This week there was a violent attack against gay patrons in a Massachusetts bar. When ever I read or hear about his type of thing my blood boils. In 1993 my friend Rob Johnson was bashed to death in his apartment in San Diego.
I had met him a year earlier while visiting my family in SD (I was going to Fresno State at the time). We met at “The Flame” a lesbian bar that hosted “Boys Night Out” on Tuesdays, and we hit it off quite well. He was in line right in front of me and, when he paid the $2.00 cover to enter the bar, instead of stamping his wrist, you know, standard procedure, he pulled down trow and had them stamp his right cheek. I was hooked right then. His positive attitude was infectious He was just a normal guy. No hang-ups. Normal. And he just happened to be gay.
We hung out for the next few days, I even spent the night at his bungalow overlooking Pacific Beach, which was strange for me being a “Hit and Run-Out-the-Door” guy back then. And then I went back to school.
We kept in touch, and hooked up a few times that year, when ever I was in town. But there was no possibility of a relationship, even after I moved back to SD in the summer of 92. You see, I was still nervous about being gay. I had not broken down all my negative barriers yet, and was still keeping my gay and straight life separate. I was not ready for a relationship. And he was a bit of a player; he liked to have his fun. We didn’t socialize much after I moved back.
Things move on.
But I still loved him, and I think he knew it. I kinda melted whenever I saw him, even when he was with another guy. I didn’t get jealous, as I knew we were in different places in our lives. Still, I had always wanted to be with him. It was never to be.
In late Feb of 93, I guess I hadn’t gone out for a week or so (not unusual for me) and was at “Flicks”, one of my regular hang-outs. I overheard friends talking about the wonderful but sad funeral they had gone to that day. When we were leaving the bar I asked the question that needed to be asked, although I had a gut feeling I might not like the answer. I still recall the little voice in my head screaming “don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask”. I did. “Who’s funeral did you all go to”? One of my friends said “Our friend Rob in PB”.
I said “Johnson???”
I think the look on my face said everything. Someone said in a shocked tone “Oh my God, you knew him… you didn’t know?”. I remember the looks on their faces, as I’m sure they reflected the look on mine. Since the relationship was in the past, and I was not exactly the most social type of person, how could they know I knew him? And no one called since no one had my number. Anyway, they told me that he was robbed and shot dead in his apartment. We went out to a Denny’s-ish restaurant, and I was OK. Then the next morning the full weight of the new reality clamped down on my heart. Rob was gone. I’ll never see him again. Never again see his smile. Hear his laughter. That was so hard. So sudden. So final.
A week or two after, I started hearing different versions of what had happened to Rob, so I went to visit Robs best friend and maybe ask about the details of Robs death. I couldn’t. As soon as Bill opened the door I knew I never could ask him because the pain was so clear on his face too. So I simply told him how sorry I was, and call me if you need to talk.
I was the one that needed to talk. So I went to my car, grabbed my lyric notebook, and walked down to the shoreline, and with the waves cresting before me, wrote the best, gut wrenching, most honest lyric I will probably ever write.
JUST ONE TEAR
Who’s to say
That the road we take
Is the road we should be traveling
If the path we take
Is the one we should be on
Without you here
Life is slowing down
And any sense it made’s unraveling
No need to try and wonder why
Or dwell on things we left unsaid
I’m only left to sit and hope
Yours was a life with few regrets
Who’s to say
If what we do is right or wrong
Guess now I’ll never know
I can say I knew you, You were a friend of mine.
I don’t now how to say goodbye, You were a friend of mine
There must be something more to say
It may be better off this way
You were a friend of mine
This would come out fine
If I would cry just a little
This might come out better
If I could cry just a little
Just one tear
You were a friend of mine.
I have always kept my emotions close to the vest. It was a survival mechanism I had used to get through an unhappy youth. Is that response genetic or learned I don’t know, and it’s not important at the moment. Anyway, because I missed the funeral, I never got the chance to weep for my friend.
I did eventually find out what most likely happened. Rob was known for “skimming” the beaches late at night and picking up strangers to have fun with. Well I guess he picked the wrong guy. They went to Robs apartment and the guy, who was never caught, beat Rob to a pulp and left him in the tub to die. I also found out that Robs parents didn’t know he was gay, and they didn’t find out until his funeral. That gave me the courage to finally tell my parents the truth about being gay. I couldn’t imagine having them go through the same thing if something were to happen to me. It’s sad irony that Rob’s death helped me cross a final barrier; the tragic end of his life helped me move forward in mine.
I wish to God I would have had the courage to tell him how I felt about him. He was, and still is, a major influence in shedding my negative feelings about being gay, and I miss him greatly to this day.
UPDATE on this post Here.