Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sob Stories and Rockin' the House Today

It's been two weeks since the A to Z Blogging Challenge ended. Since then I have been too busy to post, also not been feeling well, but I am back, at least for today, to post. I'll write this, post, and then head off to bed.
The sun has long slipped into the horizon in Germany, but in America evening has just begun. I look at the clock and realize the Rock 4 Rob concert at Chaplins Music Cafe in Spring City, PA, has already come to a close. I missed it. I bet it was a rockin' good time. The bands included Episode 4, No Way Out, and Sierra's Mantra and all proceeds go the the American Diabetes Association. I think that is great. I also think it is fitting that the concert is held today, May 14, because that is Rob's birth date.

Rob and I met when we were four. He lived on an intersecting street, his house just a five minute walk from mine. We went to kindergarten together and elementary school together. In fourth grade I had a crush on him. I can still remember sitting down to sign and seal my valentines for that year. We were required to give everyone in the class one. Mom bought me a super assortment pack with both girly and boyish themes. In fact, she bought me two boxes to ensure that I had plenty to choose from. If I close my eyes, I can still picture the valentine I gave him. It had a big, hairy gorilla holding a red heart in his hand. At the top, it said “I'm ape over you.” I even went as far as to buy a flat, palm-sized candy heart with “I like you” written on it which I inserted inside the envelope with a note that asked, “I like you. Do you like me?” before sealing it.

Well, you know how things work at school. Rob opened it up, some boy saw the candy, snatched the valentine out of his hand, and announced to the entire class that I was in love with him. How embarrassing! Rob remained calm though. He just looked over and smiled sheepishly. I think I blushed brighter than a red heart valentine. We walked home together that day and some days to follow, chatted on the phone, hung out. I think our romance lasted all of maybe two weeks and then we were back to being neighborhood buddies. And we remained good friends for a long time. Here is a photo from our senior yearbook. I am on the left and our friend, Audrey is to the right.  .

While I worked and attended college courses in the evening, Rob went to a college not far from us and I went to visit him on occasion to hang out and talk. When I turned 21, he was the only guy from school that I invited to my party. At that time I was dating the man who is now my husband. I really wanted Rob to meet him and it meant a lot to me that Rob liked Stefan right away. Although I already have three brothers, Rob had became like a fourth brother to me. (But, really, even better than a brother because I could be myself with him, do and say whatever I wanted, and never fear he would tattle to mom and dad. He'd just give me “a talkin' to” himself. And his advice was always spot on.) Not only had we known each other for so long, but we also shared two big common interests— music and language/writing. Rob grew up to become an editor of a medical journal and played in a band. In fact, he formerly played in all the bands that performed at the Rock 4 Rob concert today. Unfortunately, Rob died November 10, 2009, at the age of 41.

On the morning of November 11, I got an email from my cousin Bob informing me of the bad news. Though I knew Rob had been diagnosed with diabetes a very long time ago, it still shocked me. That Billy Joel song immediately came to mind. Only the good die young. I sat in front of my computer screen crying. I felt sadness, loss and guilt. Guilt because after I got married and moved and he got married and moved, we lost touch. So many years had gone by. I wanted to get back in touch with him, see how he was doing, thank him for being such a great friend during those turbulent childhood years. Only a year before I had searched for him on Facebook and Classmates, but there was no listing for him. Now it was too late.

So I did what I thought Rob might have done. I sat down and wrote. I wrote how I felt. Then I wrote a poem about death. A sonnet. Well, it followed the rhyme scheme at least, but I was too lazy to count syllables and pay attention to meter. Then I informed a few old friends of ours, drank a cup of coffee, called my mom. I thought about his mother and father. They are great parents and wonderful people. When I started my first job and had to ride my bicycle into town, they worked nearby and would give me a lift when it rained or when I woke up late . They spoke to me like a person, not a kid, and I liked that. And I always felt welcome in their home. The first thing I would do when I walked in the living room was look at the painting of a little boy that hung there. I couldn't help it. That picture drew my attention every time because I knew it was Tim, their other son who passed away at age three, a few years before Rob even came into this world. Now they had lost another child. Being a mother myself, I can now imagine the pain they went through then and the tremendous loss they must feel once again. It breaks my heart.

Earlier this year his sister Sue compiled some of Rob's early writing (stories and poetry) and coupled it with her own work to publish a book entitled SoB Stories: Writings of a Sister and a Brother. Growing up I had the pleasure of reading some of Rob's stories but I never knew he wrote poetry. I love poetry and write it myself, so imagine my surprise when Sue told me one of the poems had my name in it.

My mother bought me the book for my birthday and, of course, I went right to that poem. Though it mentions me, it is not about me but rather another girl we went to school with. It is called The Visitor and is written in three parts. And it is good. I especially like his description of her in that pink sweater she wore, the one with embroidered birds-- a girl with wheat brown waves wearing birds imprisoned by stitches-- and this line near the end-- I stare at the leaves that flutter like butterflies against a chill breeze.

I continued to read the other poems. Though sad, I couldn't help but smile with acknowledgment as I read I never knew you except for stories and the oil-painted photo quiet as stone in the living room in his poem Timothy. The wording in this poem does a good job conveying what it is like to feel a loss for someone who passed on before you were born, to mourn a brother never known, the loss of relationship that never came to be. Sue, who was 5 when Tim died, wrote her own poem for him, Blue Bleeds into Black. It is my favorite poem of hers in this collection. Written from her perspective at the age of his death, the beginning stanza drew me in immediately.

My brother's gone. My mother said. She told me that he died.
I didn't know just what to feel, despite the tears I cried.
God needs him now, she said to me. But what does heaven lack?
I need him, too. I love him so. I want my brother back.

But my absolute favorite poem is Snowflake written by Rob. I love to watch snow fall, to see it paint the tree branches in glistening white and cover fields in soft drifts of winter. So it is no wonder that this poem spoke to me. I like the imagery and particularly like this word picture:

Silently and steadily they slip,
sneakily through bough
of sycamore and spruce to nestle
like a baby bird

In the crook of my neck, or the
fringe of my wool scarf...

I find myself reading this one over and over again. It gives me the same serene feeling as actually watching a winter wonderland slowly cascade from the sky.

The majority of my blogger friends are writers; many are poets. If you like what you've read so far, feel free to purchase your own copy here. This 173 page book consists of 18 poems and 26 stories. I haven't finished reading all the stories yet but thoroughly enjoyed Sue's comical piece Psychology is My Cup of Tea which has Freud, Erickson, Paiget and the likes engaging in a funny debate as well as One Man's Armor which is like a short fairy tale or modern Aesop's fable. Rob's piece Mauby's Corner is great flash fiction and his longer story, Margaritas, took me back to my youth and reminded me of some people I knew back then.

I wish Rob were still here to spend time with his son, to share moments with Sue, his parents, and friends, to write more, to play guitar, to enjoy a bit of the goodness that life offers, because he always gave his best to others. I honestly cannot recall a single bad comment about another person leaving his mouth during all the years I knew him. He saw the good in everyone and was there to help when they were in a bad place. A real great guy. He left this world too soon. Unexpectedly. But we all, every day, live on the edge of life and death. We never know when our time is up, when those we care about will pass, when souls will cross. We tend to take people for granted. I challenge you, if just for today, to reach out to those important to you, let them know, in some way, how much you care about them. Don't wait until it is too late.

I leave you with the poem I wrote after I learned of Rob's death. He was the first meaningful childhood friend I lost, and that day I sat and thought hard about every person I ever cared about. Perhaps it is not written as well as Rob might have done, but it is all I have to offer you. Here is my attempt at an Italian sonnet, the form of which one might refer to as a semi-sonnet, since I was too lazy to follow all the rules.

The Spinning of Wool

The last time the earth swallowed me whole
was the day a choir of angels flew,
singing their welcome song for you
as they gently lifted your eternal soul
from its earthly home to that celestial pole
where you, my old friend, begin life anew.
I remain with fond memories to carry me through,
to hold on to times shared, to help console,

but mostly, I am reminded what a fragile thread
life is, how we fail to recognize that time spins
the wool continuously, always growing thinner,
ready to snap at any given moment, the dead
then wrapped in pure heavenly skins,
no longer of earthly being, no longer sinner.

Happy birthday, Rob! May the love of those you left behind reach up to the heavens today and let you know you are not forgotten.

And to Sue-- I hope Rock 4 Rob was a huge success and that all who attended had a blast.


Nikki said...

What a nice piece! I enjoyed all the poetry, especially the "time spins/the wool continuously" line of your sonnet. It's odd that you wrote this today, as it is the 13th anniversary of the death of a childhood friend of mine. I can remember ever detail of that day. I even remembered the day of the week. His name was Matt and he'd asked me for a safety pin because his backback had broken and I was too busy to deal with him. And then he was gone. It is true that the best of us die young. Thank you for sharing.

Linda H. said...

Nikki-- so sorry to hear about your friend, Matt. That must have been terrible.

Rob and I hadn't had contact in quite a few years so it was probably easier for me than for you. Still, I was sad and felt empathy for his family. He left a son behind. I find that the saddest of all. I am sure he was a great father.

MJDills said...

Linda, Thanks for sharing all this. It was a very good read and your poem is wonderful. It is hard to lose any friend but the memories are what make us who we are. Rob and you were lucky to have one another; a friendship that lasts beyond the blue. Hugs.

Linda H. said...

Hey, Jodi. Thanks for stopping by. Send me an email sometime and let me know how things are with you. And thanks for the thumbs up on my poem. It's not as good as the one you wrote about your mother or Wren. Have you sent those out yet?

Dennae Furfari said...

Rob Trace often sat next to me in every class because of our names Dennae Surbeck. He was truly a kind person, treated everyone the same and had a quiet strength about him. It was so nice of you to honor him this way.

Siv Maria said...

Beautiful poem and thanks for sharing your story.

Linda H. said...

Thanks, Siv. Hey, did you get the Mitteldecke yet? Hope it was to your liking.

Dennae, I like your wording,. Quiet strength--that is a good description of Rob. I always thought of him as "a gentle soul".

Laurie Kolp said...

Linda- Thanks for sharing a piece of your heart with the world. Good friends live in our memory forever. Love ya!

E.J. Wesley said...

Oh man, the A-Z about did me in I think! :-) Speaking of which ...

I wanted to say 'thank you' for your support during my A-Z blogging month. I've created a fun "no strings attached" blog award for you and all of the other awesome bloggers who offered feedback and encouragement.

You can view the award and my thank you note here:

Hope you are well and that I see you around in the future!


Sylvia Ney said...

I hope you are feeling better - great poems!

Sylvia Ney said...

Linda - thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday. I know you've been super busy. I wanted to let you know I added a "MR. Linky" widget my blogfest ad to make signing up easier. If you decide you are interested and have the time, I also have several suggestions for what you can offer that day listed in the post. I hope to see you there! Take care and keep in touch ;-)

Trisha said...

So you haven't posted in a while - I was looking back at an old blog entry of mine and saw a comment from you, so I thought I'd stop by. Hope all is going well!