The subject line read “Sad News.”
I’ve never met anyone who truly enjoys sad news. I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances who claimed they did, if only to further their goth or emo personae, but when it came time to pay the piper, they reacted just like everyone else.
I opened the email expected a slightly unfortunate occurance hyperboles and blown out of proportion platitudes. Instead, belied by the pleasant glow of the screen and my mildly inebriated state, was truly sad news.
My friend and colleague Robert Tacchino, had died.
I want to call Rob a good friend, but doing so would mean either embellishing the truth or admitting that while he may have been a good friend to me, I likely wasn’t as good a friend to him.
We skied together, traveled together, and dined together on several occasions. We studied together and worked together, often bouncing ideas off each other and learning from one another. Mostly, I listened to his tales and learned from his experiences, which are as varied and interesting as I hope mine will be some day. Always, I was impressed by his genuity, his honesty, and the easy-going nature with which he dealt with everything.
Working at Eldora, I have the opportunity to spend quality time with many of my coworkers catching rides to and from the resort. When I first rode with Rob, he tepidly warned me that his vehicle had a breathylizer installed due to a DUI. While I waved this off as not a big deal, I lifted myself into his Land Rover with doubts in my mind and questions at the tip of my tongue. I had several ytimes before ridden with coworkers or patrons whose proclivities left me uncomfortable and whose personalities were less than appealing by the end of the ride. To Robert’s credit, he told me his story without embarrassment or shame and quickly assuaged any doubts of fears I might have had.
The words on the screen were succinct and to the point, the remainder of the message a quickly pasted forward that surely was soon to be passed around like a chain letter.
I was sobered instantly, my late night snack quickly placed back on the plate before me and pushed aside. To say I was shocked and stunned would be an understatement.
Beneath the surface, I tried to find the words to respond. I wrote a dozen replies, expressing disbelief, denial, acknowledgement, anger, sadness, and a dozen other emotions I couldn’t possibly feel clearly at the time. Each and everyone concluded the same way, with a firm hold of the backspace key.
I switched windows, sliding over to my browser with the sudden dim hope that a reply won’t be necessary. Google found his obituary under the second result, destroying my slim desires.
Flipping back to the email, a slowly blinking cursor dared me to try again.
The obituary doesn’t specify how Rob died. He was 51. He was a skier and rolfer. He was a vibrant lover of music. His parents outlived him. His memorial service will be in New Jersey. These are the only things it says.
I felt, reading the small summation of his life, that he hadn’t been done justice.
I knew Rob as a man who had bravely switched careers late in life. He had told me tales of his time in New York working on Wall Street and spending his nights frequenting shows. And yet here, just a few years later, he was laying down roots, completing a rolfing and massage program, teaching skiing, and opening his own practice in a small city in the foothills of Colorado. His smile and excitement about anything in his life was infectious.
My conversations with Rob never seemed to drag or wane into moments of awkwardness. Our evenings together always felt too short and too early when they ended, even if it were nearing midnight on a work day. I have close friends I can’t say the same about.
I clicked the tiny x on the window, closing my unwritten response. I sat, listening to the whir of the fans and contemplating if a response was even possible. I wondered if things might have had a different outcome if I had made more effort in our friendship.
These are typical and selfish thoughts. I truthfully could not have seen Rob’s death coming. Without foreknowledge, my actions wouldn’t have been different. The half-dozen times I thought of him since ski season ended and I didn’t decide to call and make plans could not have a different outcome without prescience and magic. The ambiguity and premature nature of his death only make it that much more appealing to do explore unrealistic hypotheticals.
With Rob, unlike any other friend I’ve had who has died, there were no negatives to our relationship and therefore no ways to improve it short of lengthening it.
I crawled into bed silent and empty, knowing that I would arrive at work the next day sleep deprived, saddened, and at a loss.
I feel I knew enough of Rob to want to eulogize him with kind words and praise, but I barely knew him long enough to scratch the surface. I’ve seen others write short notes about him on their Facebook pages or pass emails or comments in person, but I’m not comfortable summing him up in 140 characters or saying goodbye so collectively. Writing this is a much more approriate venue for my feelings as well as an act of catharsis.
Several times this week, I’ve found my finger hovering over Rob’s name in my phone book though I know it would do me no good to call him. I look at it for a moment or two, briefly contemplate deleting the entry, and then flip my phone shut.
In a few weeks or a few months, I’ll delete his info. And in November, I’ll be back on the snow at Eldora where we worked together. And though I know my phone won’t know anything is missing and I’ll fall back into the routine at Eldora, I also know that part of my success and part of the joy I get out of showing up every day and sliding around is due to Rob.
No matter how far down the road I get, he’ll always be with me in that way.