Unforgettable he was. He was my son’s best friend and like my own son. He didn’t do what was hip, cool, or mimic the latest media blitz. He didn’t do pop culture. He did “his” culture. He didn’t do what was appropriate; he did what was “Rob,” which meant he was filled with piss an’ vinegar. He possessed his own creative, unique style; a spontaneous jokester, who could impersonate most anyone or anything like, for example, our toy poodle. The minute Rob’s lanky figure, typically wearing well-worn sneakers crusty with mud, appeared at our door, both of them, dog and kid, were on all fours, lunging at each other in a barking match.
Sometimes he provoked me, but I couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He was so damn sincere. He had a quick wit, a mechanical, dare-devilish mind; a hellion on wheels. When Rob was around ten, for instance, after we had a new pedestal bowl-like sink installed in our remodeled bathroom, he persisted to turn the single-spout faucet on and off and kept fiddling underneath the contraption to try and comprehend how the pipes worked.
I’d hear the stream, or should I say geyser, of water coming from the bathroom. “Rob-bbbbb! Get out of there,” I’d shout.
“Awwwww. Ms. Max (that is what he called me), I’m just washing my hands….”
One night, my now ex-husband and I went out for dinner. Upon returning home, I staggered when I heard what sounded like Niagara Falls on the other side of the bathroom door.
After witnessing the scene of the crime, he swore to me again he was only washing his hands at the sink, which, laying on the floor, we could only shut off that night at the main water line. The next day, when the plumber came to repair the damage, we discovered that Rob wasn’t solely responsible for making the sink go pa-Boom. The bathroom floor did not lay straight and its uneven surface had contributed to the sink plunging on the floor…so we installed a more practical, Rob-proof sink.
Unblushing he was. If he came around, man, be prepared for 214 questions about a collector’s plate or funky light fixture or anything that was distinctive. While other kids were chatterboxes on a tailspin about the latest sneakers or video game crazes, Rob would be zeroing in on things like our antique toy tractor that we stored in our garage, asking a million and one questions like, ‘Is this the original blue color, man?’ Rob may not have been a book scholar, but he was a life scholar.
Unstoppable he was. And like a gassed up Chevy, he always took the highroad and never, ever stopped, no matter how jarring the bumps were, cruising through life. He innately knew life was for the living, and he was going to lap up every single iota. Wow, did he put those miles on the odometer! It made sense the kid loved cars—anything that moved—really. Without trying to schmooze anyone, he made the most skilled mechanic’s jaw drop at the fountain of his knowledge. Get him talking about a Ferrari, and his ecstasy was that of a natural kind variety!
Once, when the boys were shy of 15, I was driving home turning on our road with my son in the passenger seat, and spotted a familiar SUV in front of us.
“Isn’t that funny…looks like Mr. Smuniewski’s car…looks like…oh no, don’t tell me… Rob-bbbbbbbbbb. What are you doing driving your dad’s car? Do you know you can get arrested? Are you kidding me?”
There he was in my driveway, jumping out from behind the driver’s wheel of the SUV like a kid who just swallowed the natural happy pill. He begged me not to tell his parents. Softy that I am, I died from worry, until I got the call that he had arrived home safely in the SUV.
Unblinking he was. Nothing would thwart his true, unique self and it shined no matter where he went or who he was with; whether he played golf with the high school golf club at the Redding (Connecticut) Country Club or was the only white kid in attendance at an all-black church service where he occasionally went with one of his best friends who was about 50 years older than he was or when he worked moving rocks for his employer/friend who owned a construction company. In other words, you couldn’t take him anywhere because he would never compromise his distinct voice, and you never knew what he would say or do, but, man, you wanted to take him everywhere because he had never lost his self-value. He had courage, spunk, a sense of humor that reached out infinitely to everyone, and I mean to everyone; compassion and an intuition too. In 2010, when things took a turn in my household, and I knew a divorce was imminent between myself and my husband, but dared not say too much, Rob phoned me out of the blue.
“Rob?” I asked a bit surprised since he did not ask to speak to my son.
“Yeah,” he answered, only for us to wait through a pregnant pause.
“What is it Rob?”
“Yeah…” totally bewildered, I probed.
“Yeah, Rob, I am. Hey Rob…”
“Okay, Ms. Max. Gotta go!”
Unbelievable he was. Random acts of kindness were just an everyday occurrence to Rob. I always told him, “I can’t wait to watch you grow up Rob.”
Today, I imagine he would be on his way to owning an excavation empire; but far more important than that, he would have been on his unwavering mission to mend hearts, spread hope and make everyone he met believe that life was so worth whatever fare you had to pay for the trip!
Unspeakably, during a blizzard on January 8, 2011, close to his home, while pushing his disabled all-terrain vehicle on one of our main roads in our small town, Rob was struck and killed around midnight by a car.
Over the years, I have lost a brother, a father, and lots of good friends, but I never hollered and wailed on my knees when I heard the news. I certainly know I was not alone in my grief. None of us will ever be the same; certainly not his mom or his twin sister, celebrating her 21st birthday today also, or his older sister or friends; not our community or teachers or bus drivers or the many people from all walks of life that he befriended and inspired to go forward gallantly and without regret. We will be looking for him until our own last days.
And, today, on September 25, 2013, the day that would have marked his 21st birthday, ironically enough, my own dad’s birthday who is also in heaven, I salute you Rob. I salute you Rob with a glass of courage you can’t bottle and sell; the kind to die for that so many of us want and dream about, but so few of us acquire, so deep and far into our comfy little zones to reach out and grasp for.
I think, though, with his passing, among his sky’s-the-limit quantity of inspiration, his legacy consists in our realizing that we have to have faith and believe that we are so much more than cool, so much more than conforming and, instead, just us, foibles and all, unabridged, unpolished, unabashed, unwilling to accept the mundane, every day rigmarole, and always take the effort to wear our best dress attire as Rob did, and step into the day like it is not a dress rehearsal, but our moment of glory, always conscientious that the curtain could close at any random moment.
September 25, 1992 – January 8, 2011