Bob’s been dead about five years now.
“It was severe cirrhosis of the liver,” his fed-up stepfather told me.
What it meant was that my former colleague drank himself to death at the age of 39.
Bob wasn’t his real name but I use it to protect the shred of family that survives him.
I think one main reason the fatal drinking occurred was because Bob was molested as a child by his father, a general in the Army, no less.
I got to know Bob when he was my sports editor at the mountain newspaper I ran for six years in California. He was an excellent writer, a pretty fair photographer and he never missed deadline.
He was tall and thin when I met him and women could not keep their eyes off of him. He was also a complete charmer and always nicely dressed.
Bob was in the throes of a divorce when I took the paper over. His wife eventually moved 500 miles away and took his son with him. I’m sure that’s another reason why he climbed into the bottle.
During those years we belonged to a fantasy football league and got together with buddies on the weekends to watch games.
From those afternoons I knew Bob drank way too much, but it wasn’t effecting his work.
I never knew how bad it was until we went to a newspaper conference together about two years before I left the paper.
We were sharing a room to save the company money. I went off to the first session of the morning and Bob said he’d be along.
I thought it was odd when he walked in an hour later and didn’t sit down near me.
When I got back to the room at the end of the day, I noticed three empty beer cans in the trash can. I suddenly knew where that morning hour of his went. He had slammed three beers between 7:15 and 8 a.m.
When I asked him about it, he said he had drank them the night before. I didn’t believe it, but I couldn’t prove it either.
After that I kept an eye on Bob at work because I didn’t want any repeat performances like the one at the conference. He kept producing but I began to see a change in his demeanor.
This formerly happy guy became cynical, began getting fat and started having an affair with a woman who had three boys and a husband.
Once that started, we didn’t see much of each other anymore, except at work. I figured as long as he was producing and not getting in trouble within the community, I could leave it at that.
After I left that paper, I came back about one year later to see all my old friends in town. When I ran into Bob I was shocked at the sketchy characters he was with.
One of them was a woman he met in a short attempt at rehab. She was married with four kids and had abandoned all of them.
Not long after that, Bob got fired from my old paper. He went on a bender and simply didn’t come through with that week’s sports pages.
A few weeks later he called me in a stupor and said he had nowhere left to turn.
Why I offered to help, I’ll never know. I should have known better, but I thought he was a once-decent man who needed a break.
I ended up moving him into my home with my family to help him get on his feet. Bob got a job as a night clerk at a historic hotel in town.
The idea was to get him on full time with the new paper I was working for. He even did some freelance sports stories for them that put him in line for the next opening.
But within days I noticed lots of empty liquor bottles in the trash.
When the hotel fired him, I realized where those bottles came from. I also realized I was into something way over my head and exposing my family to potential harm.
So I called Bob’s parents but they wanted nothing to do with him. Still, I didn’t want to just kick him out into the street.
I called one of our old football fantasy friends, and he was willing to take him on. We’ll call him Rich to protect the innocent.
Rich — who is a terrific guy — came and got him one day and they drove off. For me it was not a tearful goodbye.
It wasn’t surprising when several months later, Rich told me he had also kicked Bob out under similar circumstances.
The last time Rich saw Bob, he was walking along the highway next to Lake Tahoe, disheveled and obviously drunk. Rich didn’t bother to stop.
About two years later Rich called and said he learned that Bob had died.
Bob’s airline attendant girlfriend found him on the floor of the bathroom in their Reno apartment. He had been dead several days.
During that conversation we came to the same conclusion.
If you want to destroy yourself, don’t try to pull others into your wake.
We also agreed he was the only young person we ever knew who had simply given up.
The last five years of Bob’s life proved what can happen when you turn your back on the Golden Rule.
If also proved to me that sometimes in this life you think you know somebody, but you really don’t.