April 20, 2019

Chapter 21 - The Star Man

The Star Man Waiting for Me.

I have a lot of brothers. To be honest, more than any human being really needs. There was a brother of every kind, shape and size for me to choose from as the situation demanded. There was the older, bigger brother you feared and pretty much avoided when he was in a bad mood. The one that helped keep a lot of bullies away from you by reputation. 

There was the brother closest to me that I had a rivalry with. Always debating about who was the smartest or the best looking. Seriously speaking, there never was any rivalry because it was obvious that I was by far the smartest and best looking, Yet, to allow them to entertain their sibling fantasy I indulged them in their fantasy when it came to thinking they had a chance. 

I had older brothers and younger ones, fatter and skinnier ones.. I loved them all as best I could. I sort of had to. They were my brothers and that's what you did with the family you are given.  Above all, without question, there was one brother that was by far my favorite.

Bobby, formally known as Robert, was the brother I liked the most. I loved, Bobby, with all my heart. While all my siblings had a place and enhanced my life in  many ways, there were so many things that Bobby and I shared that made him extra special.

He was the most accommodating person I ever knew. He would do all he could to help anyone he met. And since we lived together we met quite often. He never refused me a favor when I needed it. That's what I remember best about my little brother, Bobby. Once he could walk and carry a note I could count on Bobby tor un errands for me when I was sick or just too damn lazy to go myself. 

He was always willing to go to the store and get me a soda and my favorite comic on a Saturday morning while making a buck. The truth is he would go for me whether I had a buck to give him or not.  He went anywhere anytime for me whenever I asked. It was just the first of many ways he would help me throughout my life.

He had another special talent that made him unique and one of the most important people nearest to my own heart. He could make seriously good popcorn. He was the only other person I could trust to make popcorn just the way I did. Believe me, there is nothing as special as enjoying a bowl of fresh popped, buttered popcorn.

Don't misunderstand, I loved all my brothers and we all had a lot of fun together. Unlike a lot of my other brothers, though, when it came to the need for it, Bobby could always be counted on to provide great company. He guaranteed there would always be someone cool to hang out with. He would walk with me or just hang out and listen to my insane dissertations about life and all that mattered to me with the sort of interest that never seemed feigned.

He would ask serious questions and sit quietly as I gave him an answer that took an hour and several attempts to revise them to the point where they made sense to me.  He always replied in a way that never insulted me no matter how crazy the topic was. We had great fun together no matter what else was going on.

He grew up to be a big strong guy who had a heart as big as he was. He was as blue collar as a man comes. Bobby was one of the most dependable and reliable people on earth He could be counted on… always. He was the source of a  man who would provide a jump start and bail money personified. 

Whenever I, or any of his brothers, experienced one of those routine disasters that often struck, we knew we could count on Bobby for help.  Day or night, rain or shine, drunk or sober, he would always answer the phone. He was always ready to help. You could depend on him. If Bob said he'd be there, it was settled. I would trust him with my life, my children and my dog without a thought.

And believe me, my dog, Tara, was my most precious companion. Bobby was the only person Tara would ever trust her life with other than me. Because, Bobby was a dog man.
Like me, he had a great love for dogs. I adopted a beautiful German Shepard dog from the, Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, when I was 21. She was about a year old, very timid and fearful of people. It took a while to get her to trust me, but once she did she never left my side unless I left her in the house to go out. She didn't trust anyone else, even going so far as to take a small bite at my father and best friend when they raised their voice or hands towards me.

The only other person Tara loved and would always greet with a wagging tail and slurping tongue was Bobby. If I wasn't around she would stick to Bobby like glue. I had her for 12 years and it was like that for her entire life. Bobby and I were her world.

Sometime after Tara was gone Bobby got himself another German Shepard dog. He was a huge, powerful beast that would strike fear into the heart of most normal people. Yet, where most people heard a huge threatening roar when they approached Bobby's house, I always heard the happy greeting of a massive, over grown puppy that never quite learned how to play fetch. Kaiser loved me almost as much as he did, Bobby.

In much the same way Bobby shared my bond with Tara, I was the only other person that Kaiser seemed to greet with unbridled enthusiasm. He would greet me at the door and throw his 150lb frame at me as though I could catch him like I did when he was a pup. Then he would insist that I come out and throw the nearest ball or stick for him.

           I would happily throw the object of his desire and he would run at full speed and pick it up and run back to me… and that was pretty much the end of our fetch game. It never occurred to Kaiser that he had to give me the ball back if he wanted me to throw it again. For the rest of my visit he would run around the yard, occasionally coming near enough to taunt me into trying to grab it from him. I would make a lunge which almost never succeeded and then Kaiser would run away again holding his prize tight in his jaws.

Along with our love of dogs, another thing we shared was our love, and need, for cars that actually worked. When it came to keeping our cars going, as far and as long as they could, no one was better than Bobby, Bobby was a car guy.

The connection between me and Bobby was never as obvious as it was when it came to our love of cars and driving. Well, actually, while we both loved driving, I hated cars. They always needed fixing, which required money, something I was always in short supply of. As luck would have it, I had something better than money, I had Bobby.

Bobby loved fixing cars just as much as driving them. He could fix everything and anything when it came to cars. He could use tools with exceptional skill and as a result he always had a working car. Most importantly he had what one needs the most when it came to repairing a car… he had tools…LOTS of tools.

We worked on cars a lot when he was in the Navy.  As a member of the motor pool we had access to an enormous garage with everything a do- it-yourself mechanic could ask for. For me, the best thing it had was Bobby.

Growing up, we bonded while working on our cars, trying to squeeze every mile out of a hundred dollar shitbox before abandoning it for scrap somewhere in New England. Between us, we left a car by the side of the road in every state in New England, New York and other nearby states. With Bobby's guidance, and his expert knowledge of cars, I was able to fix almost any problem; from changing spark plugs to changing entire engines and transmissions.  He taught me more than I ever wanted to know about repairing cars.

Both of us made our living as professional drivers. I drove a taxi for 15 years and various other vehicles for 20 more. Bob drove trucks. He was a long haul tractor trailer driver for many years. Over our lifetime together we drove all the routes and roads, highways and byways of New England.

And then there was, Grizzly Bob.

We spent many summer days and nights camping together with our kids in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We discovered the "Crazy Horse" campground up around Bartlett, New Hampshire and it quickly became the place for many camping adventures with friends and family over the decades as our families grew older and, eventually, apart.

On our first visit to the campground, Bob showed me how a REAL man made a campfire. His method involved lots of damp wood and kindling, a quart or more of gasoline and a major risk to the lives of us, our kids and the nearby campsites. But let me tell you, once that 25 foot column of flame calmed down enough for us to re-enter our campsite, it was a seriously impressive fire.

We also moved a lot together. Another major resource that Bobby provided came in handy a lot more often than it ever should. Bobby could always get a truck. After leaving home and getting my first apartment I found that I had the need to move often. Staying ahead of evictions and overdue utility payments was one way I managed to keep a roof over my head. Bobby helped me move at least a dozen times.

Bobby did so much for me it would a take a book to tell all the stories that would bring him to life. But there was one very special thing he did that will always make him shine whenever I remember him. He gave me back something I thought had been lost forever to the dreary nights that can be a part of life in a big city.

This is the story of how Bobby gave me back the stars.

I have always loved looking at the stars on a clear night. When I was a kid you could still do that on a clear night on the outskirts of Boston. Today, the city's lights blank out almost any star. There seem to be times even the moon is too dim to see well through the neon blaze.

Bobby had a pretty nice telescope, but try as we could it was still hard to find a star, even with the built in star finder on the telescope. It led me to wonder where the hell all the stars went. It was Bobby who answered the question and gave me a thrill I will always remember. He suggested I take a ride with him and he would show me where all the stars went.

A week or so later, Bobby called and asked me to take a ride with him while he brought a load up to the top of Maine. It was a long ride with a quick turnaround and he wanted some company. Bob was always great company so I agreed.

We left the lights of eastern Massachusetts behind and traveled deeper into the dark and watched the daylight fade behind us.  After the night had taken over, at a particularly dark stretch of road somewhere in the middle of Maine, he pulled over to the side of the empty highway and shut down the truck. After I got out of the cab, still worried about getting run over, even though there wasn't a headlight to be seen for miles in either direction, he shut off all the lights on the truck and got out to join me.

It was as dark a night as I had ever experienced without any light at all around me other than the moon in the sky. I could say without shame or embarrassment, for a time, I was honestly afraid. It was the kind of darkness city people almost never experience. I could hear Bobby. But, even though he was only 10 feet away, I couldn't see him. Still, his voice was comforting and sounded almost delighted.

"Take a look at the sky now, Michael," he said to me.  As I gazed up I still couldn't make out a big difference between what I could see there from the sky I could see from Blue Hills lookout point. A solid point of light or two was all that stood out.

"Just keep looking," he said.

Slowly, as my eyes grew accustomed to the almost surreal darkness of the deep Maine woods, more stars seemed to spring out of the black sky. One by one, then in clusters and soon in great bursts of light filled with patches of stars, like glittering blotches of light in the sky.

We watched the Milky Way pass overhead. It looked like a giant paint brush had left a trail of thick lustrous stars from horizon to horizon. It moved slowly across the clearest summer night I can ever recall.

As we climbed back into the truck I could still see the patterns of the stars on the dark of my eyelids when I closed my eyes. Then he laughed and said "Now, I'll show you where the planets have fallen to the Earth."

Far along on Route 1, in Maine, in a little town called, Houlton, he pulled the truck over and pointed to the top of a pole next to the road. Even with his high powered spotlight to help, it was almost impossible to say what it was.

"That," Bob said, smiling "is Pluto."

I was to learn that it was the first model in something that was called, "The Maine Model Solar System." Spread along the highway between, Houlton, and Presque Isle, Maine, measured at a distance of about 1 "astronomical unit" per mile, were models of each planet in our solar system built to scale and mounted on the top of long poles. Bobby had fun slowing down as we approached each planet but he wouldn't tell me which pole… or even if there was a pole to mark the location. Finding the planets became a game that helped pass a lot of miles.

We counted down the planets as we passed them sitting on the side of a highway in Maine. As we approached the top of the world, the pinnacle of New England; our trip ended just a few miles from the Canadian border. That was where he dropped one container and picked up another for the trip back to Boston.

Leaving behind the sun that was rising over Presque Isle hours earlier than it did in Boston  we headed back home passing the planets again as we left the sun behind. It was a memory that still leaves stars in my eyes when I close them and remember our long dark ride together.

Bobby died in April of 2015. In just the few years since that trip with Bob I have lost three brothers and my son. Barely having the time to catch my breath and process each loss before the next one hit. When Bob passed away he took the stars with him.

I sit here now, four years later, still mourning Bob's passing and fear I will never breathe freely again. His loss has taken the wind from my sails; forever it seems. I feel so much more hopeless and helpless without him. I feel that, without him, I will never be able to fix anything again; starting with a heart that seems broken beyond repair.

My enormous family has always prevented me from ever really understanding what it would feel like to truly be alone. With an imagination that I always felt had no limit, being alone was something almost unimaginable to me.

I fear now, I can feel the concept creeping into the edge of my imagination. Being without Bobby, I'm pretty sure, mingled with the grief, lurks a very sure sense of what it must feel like to finally be alone.

Ours was the longest goodbye. It took years for his illness to take him. I missed him before he was even gone. I will miss him even more every day until I finally join him. But, like the stars I thought I had lost, he is still there. We come and go, but the stars are always there. When my time comes I look forward to seeing his smile once again.

I will know him because his smile will out shine the sun.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

That was so beautiful! I’m thinking you may be the Bobby who stayed here and spreads your magical words to others whether on paper or in the real world. You are a true artist, tough, tender and wise.