When Bob called and told me he was dying from cancer, it was time for us to say goodbye. A few years ago Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which, under the Veterans Administration, is considered a one hundred percent disability under its guidelines for Agent Orange exposure. His cancer—Esophageal with a stomach tumor, metastasized to his liver—struck fast and hard. He is in Stage IV. Bob seldom drank, never smoked. Neither of his parents suffered similar ailments. There’s no way to substantiate Agent Orange as the cause agent. It remains a distinct possibility in my opinion.
Our friendship (Bob on right) began in elementary school. In the third grade we each held a crush on the same girl. I was jealous because, to the best of my recall, they lived across the street from each other. When his family moved to another area in Houston, we abstained contact for ten years. Since our fathers were on again/off again business associates, we retained mutual awareness. Bob and I connected again after transferring from different colleges to The University of Texas at Austin. During a statistic class session, he asked if I wanted to go to Europe. Thanks to our fathers that wish was fulfilled.
During the summer of 1966 Bob and I traveled the European Continent, working part-time, riding trains by Eurail Pass, while trying to adhere to the “Five Dollars a Day” routine. We each kept a journal. More importantly, we carried either Kodak Instamatic or Brownie Hawkeye cameras.
At our farewell dinner that summer hosted by the manager of the Swiss-based company we worked for, Bob revealed his goal of becoming a lawyer, and I, a CPA.
The Vietnam War was escalating but we paid little attention. Yet, the conflict soon intervened. I was drafted after finishing college, while Bob was yanked from law school midway through his three-year term. After graduating from infantry officer candidate school, Bob was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Signal Corps, which led to his posting in Saigon.
Bob became a lawyer, and was an athlete, an innovator, and an instigator. And he relished reading science fiction. He also possessed a dry, subtle sense of humor, sometimes wicked. Thirty plus years after the fact Bob revealed he and a cohort had double-stacked boxes on a conveyor belt, while on the other end I continually fell behind the unload and had to stop the belt to crawl up the chute and unclog the logjam.
Photography was Bob’s his number one passion. Over time Bob evolved to SLRs and finally to his favorite, a secondhand medium format Hasselblad. He developed a unique technique of taking ordinary subjects and shooting them into a distorted mirror, creating abstract images that “mirrored” paintings. If you saw a man walking the Houston streets carrying a large gilded mirror and searching for subject matter it was probably Bob. He devoted the last two years to learning Adobe Photoshop, editing his images, and printing hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs. He insisted I take one of his “old” mirrors. Our good-natured photographic competition extends to the end.
Bob was one of few men who understood and supported my need to write. Yes, he was that kind of friend.
During our goodbye weekend we talked about his having lived a solid, good life and of his love for his wife Dee, who took the photo of Bob and I. We talked about our hopes, dreams, and concerns for our children. We even exchanged a few corny jokes.
We spoke of his pragmatism, his good nature, his dignity, and acceptance of his pending death. We even managed to say what grown men need to say but too often do not. “I love you.”