Of Robyn (my best friend):
July 25, 1999 Sunday (4:34pm)
My best friend died the other day (April 6, 1999). We scattered her ashes off the coast of San Diego today. There were fifteen of us, friends and family, on Alan's boat. The seas were rough so a number of passengers were combating sea-sickness; I was lucky, I didn't feel so much as a quiver. Robyn's friend Carol (an ordained minister) presided and read a combination of Jewish and Christian service. It was a little awkward and crude, but effective. Robyn's brother read a moving synopsis of their life together as brother and sister. Mostly depicting Robyn as the instigator and her brother as the willing victim. It touched a spot inside me and brought a vivid picture of Robyn to my mind...
I'll never forget the first day I meet Robyn, a little over a year ago. I was working at the Oceans Foundation answering phones and doing general paper work and typing. In walks this woman who looked a lot like the homeless we would see going through the trash, except that on closer inspection I noticed she was clean, just unkempt. She wore very worn sweat pants, an Oceans Foundation shirt with food stains on the front and bleach holes at the seams, Birkenstock-like sandals, and short, curly and uncombed hair. I said, "Can I help you?" with my usual (unconscious) snobby attitude. She was unphased, she walked right up to me shook my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Robyn, I feed the fish." Her eyes were warm and friendly and I could tell she could see right through me and knew I wasn't a snob, just shy and leery. We were instant friends. Over the next few months we discovered we had a lot of similar interests, science fiction, unusual and obscure animation, an interest in things mystic and spiritual, a warped sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at ourselves and our fellow humans (generally at inappropriate moments!). We exchanged books and videos, and talked of crazy things we had done.
One day she came in the office while I was on the phone with my boyfriend, we were having problems and I was desperately trying to work things out, he was resisting. I felt a little uncomfortable with her there so I cut it short. "Sounds like a heavy discussion," she said when I had hung up. I'm usually reluctant to share what I consider my "personal life" with people I work with, but Robyn had this way about her that could get you to open up and tell her everything. I told her the communication difficulties I had been having with him and what, I felt, were the origins and she confided to me that she was having similar problems with her husband. We were like kindred spirits on the same "no-win" path. We also discovered we had something else in common: a tendency towards depression and escapism through occasional drinking and sleeping. We decided right then and there that when one of us was depressed we would call the other and talk our way through it. We were our own little support group of two. Once when I was so depressed I couldn't even get out of bed, she came over and bullied and finally physically dragged me out of bed. We went and recycled every can and bottle in the house, even stopped at a few choice dumpsters that she knew of on the way to recycle center. Here was woman with a Masters degree in Marine Biology and we were digging in dumpsters because she was DEVOTED to recycling. We made each other laugh and feel better about ourselves.
She taught me how not to be afraid and to take chances. We talked of getting a place together when my youngest had graduated high-school and was on her way to college as neither of us could afford to do it alone. She showed up at work one day with this old beat up postal truck she had just bought, and said, "I want you to keep this for me, so my husband doesn't know I have it." She said she wanted to fix it up for whale watching runs down to Baja. I said I would go in half with her and it would be our new "hobby." We were helping each other mend our broken hearts and learning how to heal ourselves. We were trying to give ourselves "direction."
When Alan sat me down that April 7th and said, "Carol, I have something to tell you, and I'm afraid it's bad news." My first thought was, "oh-no I'm fired!" He patted my hand and said, "Carol, Robyn was in a fatal car accident last night in Texas." I think he said more, but I didn't hear it. My mind was racing. I was going to ask if she was all right when my mind registered the word "fatal." Alan had stopped talking and he and Dick where just looking at me. "So she's... dead?" I asked, realizing the tears were streaming down my face. "Yes, I'm afraid so." "Excuse me, I have to go to the ladies room..." I was in a daze and my eyes wouldn't stop watering. I kept thinking that there must be some mistake, I had just talked to her the day before, she'd called me on her mobile phone from the road. She was all excited about the car her Mom had given her and was telling me about the cruise control. She also said she had a surprise for me in the back of the station wagon. I said "What?" She wouldn't tell me. "Ah, come on," I said, "you know I hate surprises." "Okay, I'll give you a hint, it's for the Jeep and it's really for Charlie." "You got a passenger seat." "God, you're good! But it's not just a passenger seat, it's a captain's chair. She's going to love it!" So we talked about the mechanics of bolting it in and putting a seat belt in so whoever was a passenger wouldn't go flying through the window when you put on the brakes.
But that was all gone. No, this couldn't be happening, we had plans. Maybe, if I could just go back and start this day over again it wouldn't happen. So denial and bargaining came and went fairly quickly. Anger was a little longer: how could she over extend herself, why didn't she wait so I could fly out and drive back with her, why did she have to have her foot on the dash, why did she use that damn cruise control?
Grief has taken much longer. I was unable to talk about it without crying for months. I felt as if I was wandering directionless, I didn't know what to do next. Everything I had been doing was leading to our common goal of getting a place and fixing up the jeep. Now, I didn't know what to do, I didn't know how to change direction. I sank into a depression deeper than I ever had before. I was drowning in it. I'm trying to learn how to swim out of it, but it's not easy. Some days I feel like I'm going backwards instead of forwards. But I'm trying to find a new direction, it's hard when the whole world lacks color, warmth, and understanding.
My best friend died the other day, and my
life will never be the same.
11/11/00 2:46 AM
Dad once told me that once you have kids you only smile out of half your face. My girls were still young then, oh about 5 and 8. And I thought I knew what he was talking about. I thought he was responding to my telling him my worries about them at the time. Now that my girls are grown I know differently. He was talking in the present tense, about his own kids. He was telling me the worry never stops. I understand it more and more with each passing year.
Dad always told stories. His kids have them numbered, and the versions too. But one thing I think they failed to notice, and what endeared him to me was that they always had a moral and it would always pertain to what dilemma you had come to talk to him about in the first place. They didn't seem to pay attention or even to see the connection. I always did. Granted, not always right away. I did always know he was trying to teach me something, but sometimes it would take years for me to fully understand the wisdom he was trying to teach me.
He was a wonderful, dedicated man, who was never truly appreciated by those he tried to love. In the end I think he felt merely tolerated and definitely patronized. I think he had trouble loving, at least openly. I'm not sure if it was his upbringing, he didn't talk about his parents much. Just anecdotes about the rough times and the dirt floor "shack" they lived in. Usually when one of us was whining about our "cushy" living conditions, or our imagined lack thereof. But he showed his love by giving his all for his family and his friends, or any stray he happened to take in. Such as myself.
I was just one of his strays. But his nurturing and his example has inspired me to keep going no matter how impossible the situation seems to be. When my back hurts and I feel like I just can't get out of bed, I remember when he told me about building La Jolla Resort Hotel in Florida. How his back hurt so much he practically had to crawl to get from one place to the other, but he did it, just so he could realize his dream and provide for his family.
Whenever I'm faced with an impossible circumstance that I can't just seem to see my way out of, I always think to myself, "What would Dad do?" Why he would laugh (his little chuckle), find the humorous side, and either say "I can do this," or "This is a waste of my time." And then carry on and never look back. I've always admired him for that.
He gave me so much in the 20 years I knew him, just by giving me the insight to see into myself. I truly felt like one of his "kids". He definitely had a hand in raising me, even though he started while I was in my 20's. He taught me that child rearing doesn't stop when they reach 18 or 21 or even when they move out of the house.
Now that he is gone I can only smile out of half my face, for I am still truly a child and in need of his anecdotal wisdom.