Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finding My Friends

Barns are sacred places for us to meet people and horses that will affect our lives long after we have said goodbye to them.  My friend Wayne was no exception.  On September 11, 2001 his life was taken from us.  I will never forget the lessons I learned from him that have carried me through many barns, many horses, and many friends.   It is a great honor to share his story with each of you.  Make every day count, breathe deeply, and love your barn family. 

Finding My Friends
By Rhonda Hoskins Arza

      The summer of my 39th year brought great reflection and yearning. While reflecting, I felt guilty about the years I allowed so many friends to slip away. On the night of my June birthday, I sat up late in our bed with my husband sleeping next to me and my lap top atop my comforter, as I often do, and I quietly keyed in the names of some of my old friends leafing through my past to try to discover their present. As I began to have some luck locating long lost friends from college and beyond I excitedly began to dig deeper into my past.  Eagerly and with great anticipation, I continued to work backwards from age 39. Hours later, I found myself at fifteen, when the search shifted to something most unexpected.

      I lived in rural New Jersey during my 15th and 16th year. During those brief two years I met some wonderful people who I still think of as friends, as they affected profoundly the way in which I later would view the world and how I would always search for friends just as great as they were. I had never forgotten the impact they all had on my life, but my thoughts went to that remarkable experience less and less as the years passed by. On this milestone birthday night I was determined to find them, and although some of the more unusual names were easy to track, the common names led me to too many leads, but I relentlessly forged on.

     I began thinking about driving around in my friend’s white Buick Skylark listening to the lyrics of Phil Collins and Genesis, which led me to type in the name Robert Wayne Hobson III. We called him Wayne. Wayne was the kind of guy you would want to have as your brother. He was a handsome kid with wavy dark hair which he parted down the middle and tried to keep in check with the comb he kept in his back pocket. He always wore oxford cloth button down shirts in winter, layered with a turtle neck, and a blue down vest which held his Marlboro Lights that he smoked fiendishly, and in summer Wayne always wore short sleeved polo shirts. His only Levi’s were faded, tight, and holey. He had grey-blue eyes that sparkled when he looked at you. He always smiled when he spoke, and you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. His wit was so sharp and his humor so wicked, you hoped he would not direct it at you. He had a way of knowing your weakest link and he would poke fun at it. Even the parents were fair game, and because he was so charming he could say whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted and everyone loved him for his verbose honesty. He would cut right through your facades and fabrications to others, and raise them right to the surface every chance he got. Some of my friends hated this about him, and avoided his ill mannered immature fun poking, but because he was so indifferent in his quick banter he got away with things no one else could. On any one else this would have been a character flaw, but in Wayne it was what made him ever presently honest, sincere, and brave. There was not a person in our stable who didn’t wish that they were just a little bit more like Wayne, a little bit more courageous and outrageous with a laissez-faire twist. We were all drawn to him.

Wayne grooming in 1982.
     Wayne was seventeen years old, and his parents were divorced. He worshipped his father, lived with his mother, and felt he was owed something. I kind of felt the same way for him. Wayne loved horses and riding but never had the opportunity to ride and show the way he would have liked to. His father was a prominent doctor who had the means to give him the object of his adoration but I think that he felt it was unnecessary, indulgent, and silly. He could not see the value in the sport nor did he care to try. Coming from the polar opposite family who could not see the value in not making sure that I was able to follow my passion for riding horses and competing, I found it hard to understand, and felt Wayne’s pain deeply.

     Wayne’s resentment for the lack of understanding of his love for the sport of riding horses became an absolute rebellion. He would follow us to the shows, and stand on the side lines, waiting patiently for the occasional catch ride. Wayne watched and cheered for the rest of us, and when I would see the sad expression on his face as we walked the courses without him, I was constantly reminded of what a privilege it was to have parents that were a part of my life, parents who encouraged my every move and appreciated my passion for riding horses and competing for the betterment of myself. Each time I glanced in his direction and noticed him leaning on the arena fence with his arms crossed and his foot resting on the bottom board looking in at us dreamingly, he became a reminder of just how lucky we all were to be at these prestigious venues, walking these beautifully designed courses with our trainer, anticipating the moment in the ring that we well deserved, the opportunity to show our hard work and sometimes, when the moment arrived, get that great reward with the gratification of having the one great round Wayne only dreamed of getting a shot at accomplishing. Sadly for Wayne, he was the poster child for riders who for one reason or another were unable to realize their own equestrian dreams, and even those who did not appreciate what was handed to them would look into those blue eyes and see the ignorance in their ways, and shamefully turn away from his image on the sidelines.

     But the thing that I remember the most was his resilience. He would not allow anyone to stop him from participating with us in any way that he could. Wayne would stand at the in gate with our trainer and wipe our boots to perfection, run a quick soft brush over our horses’ coats, and carefully polish their hooves all the while listening to us repeat our course plan to our trainer. “Good luck Rhonda” he would say in earnest with an “I know you can do it” smile as I entered the ring. He wanted to be with the horses and he wanted to be with all of us, and we loved his charismatic infectious personality, his constant pranking and foul jokes, and his tell it like it is style. He was the most admirable among us, and no amount of national awards, qualifying rounds, and blue ribbons that we all accomplished could make any of us hold a candle to the kind of character that Wayne had. There wasn’t a junior competitor among us that didn’t know this in our very core, and we were engrossed by him.

     As the years of my life passed I often wondered what had happened to Wayne. I was a bit reluctant to press the Go button on my computer as I had often worried about Wayne and hoped that he had made it in life okay. I found out that his future was nothing like I had expected, and the life that he lived was nothing less than the American Dream, his American Dream. As I read on I learned that Wayne had become an amazing man. The proud son of a military Doctor, he loved the Pearl Harbor story and memorized the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”. He had opened his own bar/restaurant in Hoboken New Jersey, an old steel town which had now become the place to be for young New Yorkers. He called the bar “Hobson’s Choice” a play on words that embodied his unique sense of humor, taken from a book of the same name whose theme was that you really have no choice. Wayne’s mother helped him run the place while he worked by day at what his friends called “the town mill”. Wayne worked with a fun loving, strident, foul mouthed group of young traders much like himself, and had helped a couple of the younger up and comers get jobs working at his prestigious investment firm. He was a leader amongst the locals in the small town in which he played such a large part in changing. Wayne and his cohorts virtually rebuilt that town, with Hobson’s Choice at the center of the fresh and hopeful town which overlooked the grandeur of New York City.

     When I pressed the GO button my eyes were blinded by the number of links that popped up. As I read on, in a moment of sadness, and hopeful desperation that the links found were those of a different Robert Wayne Hobson III. With a heavy pounding heart, I found a picture of the Ryan O’Neal look alike and once again looked into those same sparkling blue eyes; I knew that I had surely found the Wayne that I once knew. One web site left a place for me to write a memorial passage which still today reads:

From: Rhonda Hoskins-Arza
Date: 07/01/2004
Message: Wayne-When I thought to search for you I never expected to find myself here. You were a bright light at our stable when we were kids together so long ago. I will never forget your humor, your smile, your very foul language for a 17 year old, and how you made me (all of us) feel. We lost touch so many years ago and I always wondered where you ended up. Now I know. May your bright light shine upon the world, while the memory of your laughter reminds us of the joys, and innocence of growing up in America. God Bless your family and all of your dear friends, I know that you have been deeply missed. Some day we will find each other again and have a laugh. Love, Rhonda


     That momentous night for me was three years after Wayne’s fateful day that we all watched from the desperation of our televisions. We who looked on will never forget where we stood while we witnessed them all perish in their own quiet desperation. Wayne worked on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center for Cantor Fitzgerald, and on September 11, 2001, he never returned home to his wife, his mother, or his bar in his town. I wondered if any of my New Jersey friends were trapped in the towers that day, but I never placed Wayne there. Wayne Hobson lived the American Dream, and so much of that dream died with him, as the rest of us just watched, mesmerized, while so many lives were snuffed out, and many of our own dreams of the brightness of our futures changed interminably. But Wayne left us at the top of his game, and for a brief moment, I envied not only his life, but oddly, I privately envied his death too. His life remained motionless in the bright lights and beautiful world in a bubble we called “Fortress America” and it was still protected by that fortress somehow. Protected from the knowing, and the responsibility, and the ache, from the loss of our virtue, that was once a small town in New Jersey where there once lived a 17 year old boy in love with horses, who grew to be the man who collected cars, and enjoyed the people who visited the bar that he built out of a dream. A boy who was resentful that his parents missed the moment to watch him ride, who grew up to be the man, who had learned forgiveness, and later embraced his mother as his friend and partner. A mother who still carries the hope for the Hoboken youth, who lost so many of their high spirited friends and loved ones that day, by keeping Wayne’s bar open, protecting the bar stool where he held court and watched football with his friends. “Hobson’s Choice”, also known as “Wayne’s” to the locals, remains a thriving restaurant and pub even still today.

      When I think about how he lived and how he died, it was classic Wayne. Like a fire burning bright with prevailing and infinite energy and spirit, he lived every day as if it were his last, and when it was his last day, there were no uncertainties, no misgivings, just tears from those who would miss him, and laughter that we still remembered, so much of the particulars of the outrageous things that he had said and done. He was here and gone in a moment, as we all are, really. We miss him, but he was never really ours. What he did in his short instant here, who Wayne Hobson was for us, was a treasured dazzling beacon reminding us that we should all live the best days of our lives every day, and that life is indeed our one great ride. Wayne was here in his short time to teach us this, and he would have wanted us to reflect on his life in this way. I know that I always will.