I’ve been avoiding writing this story for a while now—four months to be exact. I keep starting and stopping or I’ll come up with something else to tell you about so I don’t have to travel back to this time. I’m even hesitating right now, not sure if I want to push through my fear or whatever the hell it is that’s preventing me from getting this out on the page. Even this bullshit preamble is just me procrastinating so I don’t have to relive the worst week of my life, the one leading up to Rob’s funeral. I wasn’t in my right mind, and I’m not sure if I’ve fully recovered or if I ever will. But here goes…
I already told you about the plane ride to New York during which I pretty much cried for five hours while writing the eulogy that I mostly trashed. Zach flew in from Tampa and got in earlier in the afternoon, so he hung out with Caryn at her house until I arrived. I rented a car at the airport and drove to Fox Hollow Inn in Woodbury, our old neighborhood. It didn’t look like much had changed since the last time I was there, even though everything in my world had. It was appropriately cold as fuck.
I texted Zach that I had just checked in at the hotel, and he and Caryn came right over. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the moment I opened it, we all burst out crying. I hugged Zach first because I knew when I hugged Caryn, we would not let go of each other.
The only conversation I can recall from that evening was about Rob’s funeral arrangements. At first, we weren’t going to do a whole big thing. We’re not religious and neither was Rob, so we talked about just having a small private ceremony. We didn’t think we could handle anything more than that, but as we talked about who should be there to say goodbye to him and pay their respects, we gradually changed our minds. I didn’t even bring a suit with me and that thought led to the image of Rob wearing his wrinkled suits to work at the casino and various restaurants. I knew we needed to do this for him. Even if this was the last thing he’d ever want us to do.
The rest of the night is a blur of hysterical crying, snotting into tissues, answering text messages from the few people we had told the news to and saying “What the fuck!” over and over again. On that first day of grieving together, one week felt like it would take forever.
First thing in the morning, Caryn and I went to Gutterman’s Funeral Home, which was conveniently located right across the street from my hotel and around the corner from where we used to live. The guy who helped us with the arrangements (I’ve forgotten his name), couldn’t have been any fake nicer, delicately discussing horrible things (getting Rob from L.A. to NYC) while even more delicately asking even more horrible questions (“What type of a casket were you guys thinking about?”). All I kept thinking about while he was gently trying to sell us a bunch of extras was how this dude has one shitty fuckin’ job.
Our main issue was that we wanted to bury Rob as soon as possible, and not just because it’s Jewish tradition. We just wanted it to be over. We wanted the pain to stop. At the time, we didn’t know it never would.
What’s-his-name made a few calls, but given a myriad of circumstances including an impending snowstorm, it looked like the funeral was going to have to be on Friday. After signing several papers and writing a check, we were now the proud owners of Rob’s funeral service. We walked out of the guy’s office and Caryn began to hysterically cry. We sat down in another room and just held each other for I don’t know how long.
We went back to the hotel room where Zach was lying in bed. There was a college basketball game on in the background, and I remember thinking, why are they all cheering? Don’t they know how sad we are? Caryn got in bed with Zach and they both cried in each other’s arms for the next few hours. I was busy sending emails and making phone calls, delivering the terrible news to a few more of my friends and asking Maura to bring my black suit with her when she came into New York later in the week. We had pizza and a salad delivered to our room which paired nicely with a supersize dose of Xanax for each of us. We had made it through day two. Barely.
After Zach and I had breakfast at the hotel, we went to Caryn’s house, about 10 minutes away. I met her roommate, Maura, for the first time. Yes, Caryn and I both live with a woman named Maura. And yes, the universe has a bizarre sense of humor. We spent most of the day looking through old photo albums and crying. Did I mention that we cried a lot that week?
We looked at photos of the kids when they were little, and the four of us were all smiles in almost every one. There were pictures from pre-school and various birthdays and graduations, and there were Caryn’s folks playing with Robbie when we lived in Forest Hills, and there was another one of Rob and Julia when they were about one, sitting side by side in a swing at the park down the street from where we lived.
It seemed as though Rob had such a happy childhood until we started telling stories about how he cried at almost every birthday party and fought with Zach almost every day, and how he was generally just such a pain in the ass, and how he made us all crazy, and how much we all loved him so damn much no matter what he did. But he really did it this time.
We may have eaten that night, I don’t know. I can tell you that losing a child is a great way to drop a few pounds, but I don’t recommend it. Before we left Caryn’s house to go back to the hotel, she brought out three gray stuffed cat plush toys. She had bought them for Rob, who loved cats, and had intended to send them to him for Valentine’s Day. We each took a stray cat and said goodnight. Three down and four to go.
There was a breakfast buffet in the hotel every morning, but I was mainly thankful for the coffee. I remember sitting at a table with Zach and wondering if the other people eating breakfast around us had any idea why we were there. I thought they could see it on our faces.
We went back to Caryn’s house and hung out for most of the afternoon. I hadn’t seen her tiny dogs, Jenji, a Maltese mix, and Lola, a teacup Yorkie, since she and I separated nearly 10 years ago. They both looked much older and neither seemed to remember me. Ziggy, as you and now Rob well know, had been long gone.
Zach and I drove into the city that night to see our respective friends. I went to Tony and Gina’s apartment in the Village and Zach went to see Weiss and Rosner, who live in Murray Hill. What I remember the most about that night was the first of many hugs I would receive in the coming days. When I hugged Tony and Gina, I felt them take me into their hearts. It was what I needed and continued to need all week long.
I told them the shitty details of the Rob story while we ate Chinese food, and before I split, Tony gave me a handful of beta-blockers because I had mentioned that I didn’t know how I was going to be able to stand up at the funeral and deliver a eulogy.
Zach was waiting for me at the parking lot. I handed him a bag filled with Chinese food leftovers and we drove back to Long Island. The whole day, the whole week, everything felt surreal. What was Zach doing here with me? What was I doing here in freezing cold New York City? What the fuck did Rob do? What the fuck? What the fuck? There were still four more days of What-the-fucks?
I have no idea what we did, which means we probably lay in bed crying for most of the day. I remember looking out the window and seeing snow flurries and thinking that the last two times I was in Long Island was for funerals in winter. Zach and I shared an identical suite on a higher floor of the same hotel when Caryn’s mom died a few years ago, and here we were again, this time for Rob. It didn’t make any sense.
We went out to dinner at Hunan Taste, usually an excellent Chinese restaurant with killer scallion pancakes, but nothing tasted any good to us that night.
Right before Zach and I went to sleep, both of us floating away on Xanax clouds, I asked him if he was going to write anything for the funeral. He said he was just going to freestyle it, so I asked if he wanted to read the eulogy I wrote on the plane. He said sure and then I heard him crying and I began to cry, and right before I fell asleep, I knew that I had to change what I had written. Luckily, I had three more days.
The three of us took the train into the city to see a matinee performance of Hamilton. Just kidding! We stayed in bed at the hotel, took more drugs and cried all day. Maura arrived in the early evening and met Caryn for the first time. I remember Caryn thanking Maura for taking care of Rob when he lived with us, and they both hugged and cried. It was the first time that all of the people I loved the most in the world were in the same room together. Well, almost all of them.
We had another pizza delivered and then Zach went back to stay at Caryn’s house. Before we went to sleep, Maura gave me two chocolate hearts wrapped in red and silver foil that she’d taken from a bowl in the lobby. It was the week before Valentine’s Day, and I was never more heartbroken in my life. That would change in two days.
Thursday used to be the day before Friday, but for us it was the day before we would bury Rob and we all had things we needed to do. Caryn went shopping for a black dress, Zach and I went to buy him a black blazer, and Maura, who had all of her shit together and really didn’t need to do anything, went to get a manicure.
In the afternoon, Maura and I went to see my sister Patti and her husband John, who had flown in that morning from Scottsdale and were staying in a hotel a few minutes away from us. This was also the first time Maura met Patti and the first time I had seen Pat in many years. I hated that we were all together for such a terrible reason, but I never loved my sister more than on that day.
When we got back to the hotel, we met two of Caryn’s oldest friends, Jill and Jody, who were also staying there, and we all had drinks and dinner together. It felt like old times, only I was with Maura, not Caryn, and Rob was dead.
I called Caryn afterward to tell her about dinner. She was having a very hard time. Her anxiety was through the roof and she couldn’t stop crying.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this tomorrow,” she said. “I’m a wreck, babe. I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I don’t know either, babe. But we’re going to get through it,” I reassured her. “We got through this fucked-up week and we’re going to get through tomorrow. We’re going to get through it for him. We have to. We have to do this for Rob.”
Tomorrow would be the longest day.