Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bob Collin at the Last.

He sat in the cheap, pale green, color-of-the-year lawn chair on my tiny backyard patio and rocked himself back and forth, agitated.  I stood a few feet from him, dismayed and helpless as he told me that he couldn’t even read “The World of Interiors” any more.  

That he couldn’t read anything.  

This was Bob Collin, my British friend of more than forty years, a man I thought of as my soul mate, a person I could tell anything to, a person I had had probably only three disagreements with over that long span of time but saw the disagreements blow off into the air as easily as so much smoke.  The man who opened up my mind to pour in a never-ending stream of authors and actors and movies and wit, always wit, who pried me out of (most of) my girlish small-town ways and laughingly showed me a larger, more stimulating world. 

I think back to his first culinary advice: put a little curry powder in Mother Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup.  

Of course!  

And there was the time I got him to go with me to Connecticut to visit my parents, and we took their dachshund, Simon, out for a walk one night, staring goofily in at the lit windows of interesting houses, taking serious note of the decor.  One place had a wide picture window on the second floor that featured a huge, metal apparatus.  

We couldn’t see it up there well enough, so we jumped as high as we could on the little town sidewalk, bending our fat old knees and springing up, over and over again, laughing so hard, snorting, that we could hardly catch our breaths. We believed that what we could almost see was, possibly, a sculpture—but here in Stony Creek?  

Not likely, I thought snootily.  

Down low in the dark, dog Simon waited patiently for us to regain our composure, and, still giggling, we walked back to my parents’ house and told them of our adventure.  My father, exasperated at our tale and stern as a toolbox, said we would not be allowed to walk the dog again. 

“Remember,” he admonished, “We have to live here.” 

Bob and I were then in our fifties—he may have even climbed into his sixties.  We were supposed to have a little decorum.  Together, we had as little as we could manage.  Which was why I loved him.

And now, Bob was telling me he couldn’t read his all-time favorite magazine.  Couldn’t read.  Couldn’t read at all.  It was like saying that he couldn’t breathe.

What I didn’t know, what he would not tell me, was that his doctor had just told him to “get his affairs in order”, that loaded term that doctors put forth moments before they give you their plus-or-minus time line. 

After he died a few months later, shocking all of us and creating a hole in my own life that could never be filled, one friend told me that he knew that Bob had had that terrible clich√© delivered to him a few months before he died and that he didn’t want anyone to know.

And now, again, I see us both on that little brick patio in mid-afternoon—the slanted light and the shadows from the spindly trees telling me the time---and I wish I had known, wish I had had some way to let him know what he meant to me.  

But all I see is Bob rocking back and forth on that dumb chair, his face mottled with sadness, me standing there stupidly, ineffectually, unable to offer anything to give him peace.  

Thinking it was only a problem about reading. 

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