Goodbye, my brother

by Brian Clarey

We are each given one life. We all owe one death. My friend Robert Striano paid his final due this weekend, when he was hit by a car in Corolla and killed instantly. He was 42.

“I can tell you this,” the cop told me over the phone very early on Sunday morning, “he didn’t suffer.”

But Robert did suffer for much of his short and eventful life. He lost his brother at a young age, and his father died when Robert was still a boy — died,eerily, in much the same way that Robert did: on the street after being hit by a car.

He had relationships that didn’t play out the way he wanted, ambitions that went unrealized, big dreams that died in the ether. You could read about it in the dark lines of poetry he shared with his friends, or in late-night conversations after the beers had run out. You could see it in his face.

After years of abuse, his body had begun to betray him — searing aches in his head, irregular rhythms from his heart. He carried a lot of pain.

Yes, Robert had a dark side. Don’t we all? But he was never one to shy away from the light.

I have written about him often in this space, usually referring to him as my brother in-law. And though there was no real familial link between us — he was married for a time to my wife’s twin sister — he and I were indeed brothers.

We had some real good times, Robert and I, dating back to when I met him, more than 10 years ago, a few years before he built a bar in his garage where all the dads in the neighborhood would gather to watch football on Sundays. Robert loved the Oakland Raiders, a team that was much like himself: tough, maybe a little bit dirty, able to achieve greatness but destined for hard knocks.

I remember when the Raiders got pummeled by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. At halftime, with the Raiders down 20-3, he threw everybody out of the garage and watched them lose by himself. He took it kind of personally.

We had a joke between us that every time I would do something to drive my wife nuts, he would do something twice as bad within a few days. I would stay out too late, he’d total his car. I would spend a $20 from the house budget on beer, he would bring home a 180-pound St. Bernard who would sometimes bite houseguests.

We used to joke that when our wives finally tired of us, we would share one of those double-occupancy mill houses off of Yanceyville Street and play video games every night.

Robert was an outsized character, able to vacillate between resigned stoicism and gut-wrenching tenderness, sometimes in the same sentence. He was a good and loyal friend, perhaps the most loyal I have ever known. If you were in Robert’s good graces, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you.

Robert knew how to do things, things like fix an engine, install a kitchen appliance, make your computer work with your television set. Every single household project I have undertaken since we moved in has involved a phone call to Robert, and more often than not he’d saddle up and come over to help me with what I was doing. He once fixed the sunroof of my old Saturn with his fist.

Robert always had time for me — time to help me out, time to talk, time to watch football or drink beer — even when I didn’t always have time for him, and it is one of my regrets that I didn’t see him more often. I would pay a mighty price to hang out with him just one more time, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, talking football or music or old television shows until he laughed his crazy laugh and pounded his fist on the bar.

I thought there would be more time. I figured there was going to be another act in Robert’s life. I thought he would always be around, ready and reliable whenever I came calling.

I loved Robert, loved his spirit and his courage and his passion. He lived a short and sometimes brutal existence, but he packed a lot into it. Among those whose lives he touched — and he touched hundreds — are lovers, kindred spirits, children and even grandchildren. It is safe to say that none of us will ever forget him. I know I never will.

I will think about Robert every time I see the Raiders play, every time I drink a cold beer outside on a crisp fall day, every time I pick up a tool or buy a new gadget, every time I’ve got extra tickets to the game — any game — at the last minute.

I miss him, and I suppose it’s a feeling that will linger for years. But I am thankful and proud to have known him, and I am happy that he has finally found peace.

Goodbye old friend. It has indeed been a pleasure to know you.