In Memory of Robbie Griffith

From Joanie:

When I was a super senior in college (yes, I did half a victory lap—an extra semester to finish my Honors program requirements and Theatre minor as majoring in music puts you on the ridiculous end of credits per semester) I applied to graduate school. This process was trying and horrible, and in my mind, I didn’t get in, or if I got an audition, threw up on myself, and didn’t go to graduate school, became unemployed, and died in a cardboard box in an alley.

Seriously, that’s always where I end up. A cardboard box in an alley.

I was always in a hurry then…rushing from class to one of my three jobs or rehearsal or something. And it was in the rushing on one of these days that I ran into Robbie.

Robbie Griffith was one of the first people I met at college—one of my new friends in my dorm went to high school with him. As we were both housed in the College of Creative Arts over the next 4.5 years, we ran into each other quite a bit.

We were never really close friends, but the kind of acquaintance that always stops to have a conversation. This was more Robbie than me—he was a talker and an asker of questions, and a 2 minute conversation could easily turn into 20 and I was suddenly late for choir.

This happened often.

I ran into Robbie on that day, after leaving from my required Honors Political Science class, heading to the parking lot to get in my car and drive 45 minutes to teach for 5 hours and then drive back and do more homework. It was a tight squeeze on those days, and I didn’t really have time to stop and chew the fat.

So I didn’t stop…he walked with me. Even though it was out of his way.

I unloaded my fears and stress of not knowing what I was doing with my life, and that grad school provided the out for me for being unsure of myself and my future, and that going to class felt so pointless  when I wasn’t learning any skills that would be really useful in getting me a job.

And Robbie said, “Relax. If you don’t get into grad school, you don’t get in. Your life isn’t over…” here he shrugged and continued: “just get in your car and drive…and experience life!”

I thanked him, bemused, and went on my way.

That was the last conversation I would ever have with him. He died in a car accident four days later.

The anniversary of that death comes up on October 14th. I can't get through this time of year without thinking of Robbie.  

And so, to commemorate his death, and his vibrant life, and his great impact on mine even though we were not that close:

Dear Robbie,

It has been seven years since last we talked. You told me to experience life if I didn’t get into grad school.

I got in, and I went. But I was determined to experience life. And part of that was through road trips—getting in my car, and driving, and experiencing life.

In the last seven years, I have logged over 150,000 miles in three cars. One of those I totaled, escaping death so narrowly that I’ve never looked at life the same way again.

I’ve been to as many states as my age (a number which now shall remain unmentioned). Along the way, I met someone who loves road trips as much as I do, and who has been as supportive of my creative endeavors and shooting for the moon as you were. I married him. Many of those miles were logged with him.

To date, I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, shopped at Amish farm markets, gotten lost in countless terrifying neighborhoods, eaten Cuban food in Miami, jumped on trampolines at an indoor trampoline park in Denver, sat under the stars in Texas—they really are big and bright down there—I’ve gone to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, had BBQ in all the states that claim to have the best (the winner is Alabama), gotten the hell outta’ Dodge, had famous frozen custard in St. Louis, disappeared into the woods for days in West Virginia, and seen one of the four largest balls of twine in the world.

I’ve learned to sail, and to knit, and to cook without catching anything on fire like I used to do. I moved to New York City and I sold my car and I don't get lost on the subway. I've worked as an opera singer (like I always wanted), babysat, done mindless office work, taught at a college, was an extra on tv shows, and took tickets at a movie theatre. I've made money. Not lots, but enough to get by.

I've failed countless times, and often paid attention to those times more than the times I've succeeded. I know, I'll quit my whining and keep trying. I'm sure that's what you'd tell me now as you did then. I still worry about my future, only now it's can I afford to have kids and am I getting enough work and saving enough for retirement...it goes on and on, and that part of me that worries will never really go completely away. 

But I've experienced life. In vast, painful, stunning, terrifying, joyful quantities. And I go into the things that ought to frighten me to death with a courage that is nothing my own at all. It's a good deal more like you. And I can't thank you enough for giving me that. 

Thank you, my friend. I look forward to seeing your smile again one day when I tell you in person that you were right. 

Best, 

Joanie