You Say It’s Your Birthday


Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear Rob-bie
Happy birthday to you!

We all know there’s no need to sing the second verse. Rob’s 28—now and forever.

Rob was never a big fan of his birthdays, particularly when he was a little boy, crying his way through many of them. We always thought it was about adoption and the whole “hole in my heart” thing, and these celebrations just amplified his ineffable sense of abandonment. Now I know exactly what he was feeling.

This birthday—and, I imagine, all the ones to come—will be pretty much the same. Instead of calling Rob and goofing on him for being an “old man,” I’ll call Zach and Caryn and we’ll all feel shitty for a bit and probably cry. I suspect that it may get easier in the future, but for now it’s just a brutal reminder of how much we love and miss him, and how much we’d rather have him here with us. No one liked to party as much as Rob, but even he would find this one to be a real drag.

I was just looking at photos of his birthdays from when he was 12 to 17, and he’s smiling and mugging for the camera in almost every one. Boy, do I miss that smile! He chilled out about these celebrations as he grew older. During his teenage years, we generally marked the occasion by doing all the standard birthday stuff—eating pizza, singing the stupid song and blowing out the candles on a giant chocolate chip cookie cake thing that Caryn had baked and that we all loved. Then it would be time for the funny cards, with funnier things we wrote inside of them, and we’d top it off by giving him increasingly lavish gifts, which culminated in a tricked out Ford Focus when he turned 17. These were mostly happy days.

When he lived in L.A., Maura and I celebrated one of his birthdays by taking him out to an old-school red sauce Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that served unlimited garlic knots. We didn’t get together with him last year because he was either busy working or going to a meeting, I forgot what his excuse was. Of course, I had no idea that that would be his last one.

Whenever I think about Rob’s birthdays, my mind time travels back to a few weeks after he was born. We had this great party in our apartment in Forest Hills and invited all of our friends and family to help us celebrate his arrival. We sent out invitations that said “You are invited to the debut performance of Robbie James Carlat in It’s a Wonderful Life. And on the day, it certainly was.

We ordered food from The Homestead, this excellent German gourmet shop right down the block from us on Austin Street, and I only remember bits and pieces of that night but every memory is pure joy. I was floating from person to person, hugging and kissing everyone, introducing friends to my other friends, and ushering people into our bedroom to meet the little man of the hour, who was in Caryn’s arms, wrapped up tight in a blankie, absolutely clueless about the festivities in his honor. Other than the days that he and Zach were born, I can’t remember ever being happier.

One of the happiest days of my life is now one of the saddest. There are no balloons, no funny cards, no cake and no Rob. So I’ll blow out the imaginary candles for him and make a wish, knowing that it can’t possibly come true.

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