I met Robert about 12 years ago when he started playing basketball in the gym where I played. Because we were about the same size ? average-size guys off the court but often the two shortest players on the court ? we regularly guarded each other and quickly became friends.
Soon after I got to know him I found out Robert was only 19. I’d thought he was about 26. He was that mature.
Robert had a job then but wanted a better one. He wanted to buy his own place as soon as possible. He wanted to get somewhere in life, but wanted to do so on his own.
Robert’s walk personified him as much as anything. Robert strolled like he owned the world. He knew he was handsome and charming. He almost had the attitude when he approached people of, “I like you and you can’t help but like me.” And we did.
As a basketball player, Robert knew he could shoot, so he did a lot of it, unabashedly.
He knew he was fast, so he used that to his advantage, too. He was what basketball players call a “snowbird” or “basket-hanger,” which means he would run from the defensive end to the offensive end as soon as a shot went up, trying to get a lay-up. He never “snow-birded,” though, before his defensive assignment was done.
Pick-up basketball games often involve people yelling at each other about perceived fouls and other violations. When such arguments heated up, Robert would laugh and say, “You guys are crazy. It’s just a game.”
Robert and I would have long talks between games. He told me several years ago he wanted to leave his job as a correctional officer because he’d reached the conclusion there should be more to a career than keeping criminals from killing each other. He wanted to do something where he could make more of a difference, be more of a help to the world.
So he took a job with the Border Patrol, work he told me he was convinced would be a lot more rewarding, and safer, than work in a prison.
Robert purchased a condominium before buying his first house at age 24. I told Robert, who was single at the time, that he would be a hell of a catch for some woman. Robert, being Robert, agreed, but said he’d had someone in mind for a long time. She soon became his wife.
Around Christmastime last year Robert told me how great it was to be a father and how he was happy his son seemed to share his affinity for sports. He talked of how it would be wonderful to coach his boy someday, but if he turned out to be interested in other things, that would be great, too.
A week or so later I asked Robert why he had missed a recent basketball session. He said he’d planned on attending but his infant daughter had fallen asleep on his chest as he was preparing to leave and he didn’t want to disturb her.
Our basketball group lost two of its beloved members in recent years, both named Robert, both of whom left other careers for their dream jobs of becoming law enforcement officers, both of whom died doing those necessary duties.
Robert Dickey died in a vehicular accident. Robert Rosas was murdered by heartless thugs.
H.L. Mencken, the great American conservative thinker of the 20th century, supported the death penalty for murderers, saying, among other things, it often was necessary catharsis for family and friends of the victim. He insisted the only cruel part of the punishment was the long time the condemned had to wait until their deserved ends were met.
I may get past this someday, but right now I hope that cruel part for Robert’s killers doesn’t last long.
>> Bret Kofford teaches writing at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus. He can be reached at Kofford@roadrunner.com