Monday, July 11, 2022

“Rob and Marin Changed My Life” by Pamela Bowes


In the 1990s I had two hobbies – watching TV and over-eating. I excelled at both. It didn’t matter what was on TV, I watched it. With regards to food, I would tell others that my favourite food was “quantity over quality”.

But that all changed thanks to Rob and Marin. By 1993, I now had a new hobby. Cycling. How did it happen? How did I go from sitting and eating, tapping out at 300lbs to loving to ride? Well, it was Rob and that Marin.

Rob and I worked together. The best way to describe Rob was that like me, he was roly-poly with a huge, unreserved laugh. The kind of laugh that made everyone laugh with him. And he was generous with his laugh, his hugs, always smiling, always happy. The only downside to the laugh was the volume. Knowing Rob couldn’t be asked to laugh less at work, the boss moved Rob to the furthest office to not interrupt his colleagues.

I really enjoyed working with Rob, but only a year into our time together, he was diagnosed with AIDS. He knew all along that he was HIV+ but resisted getting tested fearing the bad news. Once the AIDS symptoms hit, his decline in health was fast.

All his friends rallied around him to help. Too sick to work, Rob was house-confined and held “court” as he called it – every day a handful of friends would visit him to make sure he had company and bring him some food.

Rob asked me to perform a special task for him. His greatest fear was to die alone. What he asked of me was to come over at bedtime, and just lay in bed with him until he fell asleep. Then I’d leave and go home.

In the dark of those nights together, we shared so much about our lives – funny stories, gossiped about work colleagues, our childhoods, vacations, foods, whatever. And he talked about his greatest fear of dying alone and being forgotten. 

“Please don’t ever forget me” he’d say, and I’d say “never”.

This sleeping pattern persisted for several weeks. It was hard on me – not as hard as poor Rob – but it was hard work.

One week he decided that he needed to allocate his belongings to his closest friends. For days he’d ask each person “what would you like of mine?”

When my time came, I knew exactly what I wanted.

As mentioned previously, I was fat, lazy, and unfit. I’d relish any opportunity to sit for long periods of time and eat. Remember quantity over quality. With each passing year I was getting bigger. My future was right there, eating my way to poor health and life passing me by.

I asked Rob for his green leather couch that we had spent so many hours sitting on. At that moment when I asked for the couch he didn’t respond, just wrote down my wish on his list. I presumed I was a shoe-in.

Rob passed away some weeks later. I spoke at his Celebration of Life about his laugh, our many fun times such as when we went shopping for a string of pearls for him, yet the salesman kept wanting me to try them on . How happy he had been, and how he wanted all his friends to remember him.

A week later, Rob’s friend Alex came to my place. I wasn’t expecting the couch at that moment, but more a discussion about how the couch would make its way to my home.

Instead, Alex came through the door pushing Rob’s yellow Marin bike (Marin was the brand name of the bike, hailing from California). “Here, Rob wanted you to have this” Alex said. I just stood there, and sensing an awkward moment, Alex high-tailed it out of my place.

As I rolled Marin into my apartment, I noticed a piece of paper attached to the handlebar. Rob had written just two words – “get active.”

To say that bike, that Marin, changed my life is totally truthful. I didn’t fall in love with her instantly. In fact, my first effort at riding several weeks after getting her showed just how grossly unfit I was. I struggled to get on the bike, unable to throw my leg over the bar, and within seconds of riding, I was out of breath. I’d have to say it was at least a decade since I had done any exercise.

But Rob’s gift was a message about the state of my life. I took stock of where Iwas in my life, where I wanted to be as a professional, and all my future ambitions that would be unachievable without change. My size was keeping me back from every part of my life. If I didn’t get active, do something, I would get worse. My legacy would be that food was more important than life. One thing about fat people – they get fatter unless a counterforce is applied.

I eventually fell in love with Marin, and I rode. And riding saved my life. I’ll never be thin, but I am smaller. I gained the courage to join a gym in 1995, now a member for over 25 years. I’ve never missed exercising for more than seven days in 26 years. At my gym I gained the confidence to become a spinning instructor. For more than eight years, I taught a weekly spinning class, every Thursday morning. I wasn’t physically the typical fitness instructor, but I filled the niche for just regular people who still wanted to be active in an accepting environment.

Rob’s biggest fear was being forgotten. I doubt he would have expected that his “get active” note would have had the impact that it did. But Rob gave me that wake-up call that I so desperately needed. Rob and Marin changed my life. Because of that gift of a bike, Rob will never be forgotten.


Pamela Bowes is a retired social worker and college professor. Now living in the country, she enjoys riding country roads and swimming in the lake. She’s taken several of Brian’s writing courses and loves hearing the amazing stories of other participants. Pamela will have a 100-word story published this fall in Five Minute Lit. 

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

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