To Rod


He was 45 years old. He had two small children who loved him very much, even though he was far away. He was the kind of guy that would make an off-the-wall joke on the first thing that came into his mind to anyone within proximity, and then bust up laughing. He would push girls. He would punch guys. He was the most loveable asshole you knew. He was also one of the kindest older guys at camp, always ready to help you out, no matter what he was doing. He would help you fix things, he would help you heave heavy linen bags up into the truck–even when his back was hurting him and you told him to cut it out–he would buy you a 6-pack for things you didn’t even really expect a “thank-you” for. He had tousled brown hair and shocking blue bloodshot eyes, and he would drive around on truckster with his shirt off without sunscreen, his overweight dog Olie sitting proudly beside him. He seemed to strike stuck-up guests as some kind of wild animal. He would order his dog around in Mandarin. He was like a sailor that had somehow drifted into a lake from the wide sea. He was known long ago to have eaten a bag of uncooked rice one night after he came back from a party and couldn’t find any food. He had a cat which was just as overweight as his dog. He drank too much, he laughed too much, he felt too much. He had one of the biggest hearts in this world.

We miss you.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

6 thoughts on “To Rod”

  1. I appreciate the posts you have made since last Friday, and feel your turmoil. Without knowing you or seeing this blog before now, I wrote a memory today and sent it to those collecting them at Camp. Given what you have written, I thought you might like to read of the one moment that Rod touched me – so long ago, and yet it seems so consistent. This was my version of “TO ROD”

    What I would say to you, if I could…

    Rod:
    I somehow doubt that you would remember this, but I owe you a lifetime debt of gratitude and appreciation for the kindness you showed Brad and me some 20 years ago.

    When Brad was about 2½ and you were probably 26, we had been campers for just a couple of years. Brad was at that age of being curious enough to sit in my old Alfa Romeo, flipping toggle switches and running down the battery with radio and lights, pretending to drive.

    At Camp in about the summer of ´87, there was an old Fire Truck parked back by the maintenance shed, and although I pretty much knew that it was against the rules for Brad to sit in the driver’s seat of that Fire Engine pretending to drive, it was an irresistible opportunity. You were working in the shed, so I asked your permission, and you said that as long as you were around, it would be OK. That week I found you every day and asked if you were going to be around the shed for a little while so Brad could sit in the Fire Engine, and live out his 2-year-old’s fantasy. You were always so very tolerant, kind, and accommodating to us!

    The next summer, the Fire Truck was gone, as was Brad’s desire to sit in it. But I felt that I had established some kind of rapport with you, so I greeted you enthusiastically when I saw you next, and you appeared to have no idea who I was. Undaunted, I continued to say, “Hello, Rod!” each year when I saw you, and you would either look blank or surprised, until about 4 or 5 years later, when finally I began to see a flicker of recognition from you, and eventually, a genuine greeting from you. I felt honored, for I could see that you spoke to virtually no other camper. Every once in a while I would try to have a conversation with you, but it was always brief. I figured you were a very private man of few words.

    I often wondered why you stayed around Camp over the years, but on those rare occasions when I would run across you hiking alone far from Camp on a wilderness trail, I imagined that you were one who valued your freedom, solitude, and independence more than others. I have learned that the happiest men are not those who have the most, but who need the least. I believed you could probably repair, build, or create anything, so a career keeping Camp operating seemed to fit. Over 20 years I gained a lot of respect for you. I have always kept a “Thank you, Rod” in my consciousness for that summer’s courtesy, long ago when you so kindly let Brad “drive” the Fire Engine. It was a small thing, but terribly significant. I will hold it in my mind for the rest of my life. In the words of this old Gaelic blessing:
    May the roads rise to meet you.
    May the wind be at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face;
    The rain fall soft upon your fields
    And, until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    I just found out tonight that Rod had died. I went to elementary school with Rod. I was out to dinner with his “first” crush from sixth grade – Darcy Bassett, and she told me. Neither of us knew at the time that he had committed suicide. Rod called Darcy “monkey face” and had this talent for making us laugh…even back then we saw his intelligence and humor (his brother Randy is very intelligent too).

    Anyway, I’m sending this e-mail to tell you we are grieving, and I know all too well the suffering that comes with losing someone you love to suicide. My father committed suicide when I was 14, my mother when I was 22 and my brother when I was 31 – I’m 45 now(I have one remaining sibling – sister). I’m okay. I take everyday as a blessing and always let people know how much they mean to me…it drives them crazy sometimes, but they understand. Our loss makes us better human beings, that’s our tribute to the loved ones we’ve lost.

    God Bless Toby, God Bless Rod,
    Jill O’Brien
    Portland, OR

  3. Jill, I feel the need to clarify something just a little. I don’t know if we can say exactly that he committed suicide. Like it wasn’t a sudden and deliberate act. It was a due to an illness: alcoholism. I’m sorry, I hadn’t really intended for my posts to be sources of information on such things.

    He had a problem with alcohol. All I really know is that he died prematurely, and it obviously has a connection to alcohol. It’s kind of unclear to me what one calls such a death. It could be perhaps considered a suicide in the sense that he chose deliberately not to heed those who cared for him (and he had some amazing and caring friends, many of whom came together for his memorial today, and others, such as yourself, who didn’t know or couldn’t make it) and continue drinking. God it’s horrible to talk about this like it’s semantics or something. I don’t know what you call such a thing. I have chosen to label it a suicide for the purposes of this site, which is simply a forum for my attempts to deal with my thoughts and emotions. All I know is that the feelings it’s given me are essentially the same as a suicide–that it is unnecessary and unnatural.

    Alcoholism is a complex thing, and I’m sorry if I’ve presented the whole thing here rather one-sidedly. I didn’t know Rod very well, I just worked at the same place as him for the last four years. Even that little bit of contact with him was enough to know that he was an amazing person. And everyone that came into contact with him knew that.

    Whatever you call it, it is a great loss.

  4. We all knew of Rod’s addiction, and the fact that he chose to continue to drink makes it as close to suicide as it comes…whatever the method the results are the same. I guess I’m alittle unique to most because of my experience, but I don’t stigmatize suicide…most people who end their lives were very loving, brilliant, extra-ordinary people living in a world that can often be cruel and ignorant.

    I’m so glad I found your blog, it really helps to hear stories of Rod. I hope you didn’t mind my intrusion. Can you tell me about the Camp that he worked at? It was in Tahoe, right? how long had he been there? Also, did he have twin boys or girls? and finally, can you share with me how the memorial went?

    You are a good writer(my husband is a writer). No worries here about your opinions being expressed as fact…but I agree with you. Rod was intelligent, he knew the alcohol would kill him, he was addicted.

    Thanks for your reply,
    Jill

  5. Jill, I find it interesting that you don’t stigmatize someone’s choice to kill themselves, after having gone through it so very deeply. I can only think that in coming to terms with so many of those you love in making such a decision, you must have to find a way to understand it from their perspective and respect it in order to move on. I think I can understand that. It takes a lot of pain and empathy to get to that position.

    I honestly don’t feel entitled to write anymore about Rod, given that my relationship with him was mainly on the level of seeing him at work everyday, and that was only in the last 4 years–and I don’t feel that this is the proper forum to discuss my workplace, as I’m sure you can understand.

    However, all visiting this site are more than welcome to post whatever comment you wish on your memories of Rod, and I wish to encourage you to further comment freely on anything you find of interest on this site. I write to connect to people. I don’t like to feel that I am writing in a vacuum or just writing a personal journal.

    Writing about the deaths of Rod and Toby has been great therapy and extremely cathartic for me, and has helped me work through a lot of emotions, and I am glad to know that it is helping others, as well.

    Jill, if you have any insight on what has helped you to deal with the suicides of those you love, then I would definitely be interested in hearing more about it, if it is anything you would want to share–and I could certainly understand if you didn’t. But it might help some other people out.

    As always, thanks for your comments and for reading.

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