Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Friend Bob

Last Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., a good friend passed away. Bob was a writer. But he was so much more than that, too. A fiercely private man who in his lifetime had seen and done and been to more places than 10 people do in theirs. Nobody would have blamed him for being angry or cynical but he was neither. He was kind and compassionate and he believed in the possibilities of the world.

He kept his illness secret from all but his closest friends and even some of them didn't know until he was in the hospital and then everybody knew, which must have been hell on such a private person. But when his wife read the emails from his friends, she said it brought him great joy. I'm glad he heard them. Early last week, word came out that if he survived his treatments, he would need a laptop to use in the hospital where he would be kept in isolation. I had offered his wife the use of my old one.
But the next day, Bob was gone. He was a friend, yes, but also a mentor and someone to rely on for advice and counsel. He was one of the truly decent human beings I've ever known. I will miss him.

I wrote this the night he died.


I spent all day Tuesday working on my old laptop. I was getting it ready for Bob.

Knowing Bob’s security concerns, I wanted to make sure it was completely clean of viruses and spyware and and loaded with the best anti-spam and spyware programs. It wasn’t a grim task for me but a happy one. Most of the time there’s nothing we can really do for our friends in need, I mean we can offer them support and encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. We can give them money. But it never seems like you're doing anything real. The laptop was something concrete and I felt good about it.

I couldn’t sleep last night. The cold, perhaps? A fierce wind that was blowing over the mountain? Who the fuck knows? Even the Ambien didn’t help.

Just after four, the wind kicked up, blew a bedroom window shut. The one next to my bed. It was loud as hell. I woke up. The wind was howling. It gets dark out here in the country. Some nights darker than others.

A lot of people thought Bob and I had known each other forever but the truth was I hardly knew him. I knew Nancy first. We once worked together at the Red Cross. What’s important is that Bob treated me like an old friend. He was a mentor but not the way we usually think of mentors, though I think maybe we should. The first time we met, he embraced me and told me I had a good heart. This was after five minutes.

He never ended a correspondence or a conversation without a word of encouragement or endearment. I think he did this for everyone he knew but each word, each sentiment was different, thought out, unique to the person. That is a rare gift.

He had a way of taming cynicism. For a guy who could embrace conspiracy theories, this might seem like an oxymoron. But truths were truths to Bob. They could be awful truths but they were there, to be examined out in the open. It was the only way you could learn and grow and make the world a better place.

More than anyone I’ve ever met, Bob believed in the human spirit. He was a true believer, in us. If you knew what he knew, saw what he saw, you might think he was na├»ve or crazy. You might not understand how he could be so sure of the goodness of people. But he was. And in this way, though I think he would disagree with me, he was truly pure of heart. I ask you: is there a better legacy one man can leave than his love for life?

I tried to write something earlier. Like others on our community writer's board, I had nothing. Just emptiness and pain and utter sadness. I feel selfish and guilty too for I know this loss is not my own, not just mine. I don’t want to wallow in it. But I know Bob understands. I’m only human.

I’ve been in bed sick with a cold for several days. I planned on staying in again today. Closing my eyes, staying under the covers, and trying to forget that the world is short one very incredible soul.

But I got up and got dressed and drove to a movie theater and got a ticket for 3:10 to Yuma.

The theater was practically empty and I got a seat with nobody in front of me. Bob loved Deadwood and I thought going to a Western, written by writers Bob admired (Derek Haas and Michael Brandt) would be a fitting tribute.

And so I watched the movie in the dark and all the time, in the back of my mind were thoughts of Bob and how much he would have dug it. And when the credits rolled, I stayed until the end and I cried. I cried for me and Bob and our collective loss and every fucking shitty thing that life throws at us before we’re ready for it, before we’re wise enough to deal with it with grace and dignity.

How do you measure the loss of someone you love? You can’t. You just live with it. It’s the hardest thing I think, this idea that life goes on long after our loved ones are gone, long after we’re gone, too. The Earth spins. Shit happens. Time marches on. We live, we die and then one hundred thousand million somebody else’s starts it all over again.

Except for days like today.

On days like today, on rare days like today, time stops.

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