You know the famous aversion therapy scene from a Clockwork Orange when they stretch Malcolm McDowell’s eyeballs with a pair of clamps, and force him to watch ultra-violent images? That’s what I decided to do for fun a few nights ago by watching a variation on that theme—hours of home movies of the kids when they were little. I chose not to play Beethoven’s Ninth.
The last time I had watched these blasts from the past was a few days after Rob died while we were all miserably hanging out at Caryn’s house in Long Island. I remember how we were crying and laughing at the same time, which isn’t that easy to do, and finally had to shut it off because we just couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t sure why I was putting myself through this time-travel torture again, but something told me that I’d find out soon.
I popped in the first DVD (I had digitized our old videotapes a few years back), poured a glass of Syrah and pressed play. I was fully prepared to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest puddle of tears.
Watching our old life flash before my eyes almost six months later was different right from the start. The first thing up was Robbie (it was always Robbie and Zachy back then) in one of those baby walker things that looks like a car with a tiny steering wheel. He was talking gibberish a mile a minute, which was just under the speed limit. Five seconds later, he began to cry bloody murder.
“He’s just sad that he’s a Jew!” I said.
I found myself laughing at this little joke, which took me by surprise.
I fast-forwarded every few seconds because, let’s face it, watching hours of any baby, even the cutest infant in the world (which Rob most definitely was) doing plenty of nothing is boring as hell. I stopped on Caryn bathing him in the sink. According to the time stamp, he was three months old.
“This is what Robbie loves the best,” she cooed. “He loves his bathes!
“And…” I prodded.
“And he loves his Daddy!” I said, right before the little asshole shot a stream of pee at me. That was the beginning of Rob’s sense of humor.
Speaking of beginnings, Robbie was tooling around in his walker and babbling up a storm again on May 23, 1991 when I said, for the first time ever, “What are you looking at, idiot?” Even then, I knew.
More fast-forwarding and there was Robbie eating plastic keys and there I was saying, “He’ll love to see this 20 years from now!” Which, luckily, he got to do when he came to visit me a few years ago before officially moving to California. He couldn’t believe that he was once so little, the same way I can’t believe that he’s no longer with us.
I put in another DVD titled “Robbie’s Next Six Months” and it began with Caryn reading him “Pat the Bunny.” Robbie seemed to really like it and a few moments later, began chewing on his new favorite book. He was a little cranky on this day, teetering on the verge of tears, but mainly he sounded like he was trying to tell us something very important.
“Who is he talking to all the time?” Caryn asked.
“The aliens!” I said as he started to munch on his foot.
Next up was Robbie eating baby food for the first time and washing it down with a few hits from his ba-ba. Marty and Phyllis were there, as they often were in those early days, and after feeding Robbie a few more spoonfuls, Caryn asked, “Is he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”
“Yes,” I answered softly from my couch as I took a long sip of wine.
Music was always playing in our house back then and Robbie had impeccable taste right from the get-go. He seemed to like Dylan’s version of “This Old Man” but he really smiled hard when Caryn was dancing around with him to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” God, how we loved that little boy! A few more fast forwards and splish, splash we were takin’ a bath with special guest Marty singing “Mother and Child Reunion.” It made me happy to think that they were now back together again.
I loaded in another DVD called “More Stuff” and it started with Robbie sticking out his tongue again and again as if he was licking an imaginary ice cream cone. Caryn was cracking up, and then Marty picked him up and rubbed his little belly on his bald head, and Robbie was giggling and we were all laughing, and there I was sitting on the couch with such a big smile on my face remembering back to this sweet, sweet time in our life.
The biggest surprise of all was that I only cried three times, all triggered by music. The first time was watching Robbie at five months old, zipping around in his walker while holding a Mylar balloon for Caryn’s birthday. James Taylor was singing “You’ve Got a Friend” and you’d have to be made of stone not to blubber while hearing “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call…”
The second time was when the kids were four or five (there was no date stamp) and they were dancing around maniacally to Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” while playing with our new Wheaten Terrier puppy, Mookie, who, like Wallace, didn’t last very long. Robbie was chasing Mookie all around the living room until they finally plopped down on the floor together. Zachy, for reasons unknown, ran over and started to rub Robbie’s head.
“I’m messing up his hair,” Zachy said, and the three of us were hysterically laughing. Then to top it off, Zachy danced over to the camera and blew a kiss, which just got me into the Guinness Book of Records.
The third time is the video you see above–the poorly shot and unedited version of Zachy singing and dancing to “Wonderwall,” a Carlat family favorite. It’s just about the cutest and happiest thing I’ve ever seen and I didn’t realize how badly I needed to see it again. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to see all of this, and just how fuckin’ good it would make me feel. I needed a reminder that, long ago and far away, our life was beautiful.
I watched that Zachy video over and over again (there’s a little surprise at the very end) and cried for joy each time. It was the first time in a long time that I had cried for that reason.
For at least one night, to paraphrase Alex, I was cured.