mainly stay on the surface because we know there’s a world of shit that can bubble up at any moment.

After some time (let’s say 10 months or so), the griever (that would be me again) really has no one to talk to about his loss (present company excluded). You can maybe get a few words in edgewise at grief group, and you could chat about it with your shrink for 50 minutes a week, and that’s if you don’t have any other more pressing problems to discuss, which seems crazy, but it’s true because life has to go on for us too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We all must go through grief alone. It’s ultimately a solo act, somewhere between crying, praying and mental masturbation.

I know I felt like this six months ago and I also know that I keep saying how I expect things to get better, and then to get worse, and so on and so forth, but there are some days (this being one of them) when it all just gets to be so fucking exhausting.

So at the end of the day, when I take off my superhero mask and am no longer feeling particularly extraordinary, I just close my eyes so I can be with Rob.

“So how ya doin?” he’ll ask.

“Just fine now,” I’ll say.

The Beginning of the End

BEGINNING OF END

The last time I visited Rob’s apartment in Long Beach kind of sucked, so I thought I’d tell you about the first time I was there, a week after he moved in last September.

I’ve never seen him look prouder than when he showed me the keys to his new place, and frankly, I don’t know if I had ever felt so proud of him.

It’s funny how you can juggle so many different emotions at the same time, because I also remember feeling scared and concerned. How could he possibly afford this apartment and all the pricey things that went with it, like internet access and utilities? How was he going to get to work from there, as it was definitely going to be more of a hike? Would he continue to go to AA meetings now that he no longer needed to follow anyone else’s rules? I kept all of these anxious thoughts to myself as we walked through an art deco lobby that led to the elevators.

It was one of those rickety old elevators where you have to slide a metal gate open and then close it before going anywhere, and as we slowly made our way up to the sixth floor, we were both a little amped up with anticipation. I really had no idea what to expect.

As it turned out, the building was a historic landmark known as the St. Regis, located right on the oceanfront in downtown Long Beach. The first thing I saw when I walked into the apartment was a big living room window with a postcard-perfect view of—you guessed it—the sand and the water.

“This is your dream place,” I said and really meant it. “This is where you’re supposed to be.”

“I know, right?” Rob said. “It’s really sweet.”

I poked my head into each room and was pleasantly surprised at every turn. It was nothing fancy, but perfect for Rob. He had somehow already managed to get a big brown leather couch for free on Craigslist just for carting it away from the previous owner, and bought a new bed with an unexpectedly tasteful headboard. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw new sheets on it!

The living room was a good size, with hardwood floors and mahogany window casings that reminded me of our old apartment in Forest Hills. The kitchen was small but clean and serviceable, and the bathroom was a bathroom. All in all, this was the best place Rob had ever lived in (other than when he lived at home with us), and what made it great was that it was all his. I, of course, was my usual overly enthusiastic self, complimenting him on just about everything, and all I remember was him holding back a smile for the entire time I was there.

We both plopped down on his cushy old/new sofa, which turned out to be the kind where you press a button and the seats become recliners. There we were with our feet up, lounging like stereotypical couch potatoes.

All that was missing was a big-ass TV, so he could hook up his PlayStation 4, and a small dining room table and chairs that he could place in front of the picture window. He didn’t really need anything else. I told him that the next time I came to visit, I’d bring over an old Pottery Barn rug we had stored, which would fit perfectly in the living room, and some framed photos of him and Zach to hang on the walls.

The whole thing felt like we were in some type of alternate Rob universe. It also reminded me of me when I was his age and just starting out. In that hopeful moment, I thought that maybe things would turn around and work out for him. I let myself get all caught up in his California dream.

To top it off, there was Rob’s cat, Biscuit! After hiding under the bed while I checked the place, she jumped on the couch to introduce herself. Rob had just brought her home two days earlier from the animal shelter he was volunteering at, but said it was a temporary arrangement. Of course, that statement turned out to be accurate beyond anything I could’ve imagined.

Rob said he wanted to show me one more thing before I split. We then went downstairs and walked to the back of the building, where there were two small patios on two separate levels that led down to the beach. We parked our asses at the higher one to take in the best possible view.

“You did good, dude,” I said, shaking my head in the good kind of disbelief. “This is exactly what you always wanted. Are you happy?”

“Roger that!” he said and lit up a congratulatory cigarette.

We sat there for the next 20 minutes or so looking at people walking on Alamitos Beach while a few swimmers braved the ocean. Little did we know that this idyllic day was the beginning of the end.

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…except that it’s not because Rob’s been gone for 10 months today.

Me: This was a surprisingly rough month.

Lar: You ain’t kidding. I’ve been feeling especially raw these past few weeks, not quite as bad as it was in the early days, but worse than it’s been in the last couple of months. It sort of snuck up on me.

Me: What do you think is going on? Why does it hurt so much again?

Lar: It’s a number of things. Let’s start with the stupid holidays. We were a chair short on Thanksgiving, so I brought one down from the bedroom and placed it next to mine at the head of the table. A few seconds later, I just burst out crying. It came out of nowhere and I’m talking heavy sobbing when you can’t even catch your breath. Maura came over and hugged me and we cried in each other’s arms until she needed to check on the turkey. Happy fuckin’ Thanksgiving!

Me: That empty chair is heartbreaking and you needed to release your sadness before your guests arrived.

Lar: I guess so. Crying and gravy don’t mix.

Me: Makes it too salty.

Lar: Totally works with the mashed potatoes.

Me: Why else do you think you’ve been Kind of Blue by Miles Davis?

Lar: I’m not entirely sure, but it feels like another level of acceptance, a deeper level, a place where I haven’t been before. The closest I can come to explaining it is the terrified feeling that I have whenever I face my own mortality. Whenever I get to the realization of not being here anymore, the moment I go from being to nothingness, freaks me out like nothing else. It’s like an electric shiver that courses through my body, only now it’s about Rob. The reality of him not being alive has hit me in an intensely different way. All of my emotions about missing him and never seeing him again rose up to the surface all at once, and I’ve been walking around with a heightened awareness of his absence.

Me: It’s a good thing you started taking anti-depressants.

Lar: Yeah, I finally caved and I’m glad I did. As Rob’s death continued to sink in deeper and deeper, so did I! But now it feels like there’s some type of a floor that prevents me from going underneath it and tumbling back into that dark, bottomless pit.

Me: All the grief experts say that the holidays are the most difficult time for the bereaved.

Lar: I blame Christmas music! It’s relentless! This year, I’m only going to listen to the saddest songs­: “Christmas Time Is Here” by Shawn Colvin and “River” by James Taylor.

Me: That’s what you’ve always listened to!

Lar: I know, but this year I’m really leaning into it. Christmas time is here…but Rob isn’t.

Me: I don’t think that’s how it…

Lar: It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace, Oh, I wish…Rob was still here.

Me: You know, this check-in thing is Rob’s favorite kind of story, but he also said that he didn’t like the really sad ones, so I thought of something that will cheer you up.

Lar: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Me: You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Zach-ar-y is coming to town!

Lar: Ha! You’re right! I can’t wait to see him!

Me: Wait, I have another one. Zachy the snowman was a jolly happy soul…

Lar: Okay, I get it! You know, he asked me an interesting question the last time we spoke. He asked if I was going to be sad at Christmas.

Me: Because of last year when he and Rob were over at the house, and you guys had the happiest day, and that was the last time they were together?

Lar: All of the above. So I told him that I’ll probably be a little bit sad for a few minutes, but I can’t stay sad for too long because he’ll be here with me, and he always makes me happy. He’s my ray of light.

Me: He brings you joy.

Lar: He literally just did. He texted me a few minutes ago and said I should check out a Twitter account called @steelydance. It’s this genius idea of people (and sometimes cartoon characters) dancing to Steely Dan songs, and it’s perfectly synced up and brilliantly edited. I watched them all and couldn’t stop smiling! Zach said he had just stumbled upon it and knew that I’d like it.

Me: I’m so glad he’s going to be here with you. What are you guys gonna do?

Lar: Really just hang out. We’ll probably watch a bunch of basketball and football games, eat a lot of Rosner’s bagels, maybe go see a movie or two, listen to music, probably get high…you know, all the usual stuff.

Me: Add in a little more Vince Guaraldi and you’ll be all set. You know, you’re really right out of A Charlie Brown ChristmasI think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.” Why aren’t you happy, Charlie Brown?

Lar: Go fuck yourself, Linus! Actually, I’ve been thinking about that and this is going to sound weird as hell—and Rob may not like this part so much—but a few stories that I wrote recently really hit me hard.

Me: It started with the one about you going to lunch with him.

Lar: It did. When I found myself tapping into his voice and imagined him still being here, I don’t know, it just made me so damn sad and made me miss him something awful.

Me: And then you doubled down by writing a letter to you from him.

Lar: That story really tore me up, but as painful as it was, I’m glad I wrote it. Some part of me thinks that it will ultimately lead to a place where I can make peace with him not being here.

Me: I agree. You’ve been putting in the work.

Lar: It’s funny that you say that. When I went to dinner with my grief group a few days ago, I pointed out how we were all laughing and having a pretty fun time (and sure, drinking certainly had something to do with it) and how that would’ve been impossible when we first met nine months ago. I attributed it to us “putting in the work,” and one older father who lost his son to a heroin overdose asked me what I meant by that. I explained that it’s about facing and feeling the pain and not being afraid of it. How you just have to move through it in your own time and in your own way.

Me: There are no shortcuts and you can’t avoid it.

Lar: I thought I could outsmart it or just go back to the first stage of grief and deny it, but the pain is very patient and lying there in wait. Avoiding it just prolongs the whole process of healing. You can’t hurry pain.

Me: Like you can’t hurry love.

Lar: And that’s what’s waiting for you once you get through it—you find love. Somehow, someway, I unconsciously swerved into the pain. That’s another reason why I write about Rob. I feel the pain every day, but I hope it will ultimately lead to feeling better.

Me: You just said the secret word and you win $100.

Lar: You know the name of that show, don’t you?

Me: Indeed I do—You Bet Your Life. And you’ve reached a milestone in yours today. It’s taken you 10 months to feel a glimmer of hope. Hope is everything. Hope, along with Zach, is the ray of light in the darkness.

Lar: Well, now I think Rob may like this story after all. I can almost hear him saying, “Hope is dope, Dad.” And that reminds me of one of my favorite poems by the one and only poet I have ever truly loved, Emily Dickinson. Here’s the famous first stanza:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops–at all

Me: And that reminds me of the first line of the Esquire story about Rob: You were born a poet.

Lar: Thanks for reminding me, dude. Make that two poets I have truly loved.

Rob Mix

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Our grief group is taking a break this week and one couple suggested that we all get together anyway, inviting us over to their house for dinner and lots of wine. They also had the intriguing idea of asking us to share a song about our child that’s particularly meaningful, and that’s where I suspect the wine will be needed because there’s no taking a break from grief.

I loved this idea and immediately began to put together a playlist called “Rob Mix.” I used to be the playlist king and have made hundreds of them over the years (starting with reel-to-reel back in the day), but none quite like this one.

The songs I picked aren’t necessarily Rob’s favorites (as much as I loved him, I was never a big fan of Slightly Stoopid or the Kottonmouth Kings). They’re just songs that evoke a memory or feeling about Rob. Some are from long ago and others are more recent, some are familiar and others are obscure, and I’ll briefly explain what each means to me.

***

Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst—Kendrick Lamar

I’ve written about this rap song before so I’m not going to dwell on it other than to say it’s become my go-to whenever I’m feeling especially torn up about Rob. It’s simply the soundtrack to the pain of missing him.

Keep Me in Your Heart—Warren Zevon

This was the last song Zevon wrote before he died of cancer, so not a lot of laughs here from one of the funniest lyricists who ever lived. On the contrary, these are the lines that make me weep uncontrollably (and were originally going to be engraved on Rob’s headstone):

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while

This one is so painful to listen to that I can never get to the end of it, but luckily there are a few other Zevon hits on this list.

My Shit’s Fucked Up—Warren Zevon

Rob loved this classic (for its title alone) ever since he first heard it on Californication. I remember making a Zevon playlist for him and both of us laughing while we listened to this tune when I drove him back home from the mental hospital all those years ago. I hear Rob’s voice when I listen to it now and it could definitely be his theme song.

Lawyers, Guns and Money—Warren Zevon

Rob loved this one too, but the last line now delivers a sickening gut punch:

I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this!

Run-Around—Blues Traveler

This catchy tune was on a CD I created called “Kid Mix” that I played whenever I was chauffeuring the boys around. I have such happy memories of listening to this happy song, which isn’t really happy at all. That was often the case with a lot of these tracks. We were mostly clueless about the lyrics because it was always about the music for us (at least until they were teenagers and discovered hip-hop). This was such a happy time in our lives, but it really wasn’t happy at all because Robbie would inevitably start fighting with Zachy, and I’d yell at them until they settled down, and then we’d get pizza from La Venezia.

Cotton—The Mountain Goats

Rob and I loved this tune when we first heard it on Weeds, which was our family’s favorite show when the kids were in their early teens. Rob thought he was Silas, the oldest brother on the show, who was a genius at growing marijuana and he certainly followed in those illustrious footsteps. I remember us all singing the first line: This song is for the rats…but I don’t think we had the slightest idea what the rest of it was about.

Nightmares­—Julius Myth

Rob turned me on to this cool single that he found on a mixtape called “Day of the Dead” Beats. I straightaway loved it because of the simple piano in the background and its child-like lyrics (it namechecks Freddy Kruger, Gumby and Pokey). And that always reminded me of when the kids were little boys. Rob, however, admired the Myth man for these weed-related lines:

Roses in my pocket, Julius mechanical
Floral print only snapback botanical 

Fucking with an animal around where I’m from
Head in a cloud, clouds in my lungs

Kick Push—Lupe Fiasco

We all loved this one! Rob because it was about skateboarding (I dedicate this one right here to all my homies out there grinding) and me and Zach because of the cool beat and Lupe’s rapping. We’d all sing the chorus:

Kick push, kick push, kick push, kick push and coast

As I listen to it now, I’m smiling and crying at the same time. I also remember us trying to imitate Lupe whenever he said the word “swanky.”

Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby—The Counting Crows

Another one from “Kid Mix.” It’s a long song and we’d get a little bored with it about six minutes in, but before that we’d all belt out the chorus:

Hey Mrs. Potter, don’t cry
Hey Mrs. Potter, I know why but
Hey Mrs. Potter, won’t you talk to me?

Wonderwall—Oasis

This anthem became a classic in the Carlat household right from the opening guitar solo and first line:

Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you

They were so little, maybe four or five, and I have no idea why they liked this tune as much as I did (I liked it because Oasis was a total Beatles rip-off). They’d dance around in the living room like little maniacs, scream-singing the chorus:

Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall

At the end, there’s a McCartney-esque piano riff that we’d all do-do to.

Do do do do-do, do do do do-do, do do do do-do…and then Rob would do-do something that made Zach cry.

Rose Darling—Steely Dan

If you recall, this was the answer to some strange woman asking an eight-year-old Robbie what his favorite Steely Dan song was when I dragged him to a concert at Jones Beach a million years ago.

A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)—Thundercat

This is the cat tune from the album “Drunk” that I told you about a while ago. I turned Rob on to it last year, and we’d both sing the “meows” in the beginning of the song. I’m closing my eyes as I listen to it now, picturing us smiling together on the couch in my living room.

Talking at the Texaco—James McMurtry

I used to dance around with Robbie in our living room in Forest Hills when he was a baby, and I always associated this foot-stomper with Joplin, Missouri, where he was born, even though it’s about a small town in Texas. I’d gently sing these words to him:

It’s a small town
We can’t sell you no beer
It’s a small town, son,
May I ask what you’re doin’ here

Fuck! All these songs are killing me! I miss you so much, Rob!

Come in From the Cold—Joni Mitchell

Speaking of killing me, I can barely get through this song without bursting into tears. It’s another one that I’d slow-dance to, trying to get Robbie to fall asleep when he was a baby. And it’s also another that I somehow twisted into a pretzel and made about him. The title really says it all. It’s one of Joni’s most open-hearted songs, but now it just breaks mine.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It—R.E.M. (from MTV Unplugged)

This is another ditty that the kids crazy danced around to. We’d all try to sing a lyric, but of course it was impossible, even Michael Stipe had trouble remembering it all, so we’d just do our usual chorus thing:

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine

And then we’d all say the word “fine” trying to sound like Michael Stipe.

So many of these songs have titles that somehow became prophetic, and have gone from pure joy to overwhelming melancholy.

Tears Dry on Their Own—Amy Winehouse

Like this one! I introduced it to Rob a few years ago after seeing the doc about her. I love the melody (which was sampled from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and her powerful voice is like an adrenaline shot to the heart. It has always made me feel so happy (even though it’s about her breakup), except for now because…why am I torturing myself with this?

Waltz for Debby—Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

I don’t think I ever played this one for Rob as he wasn’t a jazz fan and I can’t imagine he’d listen to Tony Bennett for more than two seconds without sticking his finger down his throat. It’s a lovely song that Bill Evans wrote for his niece, and I’ve always found it to be sad and beautiful, like most of the great pianist’s work. Tony sings the shit out of it, you can hear his voice quiver with emotion, but it’s the ending that completely destroys me, now more than ever:

One day all too soon
She’ll grow up and she’ll leave her dolls
And her prince and her silly old bear

When she goes they will cry
As they whisper “Good-bye”
They will miss her I fear
But then so will I

New Crack—Wax

Last but not least, I thought one of Rob’s favorite songs needed to be on a mix with his name on it, so I asked Zach which one he’d pick.

“Shit, that’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a classic or something that you don’t even know. Maybe ask Sarah.”

So I texted her and she responded immediately: “‘New Crack’ by Wax. That was always his go-to to put on in the car and rap along to it.”

Rob turned me on to some of Wax’s more melodic stuff, particularly “Different Galaxies” and “Limousine,” but I had never listened to “New Crack” because he said it wasn’t really my style.

Sarah shared a short version of the song below that proved Rob wrong. I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life.

The Extraordinary Parents

EXTRAORDINARY PARTENTS 2

“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. Lose your child and you’re…nothing.” —Tennessee Williams

Although I love “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the famous playwright got it wrong, and I feel the need to make it right.

There are many words to describe us and “nothing” is certainly among them, particularly in the beginning, but even that isn’t wholly accurate. It’s a blunt assessment of how we were feeling, but it in no way signifies who we are.

Bear with me for a moment as I reaffirm what you already know: A child isn’t supposed to die before his parents. That’s just not the way life should work. We give birth to children, or in our case, also adopt them, we love and nurture them, we raise them, they grow up, we grow old and then we die. Circle of life, sunrise sunset, rinse repeat, choose your own metaphor. That’s what every parent expects and that’s, by and large, the way things play out.

So when you lose a child—no matter what the circumstances were—it goes against the natural order of things. It’s not part of the ordinary experience. It becomes something entirely different and we become something entirely different.

When you lose a child, you are no longer ordinary parents. Ordinary parents don’t visit their child in a cemetery. Ordinary parents don’t cry themselves to sleep at night. Ordinary parents don’t wake up each morning knowing that they’ll never see their child again.

We become extra ordinary.

We become the ones who are unlike the others. We become the newest members of the world’s worst club, one that is already overcrowded and where the cost to join is the steepest price imaginable. We become “those people,” the tragic ones who are whispered about and pitied. We become the ones who are broken, seemingly beyond repair. Remember Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People? That!

But after a while, something strange takes place and it’s almost right out of a superhero movie. A metamorphosis occurs during our grief and mourning, transforming us from extra ordinary to extraordinary. A lot happens when you close up the space between those two words. So, Tennessee, there are words for people who have lost a child.

We are extraordinary parents. Not in the sense that we are exceptionally good, which is what people usually mean when they use that adjective. But look it up and you’ll find we are the very definition of the word:

1a. Going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary

b. Exceptional to a very marked extent

We are extraordinary parents who must go on living in the world with a hole in our hearts. We are extraordinary parents who, in many cases, still love and take care of our other children. We are extraordinary parents who go to work every day and function as semi-human beings, and most people have no idea about our secret identities. We are extraordinary parents who feel things that no ordinary parent has ever felt, and we have the ability to endure the deepest pain because that has become one of our superpowers.

And that’s another notable thing about us—we all have different superpowers because we all experience our loss in our own special way. Some of us have an unlimited capacity for compassion and forgiveness. Some of us can never be hurt by anything again. Some of us are masters of disguise. Some of us can turn to stone and some of us can become invisible. And then there are those of us who can open up and share it with the world.

We walk among you. We are your friends and neighbors, your co-workers, the quiet couple who were sitting at the table next to you in a restaurant last night. We are the extraordinary parents. And we don’t mind if you want to call us by our first name.

Letter to My Father

LETTER TO MY FATHER

Dear Dad,

I’ve been thinking it’s time that I write you back. I’ve read all the letters on your blog and tried to write a couple of times, but I kept starting and stopping because, as you know, I was never the best writer in our family.

So how the hell are you? (I’m trying to sound a little like you here because I know you like that kind of stuff.) You don’t need to answer—I can see and hear you all the time. Crazy, right? I can’t explain how, but just know that I’m always watching and listening. It’s like you guys have become my favorite new TV show.

Like, for instance, I know you’ve been having a hard time lately and I hate to see you suffering, so I want to tell you a few things that will maybe make you feel a little better.

The first is that I’m doing really well here. I know the psychic/medium lady told you that, but I wasn’t sure whether you really believed her, so that’s why I’m telling you now. It’s all good, dude. For reals. The psychic/medium (who, btw, is smoking hot) also told you that you couldn’t have done anything to stop me from doing what I did, and I want you to know that that’s the God’s honest truth, which is the only thing I can say here because otherwise He gets super fuckin’ pissed. My time was up and now I’m working on what comes next. I wish I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.

Ha-ha! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!

The second thing I want you to know is that you can finally stop worrying about me! I know I’ve said that a million times before, but I want you to listen to me now—just stop it! The truth is, I’m worried about you! Pretty fuckin’ funny, right? I worry about you getting stuck in your sadness about me. And stop looking at my baby pictures! We both know that I was adorable (where’d you find one of me playing basketball?), but it’s not going to make you feel any better.

I get the sadness 100 percent and I know you’re going to do whatever feels right for you, but I also want you to get on with your life. I know I’m the only one who could say that without you getting angry, which is why I just did. Dad, I understand that it’s hard to live without me (just like it was hard to live with me!), but you can, you have to! And do me a favor—delete my name and number from your iPhone already! I can’t call you back!

I miss you and Mom and Zach and wish I could still be there with you guys. But here’s a little secret—sometimes I am! You guys can’t see me, but I know the three of you have felt my presence. That little pang, or whatever the hell it’s called, you sometimes feel in your heart? That’s me! Hello! I’m right there! I’m right where I’ve always been and will always be.

I’m not sure when you’re going to post this letter, but I know that Thanksgiving is coming up soon. I know you’re going to feel a little sad this year, especially when you look at the empty chair next to yours. Who are you going to whisper your stupid jokes to? Who are you going to share the sourdough bread from Gjusta and the Irish butter with? It might not feel like there’s anything to be thankful for this year—other than maybe this year being over with—so maybe make a toast to the empty chair at the table, and have an extra glass of wine for me (I no longer touch the stuff).

The only shitty thing about crossing over to this place is seeing all of you guys hurting so much, and that’s why I want you to read this whenever you’re in pain. Remember that I loved and continue to love you, and I know how much you all loved and continue to love me, and that’s the most important thing in the world. Your world and mine. Life ends, but love never dies. (Remember, I was born a poet! You always gave me way too much credit for that!)

We all love each other, Dad, and that’s forever. You’ll understand what I’m talking about when I see you next, which won’t be very long from now.

Ha! Just fuckin’ with you again!

In the meantime, stop being so fuckin’ sad­, and think about all the other good things in your life. Stop wasting your energy on tormenting yourself. You can grieve, just like you’ve been doing on your blog (btw, I read every post! Well, almost all of ’em. I don’t like the really sad ones). The word on the street is that the grief thing is also forever, but that doesn’t mean that you have to continue to suffer. You’ve suffered enough. You all have.

You were a great dad, mom was a great mom, and Zach was the best brother in the history of brothers (you should hear the way they talk about him here!). Maybe I could’ve been a better person, or maybe not, but at the end of the day, I was just me. Like you said, a pain in the ass who was deeply loved…I forget the rest. The one important thing I’ve learned since being here is that I’ll do better next time. I’ve learned a lot in my life and I continue to learn a lot each day in my death.

Well, there aren’t really days here and time sorta goes on forever, but for you guys life is short. And that’s what I’m really trying to tell you. It boils down to that line from Wild Things that you quoted in one of those stories where you’re sort of talking to yourself (which I like best, other than your letters to me): Live your life, live your life, live your life…

And keep writing about me, keep talking to me and keep thinking about me. It’s good to hear and I also know it’s good for you to get your shit out. I miss you as much as you miss me. And we’re just gonna have to live with that for now. Well, at least you are.

I love you, Dad! (And I’m sorry to copy one of your endings, but I know how much you like to hear those words.)

Love,

Rob

P.S. Tell Maura I said hi and that I’m sorry.

My Favorite of All the Robs

FAVORITE OF ROBS

The Jew boy who lived in the Christian sober house stayed there for about seven months, and I wished he had never left. I really thought that this was his best opportunity to turn his life around, and for a while it seemed like he was trying to do it.

I could see it in his eyes. There was a clarity and blue sparkle that I hadn’t seen for a very long time, maybe even going all the way back to when he was a little boy playing with Zach. During this brief time period, this Rob was my favorite of all the Robs.

He sometimes looked tired, particularly after he started working the graveyard shift at the casino, but there was a new lightness about him that helped ease my anxiety and concern. When we hung out on Saturday afternoons, we fell into a natural rhythm of cracking sarcastic jokes and goofing on each other. He’d also surprise me by how much he knew about things that I had no idea about, although I’m having trouble recalling exactly what those things were. I momentarily stopped walking on eggshells and it almost felt easy, which, as I’ve noted before, was not a word I’d ever associate with Rob. I even allowed myself to feel the slightest bit of hope. This was the Rob that I had imagined he could be.

That’s what I often did with Rob. I viewed him through the most hopeful lens because viewing him any other way hurt like a bitch. (Small digression: You know the little pocket above the regular pocket on the right side of a pair of jeans? Rob used to call that “the bitch pocket,” which always made me laugh. I was going to write a story about it, but it’s not nearly as good of a metaphor as the sand and the water, and Rob would’ve hated being the little bitch pocket, so never mind.)

The best thing about Rob living in the sober house was that I didn’t have to worry (as much). I knew he was safe. He had a roof over his head, he was going to AA meetings (maybe even working the Steps), he had a job, he was even going to church on Sundays, which still makes me smile, picturing him rolling his eyes during a sermon.

I just had the feeling that he was giving it a shot, even if it was mostly by osmosis. Maybe he’d pick something up in a meeting that would eventually lead to some positive change. Or maybe his sponsor would help keep him on the straight and narrow. Or maybe he’d finally start to grow the fuck up and take some responsibility for his life. That was the way my hope saw things, but my fear was well aware that Rob was mostly complying with whatever rules they threw at him because living there was better than living on the street.

I’d sometimes go into the house with him after we had lunch. He’d introduce me around to his roommates, whose names I’ve forgotten, and I saw how proud he was of me and that memory is making me cry right now. I often said how proud I was of him for doing this very hard thing that he was doing, and it always got a little awkward between us when I did, but not in a bad way. Maybe it was that neither of us totally believed that he was actually doing it.

As time went by, Rob regrettably stuck to the Rob script and started to complain about the going-to-church thing, and the Pastor Dan thing, and how a few of his friends in the house had left, and how the vibe changed afterward, and how he was thinking of moving out and into another sober house just a few miles away where one of the other guys recently went to live. This was always his go-to move. He’d say he was “thinking” about something for a few weeks, and then he’d tell me that he had already done it. That’s what happened when he moved into the second sober house, which if it had a name, I never knew it.

It was a similar setup, only larger and a little more expensive, but by this time Rob was paying his own way. There were maybe 18 guys in the house, most of them considerably younger than he was. This place sounded a little stricter, with mandatory drug testing and an enforced curfew, but Rob seemed happy about his decision. Happy Rob mostly made me anxious because that meant that it was only a matter of time before one of the troubled Robs would appear.

I was concerned in a don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke kind of way, but I couldn’t do anything about it. We still did our thing on Saturdays and I don’t remember many specifics about this particular time, other than that he was there for maybe two months before he started “thinking” about moving into his own place.

Two weeks later, he was chillin’ in his new apartment in Long Beach.