Mulling over the thoughts I have about what I’m about to write, I worry that I won’t get them out in letters the way you’ll understand what I’m trying to say. Thank you for trying to get it. I do have a point. Now let’s see where I put it.
(This post may be more about me needing to get out my feelings, not make a statement, or make sense.)
Tommy and I have known each other since grade school in New Mexico, spending most of our time together in school band (I played clarinet, he played sax) 5th grade through our junior year. We never dated, were just friends. Always a gentleman, very sweet and kind hearted, he once made me a wooden stand in his woodshop class to replace the pile of books I’d use to rest my bass clarinet; out of the blue, I hadn’t asked for it. That’s the kind of guy Tommy was back then, and continued to be throughout the years, even after I moved away the summer before my senior year. (Yeah, that sucked.)
He opened his home to me in 2009 for our 20 year high school reunion. Even though I hadn’t been back for about 19 years, those four days felt like no time had passed. We laughed, caught up, and reminisced about the good ol’ days (am I really old enough to say that?) He trusted me riding his Harley so we could ride around the area (heavenly). He introduced me to my favorite Mexican dish, Pozole (he had Menudo, a common hangover remedy, which made me gag and tasted like stinky zoo animal feet) at a local restaurant. The master bedroom with attached master bath was all for me; he insisted and slept in the guest room. He would tattoo anything I dreamed up, anything at all (I didn’t get any). Picked up a shirt for me at the Harley Dealership (fake tattoo sleeves; people freak out and think they’re real when I wear it.) I got to be with and photograph KP as Tommy memorialized our friend Tony Dodds, with his football number (76) tattoo’d on her heel (she will tell you it was the most painful thing she’s ever felt; and she’s had two babies.)
My wish was his command as he drove me past my old house, my friend’s old houses, former schools, favorite eateries, the zoo I volunteered at, the public pool where I had too many crushes on boys, the skating rink that was every teens rite of passage in that town, and to/from the airport that is two hours away. Two hours away. What kind of person drives that far to pick up someone from the airport then two hours back and all over again for the return flight… without expecting anything in return? An awesome friend, that’s who :)
(That’s a little shout-out for others who have and have offered to do so for me; forever grateful to have people like that in my life. [curtsy])
Then four months ago I went back for a late-80′s reunion. This time extending my trip to nine days because the four before seemed too darned short. There’s a Ben Franklin saying, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.” Tommy didn’t believe that. Not when it came to me, anyway. I insisted that I should stay at a hotel, or break it up and stay with other friends this time. He said he’d be offended if I didn’t stay with him (he was a lonely bachelor at the time). “What if I rent a car? You wouldn’t have to give me a ride to/from the airport and I would have my own transportation while I’m there so long,” I’d suggest. Tommy replied, “Don’t be silly. I will get you from/to the airport and you’ll use the truck anytime you want. Don’t get a rental, save your money.” That was HUGE. The thing about his truck, he never let ANYBODY drive it; not even his dad! I’m the only one. Ever.
We spent a lot of our time talking about deeper things than last time and than what we could over the phone or text. God was a big topic. Parenting was another. We’d discuss what life is all about and what happens when it doesn’t go according to plan. I cherish those more intimate moments with my friend. This time it was more laid back (instead of the rush getting to everything and seeing everyone in the four days the first trip). Having more time before the scheduled reunion events was perfect for us to be honest with what we were feeling, things we worried about, thoughts of what the future would be like. We went to a couple stores together, picking up bones for the dogs, ingredients for homemade Pozole that we made together, going back to the store to get another set of ingredients because the first batch burned, a John Deer shirt for me (I was looking for something Kelly green and joked when I saw this pink camo shirt, which meant we HAD to get it)…
Fast forward about two months to the first Tuesday in December. I was in Seattle for two weeks. As I was shopping at a mall with a friend, I started getting The Calls. A thunk landed in my heart as I stared at the phone. The first went to voice mail, (another thunk) then the second. (thunk) I knew something was wrong and I knew who it was about. William’s voice mail said I needed to call him as soon as possible so I texted him back…
Then KP called, followed by Mike. I knew I couldn’t answer the phone. In the middle of a mall during Christmas shopping season isn’t the best place for that kind of conversation.
I finally called back from my friend’s car. She drove while I got the news. Tommy is dead. His body was found a couple hours ago. As people were getting the news, they’d say, “Does Shannon know? Has someone called Shannon?”
Long story short, made arrangements (thanks to friend’s) to fly from Seattle to Texas then a two+ hour drive to New Mexico in snow and icy conditions in time for the rosary Sunday night. There was a 5:20am flight Sunday morning, I’d have to leave at 3:30am to get to SeaTac early enough to get a stand-by spot on that flight. A friend graciously offered to wake up at the butt crack of dawn to take me.
My bags were packed, wore the clothes I’d travel in to bed, loaded toothpaste on my toothbrush in the bathroom, checked my alarm, texted with my morning ride to make sure, and sent my visitor home at 9p so I could get to sleep and wake up at 3:15am to get to the airport by 4am.
I woke up at 4:35am O_O Was supposed to BE at the airport by 4am.
My ride came on time, called and texted multiple times over a 15 minute period before heading back home (she didn’t know where I was to knock on the door).
I’ve NEVER not woken to my alarm. I’ve NEVER missed a flight. There was NO WAY I would make the 5:20am flight. How in the WORLD did this happen?!?
All I can think is that there was a reason. But it’s not like there was something that happened that proves I shouldn’t have been on that flight. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t beat myself up over it. “It is what it is.” I got on a later flight (stand-by all the way, with fully booked planes, not knowing if I’d get on each time), had to fly into a different city (which is a big deal when your ride is coming two hours away), took four hours to get home through icy and snowy conditions instead of the two, not making it in time for the Sunday night rosary service. Which was a huge bummer, although expected. There was a slideshow of Tommy’s life, photos that I took of him, and photos I was in with him, that was only shown that night. Sigh.
Why I didn’t make that flight will remain a mystery. It’s made me dig deep, wondering what’s truly important.
What matters most is the moments we share, memories that make our heart smile, having people in our lives we trust and can count on, and taking these kind of situations as a lesson on life. What do I want? Who should or shouldn’t be in my life? Am I willing to make changes for that to happen? Yes. A resounding “YES.”
Photo I took of Tommy in 2009 that was used in his obituary and the funeral program.
P.S. I am grateful to all my friends and family who helped me get to New Mexico, gave their support, sent me texts of love, provided rides, a place to lay my head, and meals. You put a smile on my heart that will never go away. XoxO