A year ago today, my friend Rob Miller died. Rob was the Multimedia teacher at my high school. I never had a class with him, but I’ve heard from friends of mine who did that he was quick-witted, sharp, and a bit of a hard-ass when it came to grading, but had a warm sense of humor. He figured out how to create digital art with programs like Photoshop by himself and was pretty hands-off when it came to teaching kids how to use them. When Rob and I would pass each other in the hallways, he’d say things like, “Move your ass, Tyler, you’re taking up the whole hallway,” and we’d smile and laugh at each other. Rob was close friends with my Literary Arts teacher, Jay Imbrenda, who’s also a quick-witted hard-ass with an extensive knowledge of his subject and a love for his students. The two of them needed each other in an environment like Carver, where they could help students flourish and laugh off all the bureaucratic bullshit that went along with teaching at a public magnet school.
My friends and I hung out with Jay and Rob one night in the middle of our first winter break in college. I’d hung out with Jay outside of school before, but not Rob. The two of them stepped out into Jay’s yard to take close-up, high-definition cell phone videos of earthworms around midnight, then came back in and played the footage they’d just taken on Jay’s TV. They cracked up just as hard watching the video as they did making it. Two slimy, purplish tentacles poked out of the dirt and wiggled as Rob bellowed “This looks so weird,” between laughs. Jay told me later that that night was one of the last nights we had with “normal Rob.”
Rob was bipolar and there were some circumstances that I don’t think I’m at liberty to talk about in his life that were difficult enough without chemical imbalances. The priest who gave his eulogy said that Rob’s last text message to him read, “I’m in a dark place.” I woke up the morning after Rob killed himself to a facebook feed full of “RIP Rob Miller” statuses. Jay and my friend Molly (not Rob’s daughter) had both planned to call me and tell me what happened, but they were talking to each other trying to process the grief. I don’t blame either of them, but I wish I could’ve helped them sooner. I remembered the hug Rob gave me that November when I came back for Coffeehouse, the school’s Literary and Vocal Music recital, and stared to tear up. There was more joy, affection, and genuine care in that half minute hug than most hugs I’d gotten in my life.
His death is still hard for me to think about because I was suicidal before I came to Carver and seeing someone so strong, so immensely creative, and so much older than me break down like that was a foundation shaker to say the least. I was talking to my dad last night about Rob and he said, “I can’t believe people who commit suicide, it seems so selfish to me.” A lot of the time, though, suicidal people think that the whole world would be better off without us in it, that we’d be doing a favor to our family and friends by not being around to bother or burden them. I can’t say for certain whether Rob felt that way, but I know I did. I’m grateful to Rob in a way for showing me how fucked up those patterns of thought are and the kind of devastation they lead to, but I really wish he’d stuck around so we could talk about it. You can tell a suicidal person how much you love them, appreciate them, and want them around, but you can’t make them listen to you. The one thing you can do is create. Whether it’s painting, photography. poetry, music, dance, digital art, acting, comedy, or whatever you’re into, do it and someone somewhere will thank you. I’d like to thank Rob right now by sharing one of his oil paintings. If his family wants me to take it down, I will. Miss you every day, man.