I hope you will forgive me the indulgence of sharing some personal thoughts with you this week. Don’t worry, it won’t be long before we return to the blood and guts as normal.
This past week, an old friend of mine passed away after a long struggle with an illness. I don’t want to use his full name out of respect for his privacy so I’m just going to call him Tom, enough that family and friends of mine should know who I’m talking about.
I found out this past Friday that he had passed the night before and it was a pretty tough gut shot to hear. Obviously, when someone has been sick for some time, the end shouldn’t come as a shock on an intellectual level. Still, when the moment passes you are inevitably left with the feelings of depressive regret for all the things you wish you had done differently, as if fate grabs you by the head and wrenches it around backward, forcing you to devote all your attention to what is behind, now gone forever.
Essentially, the exact opposite of what I suspect Tom would have wanted from us.
I worked closely with Tom, starting in the mid-nineties. He came into my life in that informative phase, when you are just starting to get some legs under you and figuring out what the hell the world is (as an adult). I think for most of us, if you cast back, you can come across certain key people in your life who, maybe without their knowing it, had a profound effect on your development. Not in the same way children grow but in the sense that you float about in the world, striving for examples of what you think you would want to be seen as, in the prime of your adulthood.
I wanted to have Tom’s mind. He had one of the sharpest, most intuitive intellects I think I have ever had the luck to come across. He could carry on an informed discussion on just about everything. His knowledge of wine and food was unmatched in my experience as well as his passion for culture. He could talk about philosophy or he could talk about sports. What I remember learning the most from Tom is that it can be cool to be smart. And he carried his intellect with an equal weight of humility. I don’t think I ever felt a sense from him that he thought he was special or above anyone else.
I wanted to have Tom’s books. He was an avid reader and I always saw him with a book in his hands, whether it be at work or when he was out and about, walking from point A to point B (in all the time I knew him, Tom never owned a car. Or if he did, he never used it). Tom was well read and well spoken. I saw in tribute that compared him to Bukowski and I think it’s actually a pretty astute comparison. This was a man who struck out into the world and made it his, in turn introducing all of us to the person that could only ever be him. I never had the guts to show Tom any of my writing, mostly because I was sure he would call it out for the unparalleled, putrid shit that it really was. Because if there was one thing that described Tom to the letter, it’s that he was honest. If he thought something, he would tell you.
I wanted to have Tom’s music collection. Before I met him, Tom worked at one of the respected indie music stores in town and I can only imagine how extensive and eclectic his collection might have been. I have always held the belief that flipping through Tom’s records would be like taking a walking tour of rock and blues, probably some country and jazz, most of which I would not have ever heard of. I always thirsted for Tom’s knowledge and awareness of music and on more than one occasion, I tried to pick his brain to get some tips on the cool bands to check out.
I wanted to have Tom’s wine collection. This is the big one because I’m willing to bet those that knew him would agree that there would be some pretty phenomenal bottles in there. He practically built the wine department at our store single-handed, building a network of loyal customers, many of which are still with us to this day. He blazed out with a refined palate and built things of greatness.
Nothing in our life is permanent. We all know this, and we get reminders of it all the time. I can still remember the last conversation I had with Tom, mostly for the triviality of our encounter, more than anything else. How much I would like to drop down into myself in that moment and really tell him how I felt, how important of a friend I had always considered him to be.
I never had that chance, obviously. So, I do the best I can with what has been left behind, to earn the life I have and to enjoy the things which Tom no longer can. I always held Tom in the highest regard and respect. I consider myself privileged to have been able to spend time with him and to take away some of that vast bank vault of wisdom and knowledge contained in that head of his. He was an individual who dared to be himself in a world that often seems to worship normality, a reminder that sometimes it’s important to question things and think about things.
Thank you, Tom. May whatever waters you now sail across be forever a source of peace and comfort to you. Thank you for being a part of our lives. Yours is a mark that will stay with me for a long time to come.