I had met Bobby, but it had been a long time. Growing up we had been best friends. From when we were seven until some point in high school we were like brothers. Then something happened. We stopped being able to relate to each other and we hung with different crowds. While I visited with the "downtown crowd" that dealt drugs and made alcohol plentiful, he was attached to them. It didn't seem to make sense that he had entered into a downward spiral, spending the bulk of his time with users and losers, but eventually I would understand. For almost ten years I thought Bobby and I knew everything about each other. We did science projects together in grammar school and regularly slept over each other's houses. What I never managed to understand was the nature of his father.
They think that your early ending
Was all wrong
For the most part they're right
But look how they all got strong
Fred always scared me a little as a kid, but I figured it was because he was extremely outspoken and said things I never heard an adult say before. He ran a fish market and owned apartment buildings in the most rancid parts of town. When we were thirteen he payed Bobby and myself to help him wallpaper one of his buildings. After we were finished he brought us to a hole in the wall bar and handed us both a glass of beer saying we "deserved it." He had a room in the basement with a film projector. Bobby showed it to me a couple of times. The films were the most raw and disturbing form of porn and we thought we were stumbling upon something crudely special. When Bobby told me the woman in the films was his mother when she was younger, I felt sick to my stomach and told him I never wanted to see them again. I never gave much thought to Fred again, but we always went to Bobby's house for Christmas Eve. One year after Bobby and I had stopped talking regularly Fred came up to my mother in the kitchen, firmly grabbed one of her buttocks and asked her if she was "getting enough at home." My mother, being about 5'10" and not at all slender, threw him against the wall. That was the day I began to seriously wonder what Fred was all about. I was sixteen.
After high school I went to college and Bobby went to work at his father's fish market. A few years later he opted to join the United States Army. I had since dropped out and was working for the post office. His family and mine remained close, but as Bobby's mother came by our house for afternoon coffee I could hear my mother telling her to leave Fred. There was much said in muffled tones and they stopped speaking when I entered the room. My mother, being a one woman army when necessary and a kind and gentle person when matters called for it, told me one night that I had to help convince Bobby's siblings to move out of their house and to support her in convincing Bobby's mother to divorce Fred. I didn't understand and told her that Bobby and I rarely talked, but my ever-perceptive mother knew that I had a kind of relationship with Bobby's sister Monique. I had my own problems to deal with at the time and thought little of it. Then it happened. Bobby went AWOL from the Army and was found huddled in an abandoned shack somewhere in Tennessee. He was put under psychiatric care.
During his period in the psychiatric ward, Bobby revealed the dark truth about his family. Fred had been systematically raping his children for years. He had also used physical violence and the threat of murder to keep them from speaking. Bobby told the entire sordid tale and then went public with it. What my mother knew from her talks with Bobby's mother became clear to me, and nothing could be hidden. Bobby's brother lived in a brooding silence. His sister was living with a coke dealer who regularly beat her up and kept her paychecks as "rent money." Their lives were in chaos, and what I knew about Bobby from our childhood became clear again. Bobby would always sacrifice himself to save others he cared about. He was about to do it again, but no one had any idea how far he was willing to go.
Bobby was released from the hospital and assigned a social worker and a psychologist who visited him regularly. Bobby's mother divorced Fred and rescued Monique from her coke dealing boyfriend by offering her a safe home. It might have all worked out, but soon after, Fred went to live at his father's house. Bobby's grandfather had died the previous year and left a large peat moss farm to his son. Fred now had multiple businesses and was regularly entertaining prostitutes and other seedy characters out on his father's farm.
That's why I say hey man, nice shot
Bobby and his psychologist became romantically involved and moved in together. They talked about getting married and I saw him briefly at my mother's house. Everything seemed just fine except there was this look in Bobby's eyes that I would not understand until years later. Fred started coming around his ex-wife's house, visiting his kids and bringing them presents. He told them he was well and wanted them to forgive him and welcome him back into their lives. They did, just a little bit too easily, and that was where I think Bobby snapped.
Bobby abruptly broke things off with his psychologist girlfriend. He moved out and went, of all places, to his grandfather's farm. He moved in with his father. No one understood why he would do such a thing. We wondered if he believed his father was truly "cured." We should have known better. Less than a week after moving into his grandfather's farm, Bobby walked out behind the house and put a gun in his mouth. He probably never even heard the sound of his own hand pulling the trigger. Bobby had checked out for good.
Those who showed up at Bobby's wake talked endlessly about the tragic loss. Everyone was dressed in black and sadly wondering if there was anything they could have done to save him. At the center of it all was Fred on the receiving line. With his boy his a coffin, closed because there was no way to reconstruct his face, Fred was smiling and shaking hands with those who had come. Bobby had done what he had done to try to make his father feel some of the pain he felt all his life. He did what he did to wake his family up. His father felt nothing and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the monster at the end of one the worst books ever written. I wouldn't shake his hand. I just stared at him trying to find any sense of humanity in his eyes. There was none. A man as an empty shell, and that is why I still say, to my childhood best friend, "Hey man, nice shot." He died believing he would finally hurt his father and he doesn't know any better. I do. This is the greatest weight I carry in this lifetime. I can never tell him, even when we see each other again.
One day I will tell Bobby his father wept at his funeral. How could I possibly tell him that his father laughed?
Lyrics sample from lyrics copyright the band Filter
As appears on their 1995 album Short Bus
And in no way was written about these events
But will always make me remember
Because that is the way things are...
Listen to the song while reading this. You'll get it.
In 2005 I went back to Bobby's house and saw his mother again. The house is filled with pictures of the kids and his mother now lives alone in the house they all grew up in. There isn't a single photograph of Bobby in the house.
There also isn't a single photograph of Fred.