fly away, robyn red-breast! (in memoriam)

We got a call last night that a long-ago friend had committed suicide, and in the most grisly way possible i can imagine.  This is by way of saying that if you wish to read no further, i’ll understand.

But i’m writing this for a couple reasons; one is that often if i write, the images in my mind slow down enough that i can later choose to look away from them when they pop in to haunt me, and also to memorialize her a bit.

When we moved to Mancos in 1973, one of my first jobs was substitute school-teaching; Robyn was one of the kids I taught.  It always amused me that I may have been only seven or eight years older than the high school juniors and seniors, as both Robbie and her sister were for my first year.  The two of them were by way of a force majeur in the school, class officers, cheerleaders, and veritable social princesses.  Both married their high school sweethearts, elder sister’s marriage lasted, Robyn’s didn’t.  He was a rather macho fellow, raised by an authoritarian and abusive Hispanic (Mexican, perhaps, though I’ve forgotten) patriarch.  I broke up fights involving the son she married, and spent time listening to his youngest brother as he cried with the pain that his father heaped on both himself and his mother.

Oddly enough, a lot of members of both families later came to me for body (and often soul) work, as did many members of their extended family.

In 1975 we needed to move out of  the house we were living in on the Doerfer ranch;  Mr. wd wanted to begin doing carpentry again instead of slaving for wages, as enjoyable as he found the hard work for the two years.  So I began to look for possible houses, and found nothing even close to right.  But one day I was pointed toward a house on the Mancos River, ‘the old George Mahler place’, it was called, his one was one of the early Mancos Valley pioneers.   Now, mind you, it had been used for quite some time by Mexican farm laborers for Robyn’s family’s ranch (‘wetbacks’ they were of course called), and it was filthy and run down, but nestled in a glorious cottonwood forest that felt just right.  Of course, when I looked at the house, I saw its possibilities, once it had been scrubbed, painted, repairs affected, and curtains hung.  Oh, yeah; the outhouse would need some serious attention, too, as would the 2000 gallon cistern that would need to be filled to supply the household water.

When I eagerly took Mr. wd and our friend who was living with us at the time to see it, they told me I was crazy.  But, I had my way, mainly because there didn’t seem to be any other ways available, and we did indeed cozy that little place up into a delightful home.

And there we became friends with the whole Robbins clan who now owned the place: mom, dad, two sons, two daughters, and various and sundry others who aided their cattle operation, for the pen in which all the calf branding and inoculating happened was just west of our house, as well as part of the herd being fed there in the winter.

Father Eddie hadn’t ever finished high school, and had recently decided that he wanted to get his GED, but was so afraid of the test, and was so lacking in confidence that I agreed to tutor him a bit, so we spent quite some time together on that effort.  He did finally take and pass the test, and was so damned proud of it!  Youngest son Wesley and Robyn spent more time with us than the others, and my mind reels at both the comedies and near-tragedies that ensued.

To say that the family could have been considered to have been Born Under a Bad Sign would not be hyperbole, although know which parts were just bad joss, and which self-inflicted would be hard to determine, as always.

Two of Eddie’s brothers had schizophrenia and killed themselves, and one winter Eddie went down a similar road after he lost three-fourths of his many new calves to the scours.  He was put in the state mental hospital at Pueblo several times, and finally had the newer lesser-voltage of ECT two or three times, and became almost the old Eddie as a result.

But not long after he got home, son Wesley killed himself in a drunk-driving single truck accident, although given that it had happened before, it’s hard to say if it were intentional or accidental.  A wild kid, in any event, a prankster and hell-raiser who kicked the hell out of life any way he could, but he never hurt anyone else along the way, as far as I know.  Eddie tanked again.  I remember standing outside their house, a day before the funeral, talking softly and listening even more softly as he stroked and brushed and brushed again…Wesley’s Stetson that he’d wear in his coffin.  The far-away jailhouse stare of his leaking bright blue eyes turned to a more muted shade overnight…I will never forget.

Mother Dixie came to see us one day, and told us that she was sorry, but we needed to move out of the house that we’d spent so much time and work resurrecting; Robyn was to have it.  It was hard not to feel resentful, but move we did, into a  horrid house that was filled with dark spirits; one we weren’t able to restore to health, and were glad to leave when we were evicted so that the owners might live there again.

Within a year, Robyn did something really stupid on her horse while on a break from fall round-up in the mountains, leaning off the left side of the saddle to pick up something off the ground; just idiotic.  The horse, unbalanced, freaked out, fell over on top of her, and crushed many of her bones besides her pelvis, which is very hard to recover from.  Years, decades, of pain, surgeries, and more pain followed.  Her marriage broke up; she eventually remarried, and gave birth to a yearned-for baby girl she loved deeply.

Son Richie suffered immensely after his brother’s death, knowing in his heart that his mother wished if one of her sons had to die, it should have been he.  I have no idea if there were any truth to it, but it came to be an article of faith with him, tragically.  He wanted to make his mark in the world, probably as a result of that feeling of lesser-son-value, and ended up doing the wrangling for Billy Crystal’s dude ranch movie, then went to Hollywood to do more work in that line.  Ya, know: stagecoaches, stunt-riding, and all that goes with it.

He’d come back to help in the autumn round-up, though, and was thrown from a horse, hit his head on a rock…and died.  No, no; it couldn’t go on like this for this benighted family!

But of course, as if inevitably, the horrors kept rolling on, large ones, medium ones, borrowed ones…until Eddie died unexpectedly, although I’m embarrassed that I don’t remember if t’were suicide or heart-attack or stroke by trauma and tragedy.  His wife Dixie died a long, slow death from lung cancer not long afterward.

We’d pretty much lost touch with Robbie, but occasionally running into her in town; she and I’d compare gimpiness and put what we hoped was a brave face on it, lol.  And she’d always say that marijuana was helping her sooooo much, and she’d swear to Gawd that she’d come out to my house to share some with her; she knew it would help.  I’d been thinking of her often when I stick a bud of my state approved MMJ in an alligator clip, light it, and breathe in some of the smoke.  And laugh, and wonder about her for a minute or two, then remember her, tripping into pictures from the past.

Ah, Robyn was a horse woman.  And oh, did she love horse young ‘uns.  She was a veritable firecracker, with a hot temper, enormous eyes that snapped and crackled, and hoo, doggies: don’t mess with her, or get on her bad side!  She was one of the few locals who still referred to the two genders as ‘fillies’ and ‘horse colts’.  And somehow, her eyes would snap open and closed when she said ‘horse colt’; I dunno why, but it was so.  She and Wesley could tell a grand ‘un from a bummer not long after they were born, and lavished attention on those they found worthy, training and gentling and getting them saddle-ready.  As far as I know, she left the actual ‘breaking’ to her brothers, but it’s possible they didn’t require much by the first time they were mounted, except for the fact that Wild Wes loved to spike horse and pony rides into Wild Rides just for the sheer fun of it, the young peckerwood.

But given the family, given the way darkness clung to them like a mantle, it was both shocking and yet…believable, I guess, that she killed herself yesterday in the early evening.  That road had lain open for her for a long time; an end to her suffering, an end to her road altogether.  Look away now, if you wish.

For Robbie Lyn had hung herself.  And ever since I took that in, my mind has kept looking around inside the house, wondering (oh, dear, oh fuck) where she might have done it, and who would have found her, knowing that the image would be irrevocably indelible, no matter how much time passed, and adaptations found over time.  Would she have chosen the barn?  Or some place in the addition they’d built?  No, no.  Stop it, wendydavis.

Wing her on the way, instead, to horse heaven!  Fly, Robyn red-breast, be at peace, be with horses and foals, be with those you love, and who loved you.  And for you, one of the songs they played for Wesley’s funeral, the worst one bar none that I’ve ever attended.  Well, I guess there was one other, but that was mainly because I’d wanted to shove the fucking minister into the grave on top of the casket of our friend when he told of his ‘death bed conversion’ of dear Mason the might of his death…

That I won’t be able to attend yours may be a bit of a god-send, eh, if you know that history now.  So, I’m with you today instead.  I love you, woman, you of the firecracker eyes; be at peace for a bit, then kick some major ass in the afterlife, okay?  Ride ’em high, Rob!

…and Mr. wd and I will bathe what’s left of your family (and oursleves)  in love, light…and cool clear…

this is the photo of robbie that’s on the funeral home website:


9 responses to “fly away, robyn red-breast! (in memoriam)

  1. Geez wendydavis, the internets were out all day and this is the first click I read when the system reconnected. I can’t tell the time frame of your story telling here, but whether a current or past story, peace be with you sister, and certainly with any of this soul’s living family.

  2. it’s just fresh, amigo. i scribbled it in haste this morning to cleanse myself a bit, and give some context to the horror, plus honor the dear woman. i still can’t fathom that she’s probably 55 by now; she’s just one of my students in my mind…

    and it’s not that i’m opposed to suicide, or don’t understand the incentive/need sometimes, but this is the second friend of mine who chose hanging as the method. one may have not seen or had other alternatives; he’d just discovered that he had full-blown AIDS, and simply couldn’t face it, especially alone.

    i do thank you kindly for sending her messages of peace, as well as to the rest of her family still alive. oddly, we were never close to her sister; she just didn’t exhibit much in the way of emotions over the years, or invite intimate sharing. her husband is a similar cypher. steve has a job to do with him once things have settled a bit, so he will no doubt discover more.

    i do thank you, as well, for clicking in here once your service was re-established, *and* for having the courage to read the piece. i confess i had my doubts as to whether i should post it at all. but in the end, i decided: needs must.

    love to you, nonquixote.

    p.s. i did finally weep once i played the ‘last roundup’; that was a good thing, too.

  3. Though withheld in my family for half a century, from my first hearing of it, there is a similar history that I won’t get into too deeply here (have not been able to discover much about it), three generations removed (?), early settlers in these parts around the end of the 1800’s. Great-grands, the wife and 10 yrs later the husband, hard times in several respects for them, way, way back there.

    Warmest hugs and solace.

  4. oh, dear; the secrets families keep, and to what end, i wonder? i suppose the taboo on suicide, and the fact that some call it cowardly, some, a sin? i do hope you can find out more before the story dies with the last with the knowledge, nonquixote.

    it just pinged the memory of a great rancher friend having confided that his brother-in-law had been discovered dead (a suicide? i forget) the day before, and that he had been dead for at least ten days. he made me promise not to ever tell anyone. i guess he and his family were ashamed that he was that alone in his life…or something.

    and thank you so much.

  5. Hello wendyedavis,
    Just checking back to be checking back. A single day, I doubt, does a lot of anything to allow any ease or release when this kind of reality whacks one upside the head, but I’m thinking about you and mr wd. I’m hoping there are people there to help with healing and share the burdens in a way that is impossible in this mode of communication. peace.

  6. aren’t you a love, nonquixote? yes, we both feel somewhat relieved to use this post to grieve, remember robyn, and let go of the images that have haunted us a little bit. we haven’t heard anything else much, but her uncle’s funeral home says she’ll be buried on thursday just down the hill from us after a service in cortez. what words will be spoken there? mr. wd will go, so i’ll find out…

    i never went inside to say goodbye to my mother after she killed herself, and have wondered forever if i should have. i just couldn’t do it. i kinda con myself that part of the reason was due to the fact that the sheriffs were there hassling me, and all their questions revolved around the notion that i may have killed her myself. just too much stupidity to add to the vast array of my emotions, one of which was: utter relief that she finally succeeded. ah, fuck, life can be hard, eh?

    i’ll sign the funeral home’s online’s guest book soon, but we decided i shouldn’t make food, given the large extended family robbie has left alive; it would probably go to waste for want of storage. that’s usually the one thing i can do: provide comfort food, which i learned the hard way can be almost life-saving. so we wing thoughts and prayers to her, and to her family.

    thank you once again, dear one.

  7. Thank you so much dear Wendy for writing this piece. Your deeply felt thoughts and memories have helped alot as we work through the shock and grief of losing an old friend especially in such a tragic way.

    One of the big reasons the Robbins family have meant so much to me is that it’s mainly because of them that I was able to,for awhile, live out my hippie, wannabe cowboy fantasies when they kindly invited me along several times to gather up the cattle on their high country range and then also down in the bottom of Webber Canyon.

    Everyone in the family rode as though they were born in the saddle but it is an image of Robyn that I will always remember. We were way up at 10,000 feet in Echo Basin bringing their herd in before winter came on. There was this moment where all I could do was rein in old Stormy and watch in awe as Robyn took off down this incredibly steep and rocky slope on her long legged bay gelding after some renegade calf. I swear watching her that instant with her horse took my breath away. It was a picture of pure poetry in motion as the two of them moved fearlessly as one. A flash of beauty that I will never forget. Thanks Robbie for that moment. I’ve never seen anything like that before or since.

    I dearly hope that the pain and anguish that you suffered here on this world has finally come to an end, Robbie and that you are feeling some peace in your soul. And if you see Eddie, Dixie, Wesley, and Richie as you ride along out there in the stars tell them howdy from us We loved you well.

  8. I think you may have just written the memory that we should put on her guestbook page, dear. it gave me the shivers. funny, but i’d forgotten that eddie had been so generous including you in the gatherings. and you riding the Hell Bitch with irene’s small saddle and everything. :)

    ride on, robbie.

  9. yesterday i had a bit of an epiphany concerning the inter-relatedness of events, and the way hard ones can sometimes act as springboards to help our fellow human beings. the short version:

    while we were evacuated during the webber fire last year, a number of us at the little motel were thrown together. many of us knew each other from past associations, but had lost touch, as happens so often even in small town life. one such woman was deedee; an acquaintance mainly through the robbins family, and her rather odd tenure on the local town board. :)

    i’d been very concerned for the emotional health, both present and future of the person who had found robbie, knowing how that haunting image would likely be seen so many times in the future, even as it may have lessened in intensity over time. saturday mr. wd finally discovered that it was deedee who’d discovered her body, not the others we’d considered possibilities.

    at the motel, i’d been a bit surprised at what deedee had remembered about me, and the bits of our relationship, to say the truth. but given that she seemed to have, i took a chance and called her saturday evening, not knowing how she might receive my call. i explained that i would dearly love to do some bodywork for her, and hopefully allow her to plug back into the ground, that she might find some measure of comfort from her recent experiences. my memory crash of ten years ago pitifully didn’t even allow me to remember whether or not she was one of their extended family i *had* ever seen professionally, hence, my trepidation, or at least part of it.

    a dam burst loose in her, and she talked for almost an hour, recounted some of the family past and recent history i hadn’t known, and ended up saying that she’d love to come and let me love on her and her body. she hasn’t called yet to make an appointment, and maybe it doesn’t matter much in the end, who can say? but she did embrace the love and understanding i had to give.

    and woven through all of my thoughts and musings was that we’d shared that particular trauma of not knowing if our houses were burning down as we waited…and talked, all of us together, whether in one on one conversations, or small groups at the little wrought iron tables equipped with ashtrays for the smokers among us. :) we just never know how things may play out, eh?

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