Me: Here we are again when we’re not supposed to be here. What gives?
Lar: I have something else planned for tomorrow, so I thought we’d have our last check-in today. Cool?
Me: In the immortal words of Rob, coo! I’m not really prepared, so we’ll just have to wing it.
Lar: Okay, I’ll start. You know what I wish?
Me: Tell me.
Lar: I wish I had more happy days with Rob. We had some, for sure, but there should’ve been way more. I know he had more happy days in him. It sucks that the unhappy ones always clouded the occasional rays of sunshine.
Me: That reminds me of the last line of “Emotional Weather Report” by the great Tom Waits: High tonight, low tomorrow and precipitation is expected.
Lar: There’s been a lot of precipitation lately. I miss his sweet smile. I miss hearing him say “Yeo.” I just miss him so much right now.
Me: It’s the stupid milestone/anniversary effect that makes you feel extra-shitty on top of all of the usual shittiness.
Lar: The way young people use the word “extra” these days cracks me up. They say, “That’s so extra!” about anything that’s over the top. I looked it up just to be sure and found this definition: The pal who is a pain in the ass, but whom you honestly kind of admire for it.
Me: Who was more extra than Rob? I still like your idea of using Rob as a verb or adjective: He was Robbed! That’s so Rob! Moving on…how do you feel about this being our last time doing this thing?
Lar: I think I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow.
Me: You know, that makes you Dorothy.
Lar: And if we still had Wallace, he could’ve been Toto. Let’s get on with it, shit for brains.
Me: You know the first question I always ask, but I already know the answer to how you’re feeling.
Lar: Everybody knows. Next question!
Me: Okay, okay. How has your grief changed—or not changed—during this past year?
Lar: I’ve gone from an open wound to the walking wounded, and I still have some days when I feel like the walking dead. My heart was shattered and no amount of kintsukuroi can ever make it whole again. Sure, the initial devastation has worn off, but I’ll be picking up the pieces of this mess for the rest of my life.
Me: I notice that you’re not using the “healing” word.
Lar: I don’t feel healed and I’m not sure if I ever will. I like to think that maybe someday I’ll feel differently, but I know that one year is just the beginning. The pain is no longer relentless, but when it does drop in for a little visit, like right now for instance, it still hurts like a motherfucker, which, by the way, was my second choice for the name of this blog: Hurts Like a Motherfucker.
Me: Not as poetic as The Sand and the Water, but definitely true. It’s interesting how grief is so often described in metaphors.
Lar: It’s the sugar coating on a shit sandwich. How’s that for a metaphor?
Me: Works for me. I just checked to see how many times you mentioned the G word, and it came out to exactly 100.
Lar: Seems low, but I know I’ve described it in at least 100 other ways. I remember calling it a fucked-up version of Groundhog Day, only without Bill Murray. I also said that the good thing about grief is that you can’t really fuck it up too badly because it’s already fucked you up worse than you’ve ever been fucked up before.
Me: That was my personal favorite! Squeezing in three “fucks” in one sentence is so extra!
Lar: You mean so Rob. It’s always been our favorite word. And then there were those who were far more eloquent on the subject than I could ever fuckin’ be. Joan Didion wrote, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” Nick Cave wrote, “Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable.” My friend’s dad, referring to the loss of his son, said, “I’d give anything to have one more day full of worrying about him.” But the best description prize still goes to a father in my grief group who said, “My grief is my constant companion.”
Me: I thought I was your constant companion! Now I’m a little bit hurt.
Lar: You’ll get over it. As a matter of fact, where will you go when this convo ends?
Me: To the great beyond. Nirvana. Dreamland. That’s the thing—nobody knows until we get there or even if there is a there there.
Lar: It’s more about believing than it is about knowing. It’s more comforting to believe that there’s something after this lifetime rather than resigning yourself to the terrifying nothingness once the lightbulb burns out.
Me: Well, before I go wherever I’m going, let’s get back to this lifetime for a minute. How have you learned to live in a world without Rob?
Lar: I don’t think you learn to live with it, I think you just live. You wake up every morning and get out of bed and you do whatever needs to get done and then you come home, eat a little something, go to sleep, and do it all over again, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I don’t think you’re really learning anything other than that you have the strength to keep on going.
Me: You’re the strongest motherfucker I know, dude.
Lar: Everyone who survives this kind of tragedy is a strong motherfucker. Which makes me think of a classic Rob story. A few months after we bought him his first car, he got into his first—of many—major accidents. I don’t remember who called us about it, but it happened right around the corner from where we lived, so Caryn and I jumped in my SUV and raced over to see what was what. It was pouring rain, and I remember seeing the flashing lights of a firetruck and an ambulance and thinking that this was not going to end well. Then we saw Rob’s Ford Focus, which was T-boned and crushed like an accordion. But there was no sign of him or his girlfriend, whose name I’ve forgotten. Caryn and I were freaking out, and I remember bolting out of the car and running to the ambulance in this rainstorm—it was like a scene right out of a crappy made-for-TV movie. The first thing I saw was his girlfriend lying on a stretcher wearing a neck brace, and then I spotted Rob, sitting beside her with a few bruises but not really looking any worse for wear. When I asked him if he was okay, he famously answered, “I’m invincible!” And I never wanted to slap the shit out of him more than in that moment.
Me: He was invincible until he decided he no longer wanted to be.
Lar: He no longer wanted to be. That’s a perfect way of putting it. You know, I keep thinking about the last time I saw him—a year ago today. I’ve replayed that afternoon in my head hundreds of times, looking for clues.
Me: The fact that there were no clues was the biggest clue that he no longer wanted to be here. All the other times before that, he had reached out for help. Like we keep saying, dude, the soul knows when it’s time to go.
Lar: Well, my soul knows that it’s almost time for you to go. But there’s one last thing: A few days ago, when I mentioned how Rob and I had switched roles being the sand and the water, I didn’t realize how fitting that really was.
Me: Hold on! So now you’re the sand and Rob’s the water? Can you even do that? I’m so confused.
Lar: If you shut up for a second, I’ll explain it. Buddhists believe that dying is nothing more than the act of going home, like a wave returning to the ocean. So presto chango—Rob became the water.
Me: I just saw that on the end of The Good Place! When Chidi said goodbye to Eleanor, he started out with, “Picture a wave in the ocean.”
Lar: Well, I decided that I needed to see it for myself. So I took a walk to Venice Beach yesterday right before sunset and sat down where the sand meets the water. Aside from a few rowdy homeless guys arguing about who knows what and the steady beat of the drum circle, it was beautiful and peaceful and, of course and appropriately, smelled like weed. I was just watching the waves gently breaking on the shore, one after another, the white foam creeping up on the sand and then rushing back home to the ocean. It felt hypnotic. I closed my eyes for just a few seconds, and when I opened them I saw a small sailboat on the horizon. As it came into view, it looked like the one from Where the Wild Things Are, but instead of Max in his wolf costume it was Robbie in his Bitmoji catsuit. He sailed a little closer to shore and we both started frantically waving to each other, and he was yelling something, but I couldn’t hear what it was because the drums were getting faster and louder. And then the bow of the sailboat slowly turned around and headed out to the open sea, and that’s when my heart told me what he was saying. Robbie was still waving and I was standing on the shore waving back, and he kept sailing farther and farther away until he was just a speck. And then, all of a sudden, he was gone.