Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Good Word (and the Fight)

She has been walking through my dreams lately and I don’t know why. Maybe it is because I feel like I have been a state of entropy lately, disorder. She keeps holding my hand and whispering in my ear, “You must find answers and fight, fight, fight!”

I first met Robin in my freshman year of college when she came down for a campus visit at Illinois. I lived in an all-guys dorm but we elected a couple of girls from another dorm to be our social chair people because we were all morons. They were the ones who brought Robin to our year-end picnic.  I talked to her for a little bit and she seemed very nice.  The next year I took time off to work and travel a bit. I saw her when I came to visit everyone, but otherwise didn’t really have an opportunity to get to know her. When I came back to school, she had spent some time in France and was looking very continental with a sort of new wave haircut. We started talking a lot because I would run into her by the Psychology building where I worked and she was always at the Hearing, Speech and Occupational Therapy Building next door.

Most of the guys I knew in the dorms were living in a rented house called the Shipwreck Lounge.  I was living with a bunch of English and Engineering guys in a place called Paradise Lost. I know that was the year that the girl I loved but who lived far away broke my heart, but I don’t exactly know when Lenny and Robin became a couple. I do know that it was the year that I started falling for another girl, named Karen.  I have written about Lenny before because he is my friend. He and I lived next door to each other in the dorms and we made a lot of mischief together, which made for a great story, but I have never written that much about Robin. It’s hard to.

The next year was the final year for most of our friends but not for me. After they graduated I would have a few more classes to take, start graduate school and continue working for the Psychology department as a Research Associate.  That year Karen and Robin moved into an apartment together. Karen had told me that she was not interested me as a boyfriend, only a friend, although I harbored a secret desire for her and hoped she might change her mind.

On the Saturday after the recent 4th of July I was alone at the house because the girls were on vacation and Matt had gone to the city to visit his brother, my oldest, Ben. I fell asleep on the couch reading with a fan in my ear and a dog along my side. Again, she walked through my dreams. She held my hand again and whispered in my ear, “You have to move ahead. Fight, fight, fight!

Robin and I got into the habit of having coffee every day in the plaza outside the Psychology building. Some days, when we were done in the afternoon, we would go have a drink across the street at O’Daniels. One day, when it was first warming up in the spring, I said to her, “You know how I feel about Karen. Would you be willing to put a good word in for me?” Robin sipped her coffee and said, “You know I don’t like to get into these things… but if the time is right then sure.” I said to her, “I’m doing I can to be a friend and a nice guy what else can I do?”  She hesitated and then she said, “Keep doing what you’re doing…We’re friends so I don’t think this will hurt your feelings. I think you need to clean things up a bit.” I asked, “What do you mean?” She sighed and she said, “You need to stop looking like hippie and more like boyfriend material. You need to get a haircut, you need to ditch the beard or at least get it trimmed, you have to stop wearing the ripped up jeans and the bowling shoes, and you really need to put that army coat away.”  I looked a little demoralized. She put her arm around me and whispered in my ear. “If you want to win this thing, you have to be willing to fight. It’s time to get serious.”

Another dream…This time it is about Lenny and Robin, while I was napping in the garage studio. Lenny and I were playing pool, listening to the Marshall Tucker Band and other favorites, which is very interesting because I don’t have a pool table. Karen and Robin came in and Robin whispered in my ear, “When are you are going to clean things up?”

I did exactly as she suggested, with her help. Robin and I went to the barber shop and I had my hair cut short into a more contemporary style she suggested. I wasn’t willing get rid of the beard quite yet but they made it look real good.  I got new glasses that were more flattering than the ones I sometimes wore. I called my mother and asked if I could borrow from her pin money to buy some new clothes and shoes.  When she sent it, Robin and I borrowed the car of my roommate at the time, Donna, and went to the mall.  We found clothes and shoes that fit me, fit my style, and were comfortable.  We did this all in baby steps so it wouldn’t be that dramatic a transformation. My boss was out of town for two weeks in Germany. When he got back, and I went to go get my notes for the day, he said, “You look different T.S. What gives?” I said, “I’m working on a side project. Besides, it’s time to get serious.”  He just smiled. “I agree. You look good.”

One afternoon when Robin and I were having our coffee, we were just chatting about meaningless things and she took my hand.  I asked, “What is the matter?” She laughed a little bit and said, “Nothing bad. I just need to tell you something.” I nodded my head, concerned. “Um…Karen and I were talking last night. We were having some drinks. She was a little sad about not having had a really good relationship in her final year of school. I told that I knew a guy. The guy that fixes our sink and our furnace; the guy that stands on the corner waiting for you with a pop after work; the guy that gets you safely to and from parties, the guy who helps you with your poetry homework…the guy who comes over and makes you eggs after a bad date.”  I hugged her. “Robin, you put in a good word for me, didn’t you?”  She said, “I told you if it was the right time I would. Now, it’s up to you to win this thing, if you really want it.”    

After I won Karen’s heart we started do a lot of double dating with Robin and Lenny and had many great times both in Champaign and in Peoria where he went back to. Robin loved him. Some nights she would listen to endless amounts of James Taylor because she missed him. Some nights she would spontaneously come into the living room and ask us to drive her to the bus so she could go visit him.

She is at our wedding in her bridesmaid dress with Lenny, but Lenny wasn’t at our wedding. He was invited but they were not together at that time, so he was not comfortable coming. Something happened when Robin moved back to Chicago .In the dream she whispers in my ear, as she always did, “See, nice guys always win.” That is exactly what she actually whispered in my ear the day Karen and I were wed.

One weekend I was invited to a bachelor party for our college friend, Vern, in Rantoul. We hung out at the hotel and then I drove a bunch of guys in Karen’s convertible to a nearby bar. At one point Lenny and I went out to get some air. As we were talking, Lenny asked about Robin. He said, “You know how I feel about her.  When you see her next would you mind putting in a good word?”  Much later on, when we were visiting Robin at a friend’s apartment, she and I were alone out on the balcony. I said to her, “I don’t like to get involved in things like this but I made a promise to a friend that I would put in a word.”  She started shaking her head. “Don’t.”  I didn’t know what to say. She said, “I have already thought about this. I’m just trying to figure it out.” Her head was down on the railing; I put my hand on her back.  I said “I understand. I’ll leave it alone.”  I don’t know exactly how long it was before Robin moved to Peoria to be with Lenny. I do remember that one of the best things I ever saw was Robin doing the Highland Fling in her wedding dress at the Peoria Lebanese Itoo Hall and later dancing with my wife, her bridesmaid and dear friend.

Flash forward through many scenes of children being born, new houses, visits back and forth, lots of fun together, and then the crushing stop when we heard that Robin had to start a new journey. Robin lost her mother and her sister to cancer but I never dreamed, maybe being in denial, that it would happen to her too.

Fight, fight, fight!

Robin was what is now commonly referred to as a Mighty Girl. As she battled, she never gave up. She fought. She continued to be a great friend, a wonderful mother, and a wife without compare.  She continued her career as an occupational therapist, she was an advocate for others in the same situation, and she even wrote a book to give hope to others. It is what inspired me to write the things I write.  One night in Peoria I was doing the dishes after Lenny had cooked an excellent barbeque.  He was out on the patio laughing with Anne, a lovely and wonderful girl, who was Robin’s best friend since childhood.  Karen was wrangling children. Robin came into the kitchen and said, “Thank you for doing this.”  I laughed. “One person cooks and one person cleans.”  She looked at me deeply. She said, “I know you are disappointed about not being a writer.” At the time I was working in marketing for a large consulting firm.  She put her head on mine. “There’s always time. Fight, fight, fight, and move forward.”  I smiled. “I also know you are having a hard time dealing with the certain inevitability of this thing.” I just kept wiping plates. “If it makes you feel better; if something happens, I’ll put in a good word for you.”  I just turned around and hugged her.

One of the worst days was when Karen called me at my office and said I needed to come home to watch the children while she and Anne went to Peoria to be with Robin in her final moments. When I got home the next door neighbors took the kids so I could sit and think by the butterfly garden.  I am so glad that her family, Karen, Anne and her loving husband were with her but I just wish I had one last opportunity to tell her thank you and tell her how much I loved her.

I guess I didn't really need to say good-bye to Robin as she continues to walk through my dreams. I hope tonight I get to see her doing the Highland Fling.  Tomorrow, I will get up, clean up some stuff and continue to fight, fight, fight. Entropy will move back to equilibrium.