Bobby had a last name – but I never knew what it was. He was just Bobby. He lived in a trailer on Bails Road half way up a hollow outside Athens, Ohio. He lived alone. He wore a scraggly beard, his hair was long, matted and unkempt and his clothes, old and raggedy. He drove a 1978 Cadillac Coupe Deville, the Bobby-mobile, and kept it running with duct tape, junkyard parts and his own skill as a mechanic - except for the muffler, which never worked. He was sober.
Tuesday night, I attended a meeting, as I do most evenings, wherein we discuss how we stay sober. God, temptation, defects of character, and service to others are typical topics. I attend these meetings because I want to, not because I have to, and I always seem to learn something new. Some meetings are better than others, just like days. At this particular meeting we were reading from a volume called The Big Book, if you’re a ‘friend of Bill’s’ you know what I’m talking about. We read chapter 4, We Agnostics. On page 47 there is a discussion of faith, that elusive quality necessary for living a satisfying life. How do you get such a thing? How do you keep such a thing? What is the nature of God? How is that nature manifested in day to day living? These were some of the questions touched on in considering that particular page. “Articles of faith” and one’s own concept of a Higher Power often appear at odds. Religion, it seems, oftentimes gets in the way of one’s own concept of a Higher Power.
When it came my turn to speak, I talked about Bobby; sober for over a decade, he once told me that his Higher Power was a white plastic tiger that sat on top of his TV set. “As long as that tiger doesn’t drink, I don’t drink.” OK. Whatever you say, Bobby. It seemed to work, and who am I to question anyone’s personal concept of a Higher Power. It’s called “a God of my understanding” – and it was what Bobby understood.
Bobby never had much money, he lived on public assistance due to his mental illness and incapacities. He often spent his days at The Gathering Place, an old house converted into a kind of clubhouse for “God’s other children”. He was very proud of the fact that he sat on its Board of Directors. The facility is run by the county and funded, in large part, through charitable donations.
Four months ago, Bobby died. He was diagnosed with cancer some months earlier and had largely disappeared. “Seen Bobby?” No one seemed to have an answer. The folks at The Gathering Place knew but, unless you are a regular, news usually doesn’t get much further than the front door. Bobby was hospitalized for a while. He was told there really wasn’t anything that could be done. He said he wanted to go home – that his neighbors would look in on him – that he’d rather be where he was comfortable.
I learned of his death in an offhand way, and heard that there would be a memorial service at The Gathering Place. I went, along with another member of the ‘recovery community’. Besides us, there were about 12-14 folks gathered, regulars at the establishment. I asked if anyone was with him at the end. No one knew for sure. The Director, Mary, spoke; a few people volunteered stories. I spoke of the time we were leaving a meeting in a church basement, walking through the kitchen. How’s that white tiger doing, Bobby? “Fine, just fine.” He smiled. “Sometimes, we even talk.” On a stainless steel counter by the door sat several bunches of bananas. “Boy, I sure like bananas” said Bobby. I picked up a bunch, here, take these. You sure? Yup, I’m sure. I laid a few dollars on the counter, and we left. He put the bananas on the seat next to him, fired up the Bobby-mobile and rumbled out of the lot. It was about the last time I saw him. I also spoke to the group of the white plastic tiger and how much that concept meant to me. It was hard to explain and I wasn’t able to speak in much detail, I had started to weep. Sap that I am. Later, I came to find that Bobby died alone in his trailer. A neighbor, having come to check up, found him the morning after his death.Lying in bed Tuesday night, I thought about the bananas. I thought about the Bobby-mobile. I thought about his Higher Power. And I was comforted by the thought that he really didn’t die alone. Sitting on the top of his TV, the white tiger watched over him.