This past Friday was my and my twin-sister’s, thirty-ninth birthday. There was a time I wanted to live to be 111 years old like Bilbo Baggins. To be honest, it might happen, my Grandfather is 95 and still going, so I might make, or even beat, old Bilbo one day.
I’m seventeen minutes older than my sister, which means 17% more of the day should be dedicated to me; of course, my sister doesn’t see it that way. Growing up we shared birthdays, which was easy since we went to the same Catholic grammar school and our buddy Rich was always there. But, when we hit high-school and went to different ones, things got a bit weird. Suddenly there were high-school girls at these parties, pool parties. But, despite that, Rich was there and we survived. Hey, we were two nerds who knew more about War of the Worlds than girls, what chance did we have?
Like I said, Rich was always there for every birthday. He never missed a party, he never missed the day to call and wish me a happy birthday. I was born at 4:40 in the morning, and one year, my buddy Rich, the thousandth man, even called me at 4:40 to wish me a Happy Birthday. For 29 years this went on. From the age of 9 it started, and the way we were going, I was sure he’d be there for 39. This would have been the 30th birthday he would have been at. Having Rich at every birthday sort of made him like the un-official Nostalgia triplet. Even though it wasn’t his birthday, having him there made it feel like a real celebration.
Last year, after two brain surgeries, lots of medications, and before they realized his skull was filling with fluid, Rich was at our birthday. He was skinny like an old man and frail, and when I went to pick him up, I had to have him hold my arm like my Grandfather does whenever he comes over. We walked down the flights of steps and I’d tell him how many he’d have left, but he never let the sickness get to him. As we walked down the steps he quoted National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, “Now don’t throw me down the steps, Clark,” he said. “Is Rusty still in the Navy?” I replied. Even the day of his surgery, while he lay in his hospital bed and the doctor walked in, the first thing, Rich said to the doctor was, “Did you have your coffee today, Doc?”
I don’t blame God for Rich getting the brain tumor. I’m not mad at God either. He didn’t do this to Rich. I just miss him. I’d say there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him or go to call or email him something, or think we’d be going to see the new Godzilla movie in the theatres together.
He was, and still is, my brother. So this year, knowing it was to be the first of the rest of my life’s birthdays without him, I knew it was going to be tough. Thursday night, the Eve of my birthday, I went to bed early like I always do Sunday through Thursdays, since I go to work early. I remember praying to God, asking him to please let me see Rich while I slept.
But I didn’t.
I woke Friday morning at 4:30, one half hour before the alarm was supposed to go off. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I laid in bed, waiting for 4:40 to hit, but my eyes were closed and I missed it. I made sure to see the clock hit 5:47 when my sister was born and wished her a happy birthday. I then dressed, said thank you to my wife for wishing me a Happy Birthday, kissed her good bye, pet my dog, and was out the door driving to work by 5:20.
As I drove to work I couldn’t help but think of Rich. I was thinking of him in general, about the days we hung out, the things we did, and of course all the times he shared my birthday with me, when I began to sense a strange presence in the car. I never believed in these sort things, but I truly believe Rich was there with me that morning, right there in my car, in that Obi-Wan-Kenobi-Jedi-ghost-form, driving to work with me on my birthday.
I got out of work early that day. My sister had the day off, so we planned on going to dinner together. She met me at my place, and my wife, my sister and I went to Chili’s. The dinner was good, the service poor. Let’s just say my sister never got her broccoli. We then went to Target to get a few things my sister needed, and while there, I saw these Hot Wheels cars of Star Trek. Right away I thought of Rich. In grammar school Rich was a Star Trek fan thanks to his cousin, and my friend, Bobby. Rich would try to get me to watch them but I wouldn’t. Seeing these cars, I took the Spock one and showed them to my wife and sister. If Rich resembled anyone from Star Trek it was Mr. Spock. It was nice seeing these toys, sort of a way for Rich to be there without being there.
Saturday was calm, Sunday my wife and I saw Spider-man before going to my parent’s house for a barbecue. Tommy, who writes here at the blog, the Toy-Line equivalent of The Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson, had just moved back to NJ, and was there. It was the first time I had seen him since Toy Fair and was great. Rich was missed a lot. It was a nice day and barbecue. On our way home we stopped at my in-laws home where they gave me a gift certificate to Chili’s. I called my sister that night and told her since she always treated us to lunch, I was treating her to Chili’s tomorrow, and we could stop at Target to get some things we both needed.
The next day we went to Chili’s. The food was great, the service was excellent. The three of us sat there eating our lunch, our waiter, Patrick, coming back to check on us several times, seeing how the food was, if we needed refills. When we were done eating he brought us the check. As I figured out how much tip to leave I noticed he wrote on the bill “Live Long and Prosper”. Mr. Spock.
I showed this to my wife and sister who smiled. I asked a passing waitress to send Patrick over. She asked if anything was wrong and I said everything was fine. When Patrick came back I asked him, “Did you write this?”
“I did,” he said and did the Vulcan hand sign.
“You’re a Star Trek fan?” I asked.
“Yes, and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.”
This guy was certainly the type of guy Rich and I would have been friends with.
“My fiancé and I are having a sci-fi themed wedding,” he said.
I smiled. “When my wife and I were getting married, we came out to the Throne Room theme from the end of Episode IV,” I said. Patrick began singing the tune. “I wanted, instead of flowers for the archway the bridal party to hold, for them to use light sabers, but she kept saying no, it will look stupid. So, on our wedding day, as they announced us, we rounded the corner and there was the bridal party standing with light sabers.”
“Oh cool,” Patrick said.
“I just wanted to tell you, my friend was a Star Trek fan, and he recently left us. Seeing you writing this was like having him here with us.”
“Well, I’m glad I could make you guys happy.”
We then wished him the best for his wedding and thanked him and went onto Target. Of course, that day, they had all the cars there except for Spock. So, our birthday started and ended with Chili’s, Target and Star Trek cars, though my sister never did get her broccoli.
Tuesday, driving to work, I thought about what Patrick had written on the bill, about having Rich in the car with me on my birthday, and about the Star Trek cars. It hit me. Rich did spend my birthday with me. He was there driving to work with me, there in Target looking at the Star Trek cars, and there, that final holiday day, giving me a message through Patrick. “Live long and prosper.”
It was Rich’s way of telling me he’s OK. That he wants me to be happy, to have a good life, a nice long life with my wife and family and to have a joyous one. It was Rich’s way of telling me all this through these things.
I miss Rich more than I can say, more than anyone. But, this past birthday, he gave me the best present he ever could. He let me know that he’s still here with me, he wants me to be happy, and that he’ll be there every birthday yet to come. It’s OK to miss him, it’s normal to, but I just need to remember those four words he sent me and know he’s right there by my side.
Pictured are what they had in stock that day, all but Mr. Spock & McCoy.
If you’ve ever thought what Rich and a young Nostalgia looked like, it was something like this:
This would be Rich on the left and a young Nostalgia on the right: