I was at work the other day and I turned to Kaitlin and said, "Kaitlin, what are the odds that we know each other?" She probably thought I was trying to be funny, and did this sort of half-laugh chuckle thing, and said "I don't know." So I said, "Kaitlin, you're from Pennsylvania. If one thing - just one little thing - had gone differently, we may not have ever even met! I may have not ended up here at all, and I was fucking born here." To this she said, "I don't know, Dave."
Robert Perry Cole was born on September 22, 1987, less than a week and a half after my own birth, in the same hospital as me. He grew up in 49er's Country Club in Tucson, Arizona at the end of the culdesac on Custer Place. The first time I went there was in third grade. He was friends with my best friend, Alex, who also lived down the street from me. I remember staying up and calling Public Access shows on Saturdays, and going out to the arcade at Foothills mall for his 12th birthday. We went to buy the Eminem CD, but they wouldn't let us because of the Parental Advisory. There was a Dixie Chicks stand-up display in the store. I don't remember anything about the arcade, so I don't know why this memory is so vivid.
Robby's first girlfriend was Hilary, who was the prettiest girl in the 4th grade class, and was also my first crush. I remember going to Skate Country, which I almost never did, and sitting in awe of the boys who had girls for the couples skate. In 4th grade, on the night of the Halloween Carnival, Robby kissed Hilary in the parking lot, and the story became one of our class' minor legends. Hilary, also, was my first kiss, too, and hickey, and handjob, and blowjob, which I remember distinctly took place in the summer between 5th and 6th grade in the early hours of the morning on the 4th of July. Music videos on MTV that night: Lit - My Own Worst Enemy, Smash Mouth - All Star, Blink 182 - What's My Age Again. One again, I don't remember anything about the actual night with Hilary, so I don't know why this memory is so vivid.
I never considered how that night may have affected Robby. I wouldn't know until years later, but it would all come back to me with Jessica.
The first time Robby smoked pot was around the side of my dad's house out of a ginger ale can with holes poked in the side. He was thirteen years old. I remember explaining what inhaling meant. I lit it for him. We snuck back through my window, trying not to ruffle the bushes, and ate my parents' food, watched TV, and laughed.
It was Robby's mom, Roseanne, who discovered him on the website I designed, the one that aliented me from my entire world. The one that parents thought I was a psychopath for. The site that would change my outlook on parents and society and everything forever. I wouldn't know, though, that it was Robby's mom who started the whole debacle until she was my stepmom four years later. We were eating dinner when Robby brought it up and laughed about it. We were eating Boston Market. Robby to my right, my brother and Roseanne opposite, and my father at the head. I don't remember the details of the conversation, so I don't know why this memory is so vivid.
I was on AIM one night with Robby. My dad left for a date, which was good because it meant I could get stoned. I got on AIM soon after and Robby said this: dude your dad just walked in the door
So after our parents got married, Robby lived on a green cot in my dad's house living room. Soon enough he merged into my own room, cot included. We would stay up late and get stoned and watch movies. Robby would always get so, so high. We were dynamic and destructive, especially to our family. Sometimes I wonder if that's what our parents had in common. I'll never forget standing across from Robby in St. Paul's United Methodist, our parents exchanging rings between us, just looking at each other.
Jessica bought a beautiful dark purple dress for the wedding, I remember. She was Robby's girlfriend at the time, a fact I didn't know quite yet. She was also my first real love. Her and I went out, more or less, from 8th grade to the beginning of sophomore year - the year Robby moved in with me. Jessica and Robby got drunk the night before Christmas Eve sophomore year and lost their virginities to each other at Robby's sister's house.
I found this out at 4:00 in the morning months later fucked up on Adderall and Robby stoned out of his mind, after a long, investigative conversation. We shared the master bedroom by this point, our beds each in their respective corners. I began writing a poem in the shower, and finished, Robby fast asleep, at 5:47am:
i dont regret the petty favors that you used to take
but i never should have given you this heart that beats to break
i dont know what possessed me to think things will ever change
so again i'll say 'i'm sorry' and again it will sound strange
i'm sorry 'cause the pains not you, the pain is solely me
but i can't keep letting me knock down myself with jealousy
i remember times as young and dumb, the way it was before
but those days are done and distant and are to be seen no more
still i don't regret a thing except the way i feel today
and all of the things i feel but cannot find the words to say
but thats the way it happens when it comes down to the end
of when i loved you as a lover but you loved me as a friend
The following year, Robby's mom made the decision to send him to "The Ranch", an intensive inpatient rehabilitation center. It's a hard thing to do, and I was surprised because I knew my parents would never have the guts to do something like that to me. Devastated Jessica and I finally got to spend time together, got drunk, popped amphetamine, smoked weed, and stayed up watching MTV. This time, though, I can't remember any of the music videos.
It wasn't long before I, too, was sent to the Ranch, and once again shared living quarters with Robby. We were three miles away from the nearest roadway living in a miniature western town doing at least two varied therapeutic exercises per day and countless other crazy things I can't begin to explain. The goal was the same for both of us: Create a better life.
I stayed sober, and our lives began to unravel.
I abandoned my old friends and started hanging with a new crowd. Chris, one of my new friends, worked at Rockin' Pizza, which was right next to Beaver's Band Box. Chris told me they were hiring seasonally, and I was the last person hired.
I wouldn't know until years later that it was Roseanne, Robby's mom, who was the main instigator behind sending me to the Ranch. It wouldn't be years later until Robby's mom knew I lit the can for him. It wouldn't be years later until Jessica realized she had a problem and called me for help. It wouldn't be years later until Hilary got her degree in Journalism in California, after a failed first marriage, and I would joke to her that print is dead. It wouldn't be years later that I realized that maybe if I hadn't handed Robby that ginger ale can and told him to inhale I never would have met Kaitlin, or maybe even you. It wouldn't be years later until I looked back and knew, but hoped, that I wasn't the only person who made these kind of realizations.
"It's just so weird," I said to Kaitlin, "Don't you think?"
"I guess so, Dave."