Very early on Saturday I had a brief meeting I couldn't miss. I returned home and started to compose some words about Clif. Then the phone rang. It was my tremendous buddy Kris Hambrecht. Kris and his older brother Bob were homies of mine, inner-circle friends for forty or so years. At various times they each generously and sincerely declared that they considered me a brother. Much of my character was forged during adventures, everyday great times and plenty of struggles with one or both of them at my side. I love the Hambrecht boys. Love 'em.
I told Kris about Clif's passing and he generously listened and offered compassion from a well of tenderness so deep, it's amazing he doesn't slosh when he makes even the slightest of movements. Though his kindness was immediate and sincere, he sounded wrong. I asked him what was up. He told me that he'd had the worst week of his life. On Monday, Sammy the Cat, his constant and most reliable friend since late in the last millennium, had passed away. As I sputtered condolences he said, "Yes, the worst week ever. Yesterday I got a call from a sheriff in Montana -- and I hate to tell you this and do this to you. I wish there was a better way. There isn't. The sheriff told me Rob [Bob was always "Rob" to his family] drove his car up a lonely mountain road, parked it and shot himself dead."
I knew what he was going to tell me before he delivered the fatal news. I had been very worried about Rob for years. In recent months my concern had reached panicky proportions.
The rest of my conversation with Kris is a blur. I know we laughed and cried and laughed and cried and then I think some weeping was involved as we remembered Robert Gage Hambrecht. In his typical empathetic fashion, Kris continued to emphasize his concern over calling with such terrible news right after I learned of Clif's death. He thanked me repeatedly for allowing him to unburden himself. As fuzzy as I was in my shate of stock, Kris' shimmering decency, graciousness and compassion became instant and unforgettable tributes to our fallen bro.
Bob Hambrecht had quite a life but in the past few decades alcohol caught up with him and gradually filleted one of the funniest and most complicated friends I've ever had. The statute of limitations has run on most of our activities, but all that fun back then began a trek that led Rob to the loneliest one-way street from which anyone will ever depart. That's why this doesn't seem the right time to disclose anything that would in any way glorify the drinking, drugging and carousing we did to a soundtrack provided in large part by late 60's and early 70's Grateful Dead. See here how everything leads up to this day?
When Bob's life began to unwrap, I was frequently pressed into service as his private suicide hotline volunteer. As a result, he'd long ago promised to call me before doing anything that couldn't be changed. I made him repeat that pledge many times over the years. Again and again he kept his word. I seemed to have a knack for talking him off the ledge.
In between he went from a high-end job as a sales manager for a large Southern car dealer to just selling cars in Burlington, Vt. Next he became the head of the janitorial and painting staff at a big ski area in Vermont. Then he went back South, where he ended up detailing cars for a dealer he'd trained in the business a few decades earlier. Finally he found his way to Georgia, where he was working as a janitor at a factory. In between these jobs were binges, detoxes and a life of heartbroken remorse and self-recrimination.
Last September, after he called to tell me he was checking into a rehab in Atlanta (that he apparently never signed into), Robert Hambrecht never again contacted me. I knew where he was after he visited Kris in Kentucky on his way to Montana in October. They had a great evening together and Kris is so thankful for it.
After Kris told me he'd seen Rob, I continually endeavored to reconnect with the prodigal brother. He never responded. In the end, he chose one last bender over keeping his word to me about calling before doing anything permanent. This is deeply painful but I don't take it personally. His despair and alcoholism weren't based around me. It wasn't that that he didn't always think of his friends and loved ones. Unfortunately what he thought was that he'd failed them.
In an attempt to get him past his considerable pain, I repeatedly reminded him of something I'd learned when other dear friends had taken their lives: everyone who loves a suicide victim is bequeathed a full share of the dead person's pain. People who commit suicide leave a legacy of sadness more durable than any tombstone. He told me he had said this to a few kids in AA he'd tried to help. Here's hoping he succeeded. Bobby loved to help young people, especially since his travails separated him from his two fabulous sons. I hope to get a chance to speak to Bob's boys one of these days. If they see this they need to know that despite all of his shortcomings, their dad never once failed to hold them in the dearest and deepest part of his heart, right next to his brother Kris.
Needless to state, I've been laid low by Clif and Bob's deaths. I couldn't imagine worse news than that that brought word of Clif's passing. Twelve hours later I got worse news. Despite his illness, Clif's death was shocking and ever so sad. Bob's death hit even harder because, despite his disappearance, I expected him to give me yet another chance to plea for his survival.
Clif died in a hospital fighting to live. Rob intentionally drove himself to the end of the line. I've spent the last six weeks of this ceaseless winter reconstructing my near lifelong pal's final days, hours, minutes and instant. It's an exercise I wish on no one.
The pitiless weather only served to expand my despair. Winter arrived with November. It's now April and still frigid. I've been frozen in a very bad place. I've written some quips that I put on Facebook, which to me is mostly a nice place to jot down ideas and put a time stamp on them. Until this week, my depression rendered me incapable of writing so much as one essay. Lately I've been working on my act and hope it will lead me out of a winter fraught with depression and isolation. But the isolation hasn't been so bad because it does include my love, Karen. She has wisely and warmly allowed me the time and space I've needed to mourn and brood. I thank her for understanding and caring.
Then there are Lettie and Lu, the Dog sisters. I'll soon write of their struggles this winter (they have each had knee reconstruction surgery). As always, they have provided much love, many laughs and great warmth.
It's time for me to get up from my wintry tumble and get back out to share some of what I've been so lucky to have learned from Clif Garboden, Bob Hambrecht and many others who devoted some of their precious time to bringing happiness and purpose to my own numbered days.