We arrived in Athens on March 11, 1994. We arrived very early in the morning and were detained at the airport by immigration officials because we were on a flight from Bangkok on our tirp around the world. I’m sure they took one look at us and decided we were probably drug smugglers. They went through all our bags and made us show our money. Together we had just a little over three hundred dollars. We also didn’t have return tickets. They questioned us for quite some time. We both feared they would put us on a plane back to the states. But we told a good story they eventually believed. Taking advantage of Rob’s Italian name, we convinced them that Rob’s parents were coming on a boat from Italy and would meet us in the Athens harbor. That explained why we had no return tickets and were out of money. It was a very special day in Athens! Perhaps that is why they were so quick to accept our fabricated story. Neither of us had gotten much sleep on the plane. Everything seemed to be happening in a beautiful dream.
As we made our way to the Plaka by taxi there was an undeniable feeling that something of historic proportion had just transpired. There was a peculiar sense of tranquility on the streets of Athens. The streets seemed more deserted than usual. As we came closer to our destination the mysterious aura became more pronounced. We turned a corner and suddenly the streets were covered with flower petals. There was a cold dampness that was even more apparent after months in Thailand. The flower petals had been attached to the pavement with the tears of the Greek people. We had arrived on the morning after Melina Mercouri’s funeral.
There was no escaping the energy of Greek pride. It was another of those synchronistic moments in the adventures of Rob and Bob, when life provided a magical backdrop to our own personal drama. To us the flower petals and the intense energy were there to welcome us home to the place where we had both touched something more real than we had ever known existed before. For myself I felt it was a morning of resurrection, a new beginning, phoenix rising from the ashes. We had succeeded in leaving many of our inhibitions behind in Thailand, so we were both ready to spend another season in our precious village Loutro. Rob kept saying, “I just have to do this one more time before I die!” And unfortunately it was Rob’s last visit before he died. It was as though he knew, giving me hints, but hints I was not yet ready to accept.
After another very successful season of yoga in the castle, on Thursday October 20, 1994, we left Loutro on the last ferry at the end of our fourth year in paradise. The ferry was so full we had to stand on the lower deck with the cars and trucks. As they began to raise the ramp we could see our friends gathered on the beach to wave good-bye. As the boat turned toward the Hotel Porto Sofia we could see all of the girls from the hotel waving towels and screaming good-bye. A man with a British accent approached us and asked jokingly if we were famous. He was a British tour guide writer named Nick. We gave him a short synopsis of Rob and Bob in Loutro. He invited us to ride with him in his taxi to Hania.
As we wended through the White Mountains toward the north coast the three of us commented on the ominous changes taking place. The road through the White Mountains was being widened for larger tour busses. But the magic had not yet been destroyed. The taxi slowed to a crawl as we carefully made our way through a huge flock of sheep. In a valley surrounded by mountains, it was a scene out of a movie from my childhood. The kind of scene that makes you want to sell everything and travel the world.
That evening as Rob and I sat talking in our room, we both feared that the last paradise could destroyed forever. Rob repeated his dire prediction that almost everything real in the world would be destroyed before the new millennium.
Something had been very different that year as we prepared to leave. I had this sick feeling in my stomach, the kind you get when someone had died. I was always able to allay these feelings with the knowledge that there would be another season in Loutro the next year. For some reason that possibility did not seem feasible this time. There was this horrible fear that I could not shake. I didn’t want to understand exactly what it was. Denial is a good friend at times like this.
On the ferry as we were leaving I felt extremely close to Rob. I think we were both holding back tears. This had been a really intense summer. Sometimes the magic of Loutro was overwhelming. At times it offered up life in a way that was almost too real to accept. But the more frightening thought for us was to return to a life where people often fall asleep, only to wake up just before they take their last breath! There are two kinds of struggles in life. There are struggles that are absolutely a waste of time, struggles for the sake of struggling. But the struggles Loutro provided were the struggles that build character and wisdom. I love Loutro more than I am able to express in words. If I never see her again, I thought to myself, she will always be in my heart.
Tuesday, October 25, 1994, London
I am afraid. I believe Rob is also afraid. It’s something so different, not like the anxieties we have translated to excitement in order to survive. This seems like a very difficult transition back into the mistake described by D.H. Lawrence. The quote has been hanging on my wall in Loutro for the past few years. It has so much meaning in the experience Rob and I are having now. The biggest culture shock it seems is coming back to our roots.
I AM NOT A MECHANISM, AN ASSEMBLY OF VARIOUS SECTIONS.
AND IT IS NOT BECAUSE THE MECHANISM IS WORKING WRONGLY,
THAT I AM ILL. I AM ILL BECAUSE OF WOUNDS TO THE SOUL,
TO THE DEEP EMOTIONAL SELF --
AND THE WOUNDS TO THE SOUL TAKE A LONG, LONG TIME,
ONLY TIME CAN HELP -- AND PATIENCE AND A CERTAIN
DIFFICULT REPENTANCE, REALIZATION OF LIFE’S MISTAKE,
AND THE FREEING ONESELF FROM THE ENDLESS REPETITION
OF THE MISTAKE WHICH MANKIND
AT LARGE HAS CHOSEN TO SANCTIFY.
Just once in our lives Rob and I wanted to get on a plane, to travel in one direction until we arrived back at the place where we began. We accomplished that in January, 1995. The year before, in our first days in Bangkok, Rob got a blister on his heel from wearing new shoes. It never healed despite many attempts and several doctors. We arrived back in San Francisco with a gnawing awareness of what the blister was telling us. A sore that will not heal has always been a harbinger of bad news. For better or worse, we trudged forward trying to glean the last few days or months before we had to pay the piper for our denial. Later, I would sort through the 1995 photos, wondering how I could have been so blind to Rob’s thinning face or his waning spirit. I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing.
In April 1995, Rob left San Francisco for London, to stay with our Italian friend Adriano. I waited in San Francisco for the signal to come so we could continue to travel together. That signal came, but not in the form I had envisioned.
The phone rang in the middle of the night, which often suggests some foreboding news is about to change your life in a dramatic unimaginable way. This particular phone call came hours after I had been jolted out of a deep sleep by the sound of Rob’s voice calling my name in a forceful succinct whisper. He had done this often in Loutro, when we lived on the island of Crete. I would open my eyes and roll onto my side to face him.
“Do you feel the energy of the full moon?” he would ask. “How can you sleep with all that incredible energy pulsating through this room?”
On this night in San Francisco, I was huddled under the covers while the cold foggy wind rattled loosely fitting windows. Gary walked through the living room with the cordless phone in his outstretched hand, as if pointing a gun at my head. It was Rob calling from London.
“I’m in the hospital! Please get on the next plane and get here as soon as you can!”
I have very little recollection of what transpired between that conversation and the moment I arrived at his hospital room. I was panicked when the nurses huddled together whispering to each other at the mention of Rob’s name. One nurse came over to suggest that I take the seat inside Rob’s room where a doctor would soon come to talk with me. As I sat contemplating the worst, I caught a glimpse of Rob’s wheelchair being pushed toward me by a male nurse. Rob was on oxygen provided through a high pressure mask that made it difficult for him to speak or for me to understand him.
For three weeks I pretended to eat, pretended to sleep, pretended to laugh and pretended to be strong. But those who face death have an uncanny ability to see through everything. I couldn’t fool Rob. When I was out of the room he told my friend Stefan, Dr. Strasser) to “take care of me.”
When the moment finally came I was more unprepared than ever. I sat beside Rob’s bed just holding on to his hand. When he began to take long deep breaths his face became distorted and I knew that each breath could be the last. I began to cry, screaming no not yet, not now. A nurse heard my crying and came into the room to check Rob’s pulse then left us alone. Rob finally stopped breathing a moment later. Adriano was half smiling and half crying and talking about how beautiful Rob looked. I could not see the beauty in that moment. All I could feel was a pain stronger than any emotional pain I had ever felt before. I stood up and looked into Rob’s eyes. Those beautiful intense blue eyes were lifeless now. I remember thinking how strange it is that the energy we call life can be so powerful, but invisible without the body to represent it in a dense form. I reached over to close Rob’s eyes but they kept coming open again. I held them down for a few moments until they remained closed. I walked over to the doorway to the bathroom and leaned against the door frame. My legs turned to rubber and my body slid down the frame until I was seated on the floor. Every tear, every emotion I had held back for three weeks came heaving out. I just kept screaming, “He was my whole life, what am I going to do now?”
Adriano and I washed Rob’s body. We dressed him, then sat with his body for 5 hours. That evening I went to Adriano’s. Adriano found Rob’s diary and read the last entry:
Rob’s Journal June 1, 1995
“Thank you for a most marvelous life. I am overwhelmed by the love I’ve received around the world. I am just so tired, I can’t go on. Forgive, forgive, forgive. Adriano my Angel, Bob my Angel, Thank you everyone. -R.”
That evening at Adriano’s I wasn’t able to go right to sleep, but I was exhausted both emotionally and physically. I laid in the bed with a million thoughts swirling through my head. Suddenly Rob was standing beside my bed. I was comfortable with the experience. In a way it was the most normal thing that had happened that day. Rob stood beside my bed demanding that I give him his contact lenses which were in the trash bin. Perhaps that was his way of using humor to prepare me for what came next.
A faint iridescent glowing cloud of multicolored smoke began to swirl above my bed. I had the feeling of being carried into the cosmos or falling into a black hole. I was witnessing something so beautiful it left me consumed in peace. I focused on the colors in the swirling mass of energy and realized it was my life with Rob. Each part was there in its entirety and when I focused on something it became real again. I could taste and feel and smell everything as if it were real in that moment. I found a secret to release myself from the confines of the illusion of time and I began to become the swirling mass of color. I began to experience every moment of our life together in one single moment, then I fell into a deep sleep.