I know that I mentioned a few things about a bus ride in my previous entries. One bus ride in particular was a trip back home when The Old Man was dying.
I remember how cold it was yet the bus was warm. Maybe the bus was too warm but for the time being, it was perfect enough to let me lean back and absorb what was on my plate.
But there’s another bus too. This bus ride is equally as important to me and impactful. I’ve never been on this bus before and hopefully this isn’t a trip that I’ll have to take anytime soon.
By the way, this is Robbie’s bus.
In case you forgot, Robbie was my cousin who passed away when I was in my mid-20’s. Robbie was much older than me. He was sick with cancer of the liver; moreover, Robbie was toughing it out in a hospital bed at the V. A. hospital in the Bronx.
Robbie was a drummer. He was a musician and, better yet, Robbie also marched to the beat of his own drum. He was a good man with a good heart. He was also a person who was familiar with certain challenges that ranged from substances and alcohol use. Robbie was far from sinless and although he came with his share of faults – there was something about Robbie that made him lovable beyond compare.
But faults and all, I swear that you’ve never been truly hugged or greeted at the door unless you’ve been hugged and greeted by my cousin Robbie.
To keep this on a scale, I did not grow up around Robbie. He was my cousin but aside from being significantly older, Robbie was distant for his own reasons. However, Robbie was a legend to me.
He was in a band called The Deltas. He was a drummer. He was cool too and on top of this, it would be dishonest if I did not report my appreciation for his participation in the drug culture. So, yeah. Robbie was a bad-ass – at least he was to me.
Years ran by and as this happened, I grew. I was no longer a skinny little boy. I had grown considerably and I was on my way to reaching a better physical potential.
Robbie was taken aback by this. He was used to me being a kid. However, when one of the interns stopped to check in, the intern was not answering Robbie’s questions.
This bothered Robbie something terrible.
He was pleading with the young doctor but the young doctor refused to break character.
This went on for a few minute or so until I moved in a little closer. I approached the young doctor and chose to explain myself – I spoke to him, just a bit more clearly, just to set the stage. Or to be clearer, I offered my idea without emotion or a shred of mercy that Robbie was uncomfortable. I explained the fact that Robbie was uncomfortable which was beginning to make me uncomfortable and that in no unspoken terms, it would be unfortunate for the young doctor if I were to grow even more uncomfortable.
“So pretty please,” I said.
“With sugar on top . . . answer his fucking questions.”
I still remember the expression on Robbie’s face.
I can see this in my mind right now. This was decades ago and, of course, I was a different person back then.
However, I understand what it feels like to be bullied by a sickness. I understand what it feels like to be helpless; whether this is in a hospital bed, in my own skin, or forced to be someplace where I don’t want to be. I understand what it’s like to be at the end of my rope. I know what it’s like to be afraid of a terrible finality. Meanwhile, all you want are answers. It’s that simple.
But for some reason, the only people you can ask for answers are either aloof, unwilling to give it to you straight, or for some reason they believe it’s okay to be a smart ass.
At a time like this? Really?
Three things happened on that day.
First, in the middle of his own fears and mental despair, Robbie had someone stick up for him.
At a time when Robbie was being bullied by Cancer, Hepatitis-C, and a doctor who thought his sense of humor was appropriate, Robbie had someone stick up for him
This is a valuable thing.
The second thing that happened is the young intern made the wise decision to follow instructions. It was clear that security would have to get to me before I would get to the doctor. Since I was much closer and there was no way out of the room except through me, the young intern decided to answer the rest of Robbie’s questions.
Upon the doctor’s exit, Robbie looked over at me.
He was amazed and said with an appreciative smile, “Fuckin Benjy grew up!”
I sure as hell did.
Before going to the third thing which happened on this day, it is important to preface that no one calls me Benjy anymore. This was my “kid” name as in “Little Benjy.” But I wasn’t little anymore.
More to the point, at last, I was able to repay the kindness and a hug which I received from Robbie when my Old Man was in the hospital.
I remember this clearly.
Robbie walked in from the street. He came into the waiting room where myself and the rest of the family waited in the Coronary Care Unit.
I remember I could still feel the cold from outside on Robbie’s jacket. I could smell the winter winds on his clothes when he hugged and smiled at me. I say Robbie smiled at me because unless Robbie smiled at you; then I’m not sure if you know what it’s like to be truly smiled at – and I mean really smiled.
Robbie was no boy scout. He was a real person with real-life flaws yet there was something about Robbie which I had always admired.
Not to mention that Robbie knew about me. What I mean is Robbie knew that I was home from rehab, getting cleaned up and, in the midst of all my changes, I had to face the fact that I was about to lose my Father.
Robbie knew that I was off the drugs. He knew about my legal troubles. He knew about this from his own perspective and Robbie understood this at a cellular level. But still, Robbie smiled and he hugged me as if nothing about me could ever be so dirty or shameful. He hugged me the way family hugs a true loved one; as if the outside world or opinion means nothing and that in spite of everything; nothing could ever tarnish me so badly that my cousin Robbie wouldn’t stand by my side.
I remember when Robbie hugged me.
It was as though the moment had paused and for that tiny, encapsulated moment of time; for that brief stay of execution, nothing was wrong and my heart was comforted.
At a time when I was at my worst, Robbie came with his best and made me feel better.
Now, as for the third thing that happened that day, I was finally able to repay the kindness that Robbie showed me.
I was able to stand by my cousin’s side – to let him know how much I loved him; that nothing about him could ever be so imperfect. I was able to show Robbie how important he was to me, and from me to Robbie; I was able to repay one of the kindest gifts that was ever given to me.
Robbie was there to stand by me.
So, I decided that I would be there too – and stand up for him
“Fucking Benjy grew up,” he said.
Later that day, Robbie explained that he had a dream.
Robbie told me about this dream when no one else was in the room.
Robbie said that he had a dream about my Father.
He explained that my Father was dressed in casual holiday whites. He even had white shoes as if The Old Man was dressed for a vacation in the Bahamas.
Robbie said that both my Grandmother Lena and my Grandfather Ben were with The Old Man.
They all came on a bus. It was silvery and clean like something out of a 50’s movie.
Robbie said that my Old Man was the driver and Robbie shouldn’t worry.
Robbie explained that my Father said everything was going to be okay; that when the time comes, my Father was going to come back and my Grandparents (along with whomever else was on the bus) would come back and take Robbie home.
I was there when Robbie explained this dream to my Uncle Alan. My Father always loved his brother. He looked up to him with admiration. I suppose my Father was more of a protector though, at least this is how my Father saw it.
I don’t believe my Father knew his true worth and that unfortunately, The Old Man was tough to deal with if he saw people as better than him. This was especially so if this was due to their traditional education.
My Old Man was smart. He just didn’t know how brilliant he was.
My Aunt Sondra and Uncle Alan were very smart people and both were part of a High- IQ society, at least this is what I was told.
The Old Man was the wild one. He was known in the neighborhood for being capable and quick with a fight. My Aunt and Uncle skipped grades in school. But The Old Man, not so much.
I was there when Robbie told his Father about the dream.
“I think I’m going to go and get on that bus, Pop.”
He said, “But don’t worry, Uncle Ronnie told me everything was going to be okay.”
Uncle Ronnie is my Old Man, The Protector.
I was there to see this.
I was a witness when a Father had the sad misfortune of giving this kind of permission; and yes, I was the only witness when my Uncle Alan said, “It’s okay, son. You can get on the bus.”
Robbie died a short while later.
I do not like hospitals. Even now, I type this with contempt because I have had my fair share of ruins with doctors and nurses. I had an altercation when my Uncle Alan had heart surgery.
The nurse came out and explained that my Uncle was out of surgery. She explained that he was just inside the room which was across from us and that no one was permitted inside.
How do you say something like that?
How do you tell a person, oh that person you love and are afraid might die – he’s right over there but no. You can’t go see him – how do you say something like this to anybody?
The nurse told us this; meanwhile, my Aunt Peggy had to accept this news while knowing that her husband was just on the opposite side of a doorway.
Not on my watch . . .
I was able to see the heartache in my Aunt Peggy’s face. I was also unable to see why anyone would deliver news like this and then say, “Oh, but you can’t go in there.”
And again I said “fuck that!”
I walked over and took my Aunt Peggy by the hand. I began to escort her over to the doorway and as we walked, Aunt Peggy was worried about what the nurse said.
“But she just told me that I can’t go in there.”
“Yeah, well. You don’t have to listen to that.”
I told her “You know people” and then we walked right in.
God, I love you, she told me.
She was able to see my Uncle Alan
and he smiled . . .
I think of this and the sad warmth of family splendor. I think of the true facts of life which are that times will come for us all. We all go through moments. We all feel pain. We all live and then one day, we will all leave this earth.
I don’t know what the bus looked like for Robbie.
I don’t know what that ride was like. All I know is that when my time comes, I hope there’s a bus like Robbie’s that comes for me. I hope that my loved ones from beyond come to welcome me home – and do you know what?
So what if this was only a dream –
So what if this is just something in my head to help appease a moment of grief –
Besides, who’s to say what’s right or wrong or who’s to judge what helps me or not.
All I know is that there’s a picture in my head which I keep confidentially and close to my heart.
I keep this in mind to know that someday, somehow, I’ll see everyone again.
What’s more is that I’ll get another hug from Robbie. I’ll get to see Mom again and The Old Man too.
Then there’s my Aunt Sondra who was my second Mother. And there’s Uncle Alan and Aunt Peggy.
I’ll get to see my Grandma Lena, Aunt Lil, and I’ll finally get to meet my Grandpa Ben.
Then there’s Stanley – now, he was a real trip!
Maybe some of my friends might show up like Jeff, Tommy, or maybe even Dorian.
Or Mike. Or Tony. Or Chris and oh how that list can go on.
But for now or at least for today, that bus ride is in the distant future.
For now, I have a journal to complete and a new project to consider.
For now, I am just another passenger on this big rock that spins around the sun.
For now, the weather is cold and the winds are whistling.
It’s about 16°F outside.
That’s warm compared to yesterday’s numbers.
But for now, I am not cold, not at all.
I say this because above all things, I have the warmth of memory and the warmth of love from my family and most importantly, I have you.
You are my witness – you are here to hold this in trust; to prove to the world that I truly exist and that regardless of my faults, or my flaws or any of my mistakes; I have a heart which beats and senses that hear, see, feel, taste and touch.
This is me . . .
Do you see?
I certainly hope so.