I've written about Robes before. He comes up in blogging and social media and conversation regularly. My kids who were too young or unborn during the Boca Raton days know his story. Or at least how his story intersects with ours. All my close Utah friends know him by name, even though they never met him. He's just one of those guys. And not because he died too soon, just because of who he was and, I'm sure, still is.
18 years ago this week a bunch of friends attended our monthly GNO dinner. On the way home Sue, Patti, Kim, and I talked in the car. Kim was worried about Robes' upcoming MRI. He'd been having odd, inexplicable symptoms for a while. We were sure the procedure would just rule out anything really bad.
A couple of days later, Robes called to ask me to speak in Sacrament Meeting on the upcoming Easter Sunday. (He also happened to be our bishop, but we could only call him “Bishop Patton” either when the stake president was within earshot or when we wanted to annoy him. (The latter being a not unfrequent occurrence, in retrospect.))
After chatting a bit, I said, “Hey, how did your tests go?”
“Oh, I have a brain tumor.”
He said it so nonchalantly. It was so typical straight-man Robes. Plus he had a long and sordid history of pranking me.
“Shut up. You're an idiot. What did they really say?”
It was probably two or three minutes (of more dead-pan humor) before I believed his story. I nearly fell over.
“You called me to arrange Sacrament Meeting talks when you have a brain tumor???”
I wanted to punch him. Partly because I didn't deem his presentation as the appropriate way to tell a friend about impending doom. Partly because I hadn't taken him seriously. Partly because I was horrified. Partly because I wanted to hug him and cry, but that would have been awkward. (Particularly over the phone.)
He said he was going to tell the ward about the diagnosis at church and he wanted me to be the other speaker. The other speaker?
“Robes, seriously? [pause] OK. [pause] But only if I go first. No way am I going to speak after ‘the brain tumor talk.'”
He agreed to my specification.
His good friend, Doug, ended up giving the talk for him because he was taken to the hospital that Sunday morning due to the crazy side effects of all the surgery-prep drugs. I vaguely remember speaking very distractedly (and fairly pregnant) and vividly remember sitting on the stand and watching the faces of other ward members as they heard the news.
We met Robes the first Sunday after we moved to Florida in 1991. That's another funny story to be told another day. Most every event that included Robes has a funny/poignant/interesting element, from the first time I talked to him in the parking lot outside the church to the last time I saw him alive. That's probably why we loved him so much.
At this time every year I think of the Easter in 1997 and the months that followed. To me the resurrection is not just about being reunited with family, but also with friends who are beloved kindred spirits. I look forward to seeing Robes again and I'm pretty sure the event will add to the long list of repeatable Robes stories I've already collected.
We have only associated with Robes for seven years so far, but it doesn't seem like that. He will always be one of the best parts of our lives. So much history was packed into just a few years. Perhaps that's analogous to his entire too-short life.
Some friends are forever. Miss you, Robes.