Every family has one. The child that stands alone from brothers and sisters. The child that does not conform to the expectations, behaviors, proprieties. The child who catches a parents heart – with anxiety, grief, frustration, anger, pain, but mostly with love. It is so hard to watch this child make a way. It sometimes seems as if the choices made by this child are always the worst, or the most difficult. Sometimes, the child runs to a very different drummer than the rest of us. Not that this is a bad thing. It can, sometimes, make difficult that which shouldn’t have to be so difficult. As it was with Robert.
Tow-headed, bright-eyed, as solid as a two by four at birth (10 pounds, 11 ounces of solid muscle). To pick him up was hefting a small sack of concrete. That wouldn’t stop moving. As soon as he could climb out of his crib, he did. As soon as he could walk, he ran. He had two settings: dead stop and full speed ahead. His favorite toys, at two years old, were the older kids’ wheeled toys. He borrowed them all: scooters, skateboards, tricycles, bicycles, skates, surfboards…. if it moved, if it moved really fast, he was on it! Trial and error, bumps and bruises, over and over until he’d perfected the executions. Hard-headed, some said. Soft in the head, said others.
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object…
Robert slept when he stopped. Because he had climbed out of his crib so soon, he had his own twin bed. He didn’t sleep on it, he slept under it. I would find him asleep on the carpet, head tucked neatly just under the edge of the bed. I’d put him to bed then. It was as if the floor was the immovable object that would allow his unstoppable force to cease, to rest.
Robert slept as hard as he played. As a young adult, he required multiple alarm clocks to wake him, yet he would have periods of two to three days at a time where he would be unable to sleep.
During these periods, he was extremely physically active. He never stopped moving, graduating from the skateboards, skates and bycicles to the love of his life, a banana-yellow Suzuki – the road rocket.
Robert didn’t start out with a motorbike. His first adult vehicle was my car. I came out one morning to find my passenger side mirror dangling. Apparently he borrowed the car during the night, and sideswiped the mailbox on his way out. He was fourteen. This was not his first experience as a ‘borrower’, merely another in a long line of taking something to use because he didn’t have one of his own.
As a small child, Robert smacked his head – a lot. This was a bit before kids helmets were in vogue. It would be several years before I found research that indicated frontal lobe damage could lead to a serious lack of rule-following. Robert could tell you the right thing to do, but had a hard time following his own advice.
We lived in a neighborhood with lots of children, who often left their toys on sidewalks, or scattered across front or back yards. Robert began as a toddler ‘borrowing’ these left out toys. We would explain the concept of ownership and have him return the toy, with apologies, but it never really seemed to make a difference. He would continue to take, often leaving one borrowed item for another, because he never really owned any of it: paintball guns and equipment, skates, surfboards, skateboards, all left scattered across multiple locations as he would acquire something new. My cell phone, my car, both simply available to him under his particular code- he never took anything to keep it, just to use it.
Robert did have his own toys, his own skateboard, his own surfboard. It was not that he was lacking. He loaned his own belongings as freely as he borrowed others. Ownership, possessions; all very fluid concepts to this child.
That boy could destroy an anvil…
Robert’s first adult vehicle of his own was our old Dodge pickup. It was in very good condition, even though it was 10 years old and had well over 100,000 miles on it. It was a manual 5 speed transmission, a good first vehicle for a boy. Or it would have been. Robert had a peculiar ability to destroy. Robert could dismantle, destruct, and destroy anything. We often said he could destroy an anvil. Not on purpose, you understand. He was not mean or vengeful. He was curious, deeply thoughtful, and he questioned everything, particularly instructions. I remember giving him a little set of tools when he was four or five: hammer, screwdrivers, pliers.
It was several years later, when I got ready to paint the house, that I found all of the striker plates on every door in the house had no screws. He taken them all out! That explains why I would pick up screws in the vacuum cleaner every so often! (For those who wonder why the plates didn’t fall off the door frames, a previous owner had painted over them, so the paint held them in place.)
The truck that had lasted us 10 years came apart quickly for Robert. His need for speed was a contributing factor to its demise- it wasn’t built for hot-rodding, and Robert was no mechanic. He was also hard on the body of the truck. It wasn’t long before the driver side door acquired a huge dent from a elderly couple that turned into him while trying to make a right turn from a left lane in a mall parking lot (or that’s how the story went). The biggest mystery was the two large holes – holes! – in the solid steel rear bumper. We never did figure out where those came from! The truck had to be sold for scrap less than a year after we gave it to him.
The second car, which we required he buy from us, didn’t fare a whole lot better. That boy could destroy an anvil!
From his youngest days, Robert was a chick magnet. From irresistible toddler to bad boy handsome adult, he never lacked for a girl who was goggle-eyed over him.
And he liked them! I remember his first crush. The neighbors had a darling daughter with long dark hair and large dark eyes and beautiful lashes. He was about four years old. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He was simply star-struck. She was a couple of years older and had no time for him! Then there was the year that 10-year old girls were calling him at 2:00 and 3:00 am! Caller ID became my best friend, as I would contact parents the next morning to let them know what their sweet young daughters were up to! There was that night he came home with a huge grin on his face. He’d discovered something, although I never asked! Then there was the girl who borrowed her dad’s SUV to come see Robert. I met her after she’d crashed it through a fence. She showed up on my doorstep, extremely upset, and asked to use the phone. There was always a girl, or two, or three. There was a fairly serious relationship with an older woman, who it turned out was formerly a man- no one but Robert was surprised. We were suspicious of that deep voice! There were the three girls Robert met when he had moved back in with us for a year. After he moved away, they kept in touch with me. They really missed him. Even his best friend, K., was female. She was an amazingly level headed girl that he’d known since grade school. I miss her. One conversation I remember really well was the night he told me he thought he’d met ‘the one’, but she was going into the army, and he was working on his own life, so they would go in two separate directions. I love them all, for loving him, and I’ve been blessed to keep in touch with some. It’s like having this extended family of daughters, who’ve all grown into beautiful women, with families of their own.
I give them to you for a little while…
We never know how long we get to keep our children. Most outlive their parents. Some do not. Robert did not. He lost his life on his motorcycle when another driver turned in front of him and he hit the pavement, crushing his lungs. He was an organ donor, so four lives were saved – heart, liver, kidneys – all passed along to those in need. Kinda what he had done all his life – pick up something here, leave something there. In so doing, Robert left a legacy of love, because he figured out the best way to be loved was to love. He borrowed our hearts, as well as our possessions. I miss him, I miss his hugs. I always will, but I know I will see him again one day!
Any stories you have of Robert are welcome to be shared in the comments.