It’s been a while since I dropped you a line, so I thought it was time to say what’s up again.
What’s up again?
“Haha, what a lame joke, Dad!”
That’s what you’d say if you were here to say it. Then again, you kinda are.
I was thinking about you the other day when I saw that your shitty Bills beat the even shittier Jets 17-16. And all day yesterday when I was editing a story that Caitlin wrote about you (btw, she says hi and misses you so much).
I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately and you’ll be pleased to hear that they’ve been mostly happy thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss the hell out of you and will occasionally get bummed out, but for the most part I’m trying a new approach, something a little lighter. Whenever I think of you, like when I see an old photo or talk about you with someone, I choose to picture your spirit, soul, energy, I don’t know what you guys call it in Ghost World or wherever you are.
It’s something that I finally have some control of—remembering the best of you. Just because things were sometimes bad doesn’t mean that they weren’t sometimes good. The pain of your abrupt departure and previous shitshows somehow overshadowed the fun and joy we shared together. Old, cranky Jew that I am, maybe that’s just the way I’m wired.
I’ve always been pretty black or white about everything, and these past seven months have been the darkest time in my life, so I thought I’d try to change things up, do a little rewiring. Maybe I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. For whatever reason, the sad balloon has finally popped, and it was you who stuck a pin in it, which is definitely something you would do!
“I’d probably stick a fork in it,” is what you would say here.
Speaking of forks, I was eating soup dumplings last week at ROC (yes, I asked for a fork so you can still make fun of me for never learning how to use chopsticks) and realized that I haven’t been back to Din Tai Fung since the day before you died. The main reason is that it’s a hike and I can get soup dumplings and scallion pancakes closer by, but also, I can’t imagine going there without you. As much as I liked pigging out together, the best part about those Saturday afternoons was waiting for our table and walking around the Del Amo Mall shooting the shit, goofing on people, talking about our lives and just plain being with you. That’s what I miss the most…and also Din Tai Fung’s pork chops.
It always gave me such pleasure to watch you eat! Isn’t that strange? Maybe because you were such a finicky eater when you were a little boy or maybe because you were such a skinny fucker and never gained an ounce and I wanted to fatten you up. But really it was because I love to eat so much and sharing that with you made me so damn happy, just the way it does whenever me and Zach chow down.
A few days ago, I was taking a walk after lunch and I saw this little blond boy who could’ve been you when you were three or four, happily running around the park while his dad chased after him. I immediately thought of us playing hide-and-seek at Syosset-Woodbury Park, where Zach broke his wrist when he was four, remember that? If I had seen this playful moment four or five months ago, I would’ve been a complete mess, but this time I was smiling from ear to ear. I almost cried, but they would’ve been tears of joy.
In fact, the only times I’ve been sad lately were when I heard from two of your friends from Long Beach a few weeks ago. It really threw me to hear from people all these months later. One guy worked with you at the casino and had just learned what happened. He sent me a Facebook message saying how sorry he was. The thing that made me cry was when he said how you used to talk about me with so much love and respect, and that he wished he’d known how much you were hurting. He sounded like a good dude who truly loved you.
So did the other guy who reached out. He said he loved you like a brother even though he didn’t know you for that long, and he takes comfort in reading these stories and looking at your photos. You always had the best friends.
As do I. I went out to dinner the other night with my pal Charlie, who I’ve known for more than 40 years. We were talking about you and he asked me what he thought might be a slightly uncomfortable question: Now that you’ve been gone for seven months, do I feel any sense of relief?
It’s a funny thing. The first thing I thought was that I feel relief for you. I feel the relief of you not struggling with all the things you struggled with and you no longer being in pain. I also feel the relief of not worrying about you and imagining the worst whenever the phone rings. The thing about relief, though, is that it’s usually associated with something good happening after something bad has happened. You know, like a big sigh of relief, a long, deep breath, out with the bad and in with the good. But in this case, I can’t seem to find the good.
I looked up the definition just to make sure I got this thing right and it says “a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.” So yes to the release from anxiety and distress and not so much on the feeling of reassurance and relaxation. There’s no relief when it comes to losing you. How could there ever be?
On another note, you’ll be happy to know that we came up with some sweet words for your headstone. Mom chose “Life Rolls On” and I know you’d be down with that. Right underneath those words will be: “And they loved a little boy very, very much, even more than they loved themselves,” which of course is true, and I’m sure you’d be okay with that too. I came up with something that I thought you might like even better: “An all-around pain in the ass who was deeply loved by many.” But Mom didn’t go for it. So the next time you leave sunflowers for her, maybe you can persuade her to change her mind?
Goddamnit, Rob, you were such an all-around pain in the ass who was deeply loved by many—you still are and will always be. You know it, I know it, everybody who knew you knows it. It’s what made you you, and I miss you and love you—all of you, the Good Rob, the Bad Rob and the other jagged pieces of you. Your voice is always in my head and you’ll be in my heart forever. And even though you’re not here, you’re right here and always will be.
And here’s what you’d say about all of that: “I love you, Dad.”