Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 20: Rob

Rob is a non-fiction column I wrote a few years ago in remembrance of my cousin.

Though in the strictest terms it's not a Christmas piece, I am inclined to include it here, as I invariably think of Rob during the holidays.

I've reproduced the piece in its entirety below and also linked to an audio clip that features me reading the column for a local radio station.

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Rob
by Frank Gullo

Our current mythology views ghosts as wayward, incomplete, or even destructive spirits. Films and horror fiction typically depict ghosts as vengeful entities, lingering to haunt or mete punishment for forgotten victims and wrongs that have not been brought to justice. Often, ghosts characterized in this fashion act as they do because they cannot pass on to a higher state until some unfinished matter on the earthly plane is resolved.

Sometimes, though, ghosts are not apparitions that linger because they are trapped by their past earthly life. Instead, ghosts are more often memorials shading through our mind, that serve to remind us of fallen friends and kin, and that encourage us to treasure our life and make the best of it, and ask at the end of each day, "Was that all you wanted?" [1]

Such is the case with my cousin Rob. Rob Borman passed on August 2, 1999 from diabetic-related complications. At the time of his death, Rob was in his 20s and living in Arizona. Memorial services were held in Buffalo, NY, Rob's city of birth. As a member of Rob's extended family, I attended the memorial services. I remember at the time feeling chilled at the news of his death. Even though Rob and I were not that close and had not spoken for many years, I was struck that someone about the same age as me was gone. For so long, I had viewed life as an endless vista, boundless in possibility, and with time enough for everything. Rob's death suddenly and completely shattered that naive perspective. As I mourned with Rob's family and friends, I came to realize how precious and fragile life is, and that everyday is the rest of your life.

After the memorial service, the mourners went back to their lives; Rob's family left Buffalo and returned to their adopted states of residence out west. As a distant relative, I did not have much contact with Rob's family, other than the wedding of Rob's sister, Roseanne, and the occasional update passed on by an elder aunt.

However, Rob has remained very much in my memory and life. From time to time, I find myself remembering him and the meaning I tried to attribute to his passing. One evening, while I was driving back to Buffalo from a trip to Maine, I recalled moments from my boyhood, when Rob and I used to see each other at family gatherings. I remembered one such time when Rob's family hosted a party in their Orchard Park home. At some point during the party, Rob and I wandered about, and came to a desk, on which sat a strange machine with a screen. There was a note on the machine, drafted in the authoritarian hand of a parent that read "Do not touch", or something to that effect.

"What's that?" I asked Rob.

"It's a computer," he responded.

It was my first direct experience with a computer of any kind. The fact that I currently make my living working as an information technology consultant may be entirely coincidental to that first impression I had, but part of me believes that Rob has nudged me from time to time into a profession that suits me. At least that's how it felt during that drive back from Maine.

I also remember joking with Rob about his father Rick's occupation. No one in my immediate or extended family knew exactly where Rick worked or what he did, although it was assumed that he was very successful and made a handsome living.

"What does he do? Does he work for the FBI or the CIA?" I would ask.

"Just ask him," Rob would say.

Eventually, it became an inside joke among my cousins and I to speculate about Rick's occupation. Pilot, spy, member of the Free Masons - nothing was too outrageous to suggest. After Rob's passing, the memory served to reinforce the importance of family and personal meanings we build and share through stories, anecdotes, and tall tales.

Baseball caps also bring back Rob to me. I think it was Rick who first made mention of Rob's penchant for always wearing a baseball cap. To be honest, I don't remember how the association formed. What I do know is often when I head out, and don my 15-year old Notre Dame cap, I feel a sign from Rob, not unlike a nod or a two-finger sign from a baseball manager in the dugout.

Finally, I often remember Rob during the holidays. It's not often at a specific time, or on a specific day, but there's always a holiday visit, though Rob would not translate well as a traditional ghost. There are no rattling chains or drops in room temperature. There are no noises in the night and no barely perceived transparent figures walking the halls. Instead, there's simply Rob, the person he was and the life he lived. I am saddened by his visits because they remind me that his time with us was so short, but I am always benefited by his memory, for he has helped me remember to live deep and do the best I can so I can usually say at the end of every day, "Yes, that's all I wanted".

[1] Genne Lentine

Frank Gullo
December, 2004


This is part of my 25 Days of Christmas blog series.

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