Bob is my oldest friend. We met as college freshmen in New Jersey more than a half century ago. Though we have lived a continent apart since, we have managed to meet up a time or two each decade.
This Memorial Day we reunited at Bob’s sister’s home in the Berkeley hills.
When we were freshmen, I thought Bob was one cool dude. Clarks desert boots were his signature shoe. Soon I was wearing Clarks.
Bob’s love of Ernest Hemingway became my love of Ernest Hemingway.
Bob sang Lovin’ Spoonful and Bob Dylan songs and played acoustic guitar. Guess what? I came to love the Lovin’ Spoonful and Bob Dylan, though I was wise enough not to attempt guitar.
When he took up running, I waited a discreet amount of time, then I took up running.
After Rutgers, our closeness was never quite what it was, but he remained a deeply embedded part of me.
For our meeting in Berkeley, Cathy and her husband Russ had whipped up an afternoon meal of homemade chili and cornbread, followed by a dreamy chocolate cake imported from Napa, but conversation was the menu centerpiece.
Who’s healthy, who’s not? What are the kids doing? And always the question, What became of so and so?
I always considered Bob something of a wild man. He would erupt over life’s absurdities. His outrage might today be called performance art.
The thing that had Bob riled up on Memorial Day was Jungian psychoanalysts. Jungians had done his mother wrong and his grandmother before that, he said.
Who rails against Jungian psychoanalysts? Who even knows what a Jungian psychoanalyst is?
But what about you, Kevin? asked Bob’s wife, Karen, eager to diversify the conversation. There’s never much to say about my quiet Napa life, but I can say a word or two about my grown children. This had a triggering effect.
Russ, who once edited the UC Berkeley alumni magazine, recalled rerunning a Register column of mine from years ago about my son Dennis choosing Berkeley over Stanford after Napa High.
I only vaguely remembered writing such a thing.
Russ disappeared for a few minutes, then returned with a university magazine from Fall 1997.
Read it, voices urged.
I read with gusto, enjoying the sound of my own words. Then, two-thirds of the way through, I choked up. Emotions I could not name engulfed me. I couldn’t read anymore.
Russ finished reading the column. It had a great closing line: “Go Bears!”
Bob’s retired from selling insurance and substitute teaching. He and Karen have a comfortable life in northern New Jersey. But the guy has health issues.
Bob’s had a couple of hospitalizations in recent years. He has a genetic condition that corrupts the collagen that holds the human body together. His knees are shot, his feet are messed up, his neck hurts.
After our meal, we took a short walk up a path behind Cathy and Russ’ hillside home. The women took the lead, chattering madly.
What did you all talk about, I asked later.
Life’s traumas, Cheryl said. Unexpected events that knock you down and make you feel sick before you somehow bounce back. Each woman had a story to contribute.
Bob and I hadn’t gone deep. We spent our little walk processing why a dear roommate from our college years had voted for Trump.
What’s up with Sid, we wondered. New-found Zionism? Pure contrariness? You think you know somebody, but maybe you don’t.
The path back to the house was steep and downhill. Bob’s knees rebelled.
I fetched him a walking stick and we slowly descended. Hitting a rough patch, I offered Bob my shoulder to lean on.
It seemed the practical thing to do, but would Bob be offended?
He accepted my offer and grabbed on. Half step by half step we descended. The quiver in Bob’s grip rippled across my torso.
This physical intimacy startled me, then I relaxed. This is what roommates do for each other 50 years on.