When I got back to L.A. after Rob’s funeral (which I promise I’ll write about soon), I went to his place two more times. I’d become something of an expert at cleaning up his messes, beginning with packing up his shit in Beverly Hills so his landlord wouldn’t call the police and then moving him from sober house to sober house until his last stop in Long Beach.
As you may recall, the first time I went back to his apartment was with Maura the day we found out that he was dead. I was mainly looking for a suicide note until I just couldn’t take it anymore and got the hell out of there. The second time I returned was to collect a bunch of his old T-shirts for Caryn, who was going to have them made into a custom memorial quilt.
Except for the blood on the living room floor, which had hardened and cracked, his place looked exactly the same as it did the last time I was there. I went straight into the bedroom and began to empty his drawers, grabbing up a medley of his hits—Rob’s life story told in medium-size T-shirts. They included Columbine Physical Education, Slightly Stoopid, Kottonmouth Kings and everybody’s favorite, Ante Christ, featuring a forlorn-looking Jesus sitting at a poker table.
I stuffed about 15 of them into a black garbage bag and then dug around for other artifacts. There was a manila envelope on the bed, and I got a little excited, hoping it might contain new information, but I was immediately disappointed when I saw it was just the 20 resumes I had printed out for him a few weeks prior when his internet access was turned off. I went from room to room looking through the sorrowful rubble he had left behind. In a shopping bag on the couch, I spotted the Starbucks gift card I’d given him the day before he killed himself and left it there. I then walked into the kitchen and just shook my head. There were those stupid fuckin’ lighters.
Displayed neatly on a tray on the countertop, they looked out of place next to all the garbage surrounding it. He had more than 200 BIC disposable lighters and I never understood why he was so proud of this oddball collection, other than it was so Rob. To be honest, it always made me a little sad that this was one of his prized possessions (the other one being a set of beer glasses with our last name etched on each). I didn’t know what to do with the lighters, but thought his friend Sarah might want them, so I called Zach.
“Yo, I’m at Rob’s place cleaning up his shit and I just found those stupid fuckin’ lighters of his. Should I grab them?” I asked.
“Everybody knows about Rob’s lighters, Dad,” he said. “You don’t need to take them.”
So I left them behind and split. When I got to the lobby, I ran into Theresa, the building manager.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Carlat,” she said. “Rob was such a good guy.”
“You know, a lot of people wanted that apartment, but we really liked Rob so much because he was so nice and smart and charming,” she continued. “And also because, as you know, he was a cancer survivor.”
It took everything I had in me to not burst out laughing. Again, so Rob.
A few weeks later, Theresa called to say that she had one more box of his personal belongings that she thought I might want, so I drove to Long Beach for the last time. When I got there, she handed me an Amazon shipping box that she had taped shut. I thanked her and walked back to my car as fast as I could to see what was inside.
There was a stack of unopened mail, most of it from health care providers that I had signed him up for a few days before he died. His high school yearbook was also in there next to two small wooden boxes with sliding bottoms that turned out to be the ashes of his two sugar gliders. There was a final warning notice for not paying a ticket he’d received a few days before Christmas that cited him for eating, drinking and smoking in Downtown Long Beach. Long Beach need not worry about Rob anymore.
There were also a handful of money order receipts, a California license plate, a birthday card from Aunt Robin, four more tickets (issued in New York for driving while intoxicated), his lease, a notice that gave him three days to pay rent or move out, his birth certificate from the Missouri Department of Health, a number of earnings statements from the casino, a broken pocket watch, and a key ring with a 24-hour One Day at a Time Camel AA chip.
At the bottom of the box, I found four loose pages that looked like they’d been ripped out of a spiral notebook. At the top of the first page was the heading “Fear Inventory.” Dated 2/19/18—almost exactly a year before Rob died—it’s written in his inimitable, barely legible scrawl and divided into three columns: What am I afraid of, Why and Where has self-reliance failed me. My shrink Julie told me this was an exercise connected to the fourth step in AA where you’re asked to make a fearless and searching moral inventory of yourself, basically identifying your own weaknesses.
It was the last two items on the list that fucked me up the most:
What am I afraid of: Not having kids.
Why: If you don’t have kids, there’s no one to carry on your memory…who you were, and the family name.
Where self-reliance has failed me: I never wanted to have kids before and now that I do, I realize I missed an excellent opportunity.
What am I afraid of: Not being a good father.
Why: My father was an excellent father. He provided my family with everything I needed and more…The moral lessons he taught me…How can I be as good a father as him?
Where self-reliance has failed me: I can barely take care of myself let alone a kid.