When my sister and I were little, we tried to get our mom on that show Queen for a Day. If she won, those nice people would find our father, we reasoned. Little as we were, we couldn’t imagine what skills of euphemism and tact Mom had to call on to tell us the hard truth: that sometimes a person lets himself be lost to us because he wants to be lost to us.
In the past 48 hours I have used every means available to find someone who is lost to me now, though back when this picture was taken he was a virtual member of our family. Finally, yesterday I got in my car and drove 200 miles to look for him in what I thought were the likeliest places.
I had no luck.
The sun was going down when I decided to go to the last place where, some three or four years ago, I heard he had worked: the dining facility on a college campus. It was full dusk by the time I reached that campus and asked the first person I saw where the dining hall was. She wrinkled her nose at the bad news she had for me: “There are many dining halls,” she said. “As many dining halls as there are dorms.”
“Well, is there a campus center where they sell food?” I asked. There was and she gave me its name.
The place was all but empty when I walked in. I saw only one young man wiping down tables.
“I know this is a long shot but I’m looking for someone who I heard might work in the dining services on this campus. You don’t know anyone named Rob do you?”
Gee no, and that IS a long shot,” he said, shaking his head. “Though I think I do SEE a guy named Rob sometimes. Stay here and I’ll ask.”
I could hear him asking a woman in a hairnet who had just materialized at the register so I walked that way.
That lady too shook her head. “But wait, does he cook?”
“Yes, last I heard. He’s a cook.”
She then walked me back to two young guys in chef’s attire standing behind the counter. I gave them Rob’s whole name and explained that he had been like a son to me; I explained that he was to be honored next week at a special dinner establishing his high school’s Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“He’s not here today but serious? He was a wrestler?”
“State champ!” I said.
Then I took his picture from my wallet.
“God is that ROB?” one cried. “He was this good-lookin’ dude!” said the other.
“It’s him all right,” said a third person, walking over. “Look at the eyes.”
This first guy gave a low whistle as he took from me the envelope I had ready.
“I’ll give this to our boss and she’ll give it to him tomorrow,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
I thanked them, got back into my car and began the long drive home in the dark. Still, I felt at peace, and grateful for what seemed like the near-miracle that had pointed me, at the last possible minute, to this one kitchen of the more than dozen kitchens on campus.
I had not been able to see Rob, but I had been able to leave the announcement of the wrestling event, and my very short note, and also, on a whim, the crinkled original version of the picture you see here, which has not left my wallet in almost 22 years. Maybe it was also miraculous that, just last year, I scanned it into my computer.
Rob is not lost to his community out there: He has his life, He has his sons. But he is lost to some people back here who miss him keenly, like this wonderful Coach Tremblay, below, who will honor him next week even if he never again sees him again in his life. Not many people will do that for you.
I hope Rob lets us find him this time.