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Blue Sky

A Sudden Storm, a Sudden Death: Everyday Magic, Day 1085

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

Just before Kris told me at lunch she couldn’t wait for a good thunderstorm, Denise texted Judy and me, “On the way to the hospital. Not good,” about her husband, Tom, in the ER. It was hot in Kansas with growling humidity only matched by the cicadas, a time of extremes, but then summer is Kansas is often this. It was also crazy-hot in Healdsburg, CA, home of Tom and Denise. It didn’t seem like a storm was coming at first, and Tom had defied death so many times it was incomprehensible he wouldn’t do that again.

Soon Denise let me know Tom was gone, and we would talk later. Shortly afterwards, while in the middle of Zoom session with a colleague, my phone blared like it just caught a thief in the middle of a jewelry heist. My colleague asked if I needed to go. I glanced at my phone and said, “Oh, no problem. It’s just a thunderstorm warning with 80 mph winds possible. This happens here.” We went on with our meeting until I told her that big things were flying by the window and I should hang up.

By dusk, the sky had cleared into sterling blue beauty with pink and purple-edged clouds rushing out of the way for the stars. I had texted back and forth with Denise, spoken with her daughter-in-law, and Judy and I called each other so much I lost count, our hearts broken open for the loss of our friend Tom and the seemingly infinite heartbreak and grief right now for our friend Denise.

Like many who know and love Tom (no past tense here), I’m revisiting moments in a packed rolodex of memories: the time he visited our five-year-old son Forest, after a dire accident, in the hospital, then came to me crying and promising to offer tobacco on Forest’s behalf every day for weeks. The time, just this year, that he cooked shrimp for me and tofu for dinner at his and Denise’s lovey home before going back to a jigsaw puzzle he and Denise were working on (pictured here at a moment he was cracking up). All the times in between at readings or book signings, small gatherings in their Lawrence backyard edged with hollyhocks and other blossoms, big latke-eating parties in our living room at many a Hanukkah. It is hard to believe these moments end here. Tom was/is a being with no tolerance for bullshit, a passion for good food and matching wine, a talent for storytelling and joking around, and a loyalty to those he loved that knew no boundaries. His Facebook posts of recent years focused on how much he loved Denise, how grateful he was for their life together.

Sometimes nothing seems to be in motion, even the wind stilled to a whisper. Then and then and then, everything picks up its pace, swirls together in stunning formations, and life changes. Summer whiplash and the long-term unimaginable coalesce. Just home a few days from helping my mom move in Orlando, I’m now searching for flights to the opposite end of the country to be with Denise sometime this early fall. The sky is heating up again, the cicadas are revving themselves to their maximum wall of sound, and people all over my town are picking up limbs or waiting for help in nudging trees off roofs and rebuilding those roofs, replanting those trees.

Meanwhile, my heart is still and firmly with Denise.

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