There’s a certain deep sense of foreboding you feel when you receive an email from an old friend, one you haven’t spoken to in a couple of years, and it reads, “Did you hear about Rob?” That’s the note I had waiting for me in my mailbox on Tuesday and about as fast as I could type, “Did something happen?” I was searching his hometown’s paper for the news. I recalled that the last time I corresponded with Rob he mentioned that he had been fighting cancer.
The article I found was titled: “Kingwood DeLorean Painter Succumbs to Cancer” and I wept.
When I chose the college I first attended after high school, I chose a place as far away from Austin as I could get and still be in the state. I was tired of seeing the same faces, tired of being cast in the same mold defined by people who had known me most of my life whom I wouldn’t call friends. I knew if I went to the University of Texas at Austin, the university in my backyard, it would just be 13th grade. Austin and I needed a break, so off I went with my best friend to East Texas to start a new adventure.
I hated it. The first couple of weeks that I was on campus I sobbed and snorted and boo-hooed and blubbered constantly. My face glistened from tears, snot and spittle. You see, East Texas is definitely not Austin. I was now in the middle of the Bible Belt where the only color I saw was white. This was a place where they did neat things like staunchly ignore the fact that the Texas Blue Laws had been struck down, so no shopping on Sundays. And it was only thanks to a student effort that the county wasn’t dry like the surrounding counties – not that I would drink, I was underage and that would have been wrong. It seemed horrible and backwards and devoid of any culture or soul.
My roommate Julie finally had enough of all the blubbering and confronted me on it. (I was a serious funsuck my first month of college.) So, I listened to her words about not snotting up the phone anymore and proceeded to snort and snot and dribble over daily letters that I sent back home so that the recipients would understand how profoundly sad I was. It was very dramatic.
Then there was some sort of panty raid on our dorm and then a retaliatory raid on the culprits’ dorm. I completely missed this because I was probably busy slicking up some paper with my face drool and lamenting my life. However Julie, doubtlessly tired of this melancholy mess, went and came back with phone numbers and lunch plans. And that’s how I met the gang of folks (Donna, Rob, Brian and Jimmy) who I would eventually hang out with for the rest of the time I was at that school. It was Austin meets Kingwood meets Kilgore and though I’d pick up new friends along the way, these guys were my core gang. We saw each other almost every day. We ate together, we took trips together, we hung out at Donna’s lake house and we grew up together. If one of us was away for a weekend, we’d call or write just to check-in. They made me laugh. They broke my heart. They watched over me. And despite them getting me when I was at my most melodramatic, they somehow managed to still love me (most of the time).
A lot of who I am today as an adult is because of them.
Last night I talked to Jimmy. We laughed over a story I posted on Facebook – a story about my Freshman year in college about a time when I had been over at Rob and Brian’s dorm room and Rob was studying for finals. Rob looked up and I noticed he was wearing an aviator helm while wrapped in blinking Christmas lights and he just blinked away as he studied. He wasn’t doing it for attention or laughs, he was doing it for himself because that’s what he wanted to do in that moment and it’s one of the reasons I loved Rob.
Rob was artistic and smart and funny and mischievous. He was truly one of the kindest and gentlest souls among our gang and of all the people I’ve ever met.
Jimmy saw him a few days before he passed away. Rob weighed 90 pounds and was in bed at his parent’s house in a lot of pain and under 24 hour hospice care. Jimmy said Rob never complained, he just offered up a smile and his humor. Brian had rigged up a computer so he could watch movies from his bed. Jimmy didn’t know what to say when it was time to go, because everyone knew this would be the last time he’d speak to him again. Rob finally offered, “I’ll see you later.”
I will deeply miss you, my friend even though we haven’t spoken as often as we should have over the years. The world suddenly became a little less bright without you here.