I saw Rob the day before he killed himself. We were going to have lunch and I called him when I pulled up to his apartment in Long Beach.
“Yo,” he said groggily like he had just woken up.
“Yo, I’m downstairs. Thought maybe we can go to Din Tai Fung for soup dumplings,” I said. “It’s a little bit of a hike but I don’t have to be anywhere.”
“I don’t know if I have enough time to do it today,” he said, “but I’ll be down in a minute.”
When Rob got into my car he had changed his mind, so we headed to the Del Amo Mall in Torrance. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks as I was in the midst of something called “detaching with love,” a coping strategy Caryn learned and passed along to me from her Families Anonymous group. Rob had long been an unreliable narrator and his latest story had been a doozy about owing back rent and borrowing thousands of dollars from a shady loan shark who had threatened him with bodily harm if he was late with his payments. There was always a germ of truth in Rob’s stories and this one involved even more disturbing details, but I was going through some of my own shit at the time, mainly looking for a new job, and I just couldn’t deal with more of his.
Rob looked tired and a little more disheveled than usual. His desert boots were all beat up and the laces were broken. He was growing a beard that was coming in unevenly.
“This could be the first time the three of us have beards,” I said.
“Yeah, I never get to grow one because they’re not big on facial hair in the restaurant industry,” Rob explained, all of a sudden sounding like Tom Colicchio.
I started to pepper him with the usual questions–mainly what was going on at his jobs. He was juggling three or four minimum wage gigs trying to make ends meet and I knew he wasn’t sleeping much, which had become fairly typical for Rob. For the past year, he worked the graveyard shift as a food and beverage supervisor at a run-down casino. So he was pretty much always just waking up when I saw him for lunch on Saturday afternoons.
“Dad, can we pass on the job questions today?” he asked. “I really don’t feel like talking about it. This is my one break from all that shit so let’s just talk about something else.”
We were both pretty quiet for the rest of the ride. He was on his phone, reading through his Reddit feed while I was thinking of things not to say.
We slipped back into a more familiar routine as soon as we sat down at the table. Rob began to fill in the menu ticket without even asking, just like we always did it–three orders of pork soup dumplings, fried pork chop, chicken fried noodles, lemon ice tea for me and a Strawberry Mango Slush smoothie for him. It sounds like a lot of food but we always polished it off. Everything seemed normal. It was just another unremarkable day of us hanging out together.
I’m going to stop here for a moment because it just hit me that I’m replaying everything in my head, searching for any clue that may have been right in front of me on that day–like if I somehow could’ve seen something out of the ordinary I maybe could’ve prevented all of this from happening or at least reached out to help him. I’m looking for clues so I won’t feel guilty about not seeing how much pain he was in. I’m basically looking to turn back time so I don’t have to live in a world without Rob.
I can’t remember the exact details of our conversation that afternoon because we always talked about random bullshit, but I do recall how nice he was to our waitress, who was wearing a “trainee” tag. He was always uncharacteristically courteous to the servers and bus boys and insisted that I tip at least 20 percent all the time. “They bust their ass. Cough up a buck, you cheap bastard,” he’d joke, quoting from Reservoir Dogs, one of our favorite movies.
The only other piece of pertinent information I do remember is him talking about the Navy. A friend of his had recently enlisted and Rob was thinking of doing the same. He actually went as far as taking a psych eval but failed because of his 5150 hold from last year when he was suicidal and admitted for a three-day psychiatric hospitalization. As I sit here writing these words, it’s easy to see how desperate he was to find an escape.
A writer friend had given me a Starbucks gift card for the holidays which I hadn’t used, so I gave it to Rob because he was a fan. He always ordered his coffee online and then went across the street to pick it up because it was some ridiculous combination of 12 different ingredients, which was just so Rob.
On the ride home, he played me a few new songs that Zach had turned him onto by Watsky, Boogie, 2Young and a bunch of other names I’ve never heard of, and then he mentioned that he hadn’t received his 1099 from the casino and how he was anxious to get his taxes done because he usually got a refund and could really use the money.
When we got back to his apartment building, I said that we’ll talk soon, fist bumped with him and then he said the words he always said when I dropped him off, my favorite four words in the world, the last words he ever said to me: “I love you, Dad.”