I was always a good finder. No matter who or what it was, I could find pretty much anything I was looking for.
But Rob was better at hiding. He kept all kinds of things hidden from me for all kinds of reasons. It didn’t make me love him any less. In fact, it may have been why I loved him more as I knew the secret behind his instinctive ability to conceal.
Rob was lost. He was lost before we lost him forever.
He thought he was able to hide it, especially from me. He stowed away his torment and despair in a dark corner somewhere deep inside of himself and instead showed me what he thought I wanted to see—Funny Rob, Smart Rob, Hopeful Rob. In other words, the best versions of himself.
And why not? It was much better than me giving him shit about some fucked-up thing he’d done, and it was certainly better than me constantly telling him how worried I was about his well-being. It was so much easier for Rob to just slip on a mask, crack a few jokes and pretend that every little thing was gonna be all right.
This past Christmas was textbook. Zach flew in from Tampa and was staying at our house for the holidays, and the three of us had a blast. We had taken Rob to his first-ever basketball game a few days before (the Clippers destroyed the Nuggets), and it felt like a weekend from a long time ago when Caryn was at work and it was just the boys.
On Christmas Day, Rob and Zach were busting each other’s balls like only brothers can while we all played with Wallace and happily stuffed our faces. It was a magnificent day that we’ll now remember for the rest of our lives because it was the last time the three of us were together. Zach made a special point of talking about that picture-perfect day at the funeral.
Speaking of which, scroll back up for a moment and look at the photo above. Look at the smiles on our faces. Look at the love in our hearts.
If it looks too good to be true, here are some possible reasons why: Rob had recently been fired for being drunk at work, had had his heart broken by some woman who worked at the casino, was months behind in rent and about to be evicted, was definitely depressed and possibly coked up. But if that’s the truth, fuck the truth! We had one of the best days ever together! Look at those smiles! The awful backstory doesn’t take anything away from that indelible memory.
A few weeks later, Rob, in his classic unreliable-narrator style, finally admitted that he was no longer working at the casino.
“I quit because my sobriety needs to come first,” he said. He didn’t come clean at Christmas, he further explained, because he didn’t want to ruin the day for us. He was still hiding. Right up to the bitter end.
I sometimes like to imagine that he tried to find himself, but he was really looking for an escape. He talked about joining the Navy. He talked about backpacking in Europe with Biscuit. He talked about living off the grid. The more he talked, the more he seemed determined to get lost.
And in the end, Rob didn’t want to be found. He didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs that would’ve led us to the door of his pain and suffering. There was no key to his troubles and delusions under the Welcome mat. He was very careful about covering his tracks. He had made up his mind and nobody—least of all me—was going to talk him out of his getaway plan. When I saw him the day before he died, he was hiding in plain sight. Ready or not, here I come.
When the kids were little, one of our favorite things to do was play hide-and-seek. I’d always pretend that I couldn’t see them under the bed or behind a curtain or in the back of a closet. I’d stomp around and loudly say something like, “I wonder where Rob is? I wonder where he could be?” And then I’d look under the bed or pull back the curtain or open the closet door and shout, “There he is!” And we’d all laugh, just like we laughed this past Christmas, and then it would be Zach’s turn to count to 10 and come look for us.
“There he is,” I gently whispered as I bent down to kiss Rob’s forehead while he was lying in the casket.
I had found my lost boy.