Happy Birthday, Tom (1948-1995)

My mom got married for the first time when I was 12 years old. Tom, my stepdad, was the only real father figure I’d ever had, and I continued to spend time with him after he and Mom separated after just two years. Tom and I had a good relationship through my high school years, barring some weirdness here and there. He was an audiophile and an early adopter of technology—he had a CD player in 1987, and both a VHS and Betamax VCR, and jury-rigged surround-sound stereo. He had a distinctive sense of humor and an infectious, deep laugh.

The semester I was off of school, in Fall 1995, I don’t recall getting to see him much. I spent most of my time either depressed at home or hanging out with my friend Mel. That October, Tom died.

Tonight, I spent some time going through my journal, hoping that (for once) I would have written something relevant. As it turns out, I did:

Saturday 4 November 1995 | 6:10pm

…I really, really want a car. Really. I’m thinking maybe a used Neon. Something inexpensive, but reliable. Or I could get a crappy job and get more money, maybe, but hate the next two months with a passion. Decisions, decisions… Plus, [Aunt] Sammie’s saving today’s and yesterday’s papers for me—I want to look through the classifieds. Don’t know why—I don’t have any money now.

Tom! (An idea just struck me; don’t worry, it didn’t hurt too much.) He helped me get my other car, my Buick. Of course, it petered out on me 30 miles from home, but still, it was good for awhile. Maybe I can call him after church tomorrow and run it by him. If I can pay insurance, and payments if necessary, maybe he’d be willing to help out.

I need money. I need a car.

Saturday 4 November 1995 | 8:10pm

I just called Tom’s number, and the lady who answered told me he passed away Monday. I was stunned at first, then I turned off the TV and I just started bawling. Just for a couple seconds, though, then I stopped and called Sammie. She said she’d been thinking about him, too, and she said that sort of ESP / premonition runs in the family.

It just seems so final. I never got to really say goodbye, I never got to meet his fiancee, I never got to see his house in Millersburg. His kids were supposed to call me. I’m sort of angry and frustrated that they didn’t call.

I’ve never had to deal with this. I’m gonna call Mel.

Sunday 5 November 1995 | 10:50am

I don’t really feel like writing, but I feel I should because it may be the last I write for awhile.

Obviously I didn’t go to Church today (since it would still be in session) — I didn’t feel like dealing with people today. At all — not even Mom. But I had to. Today before she left for [Gary’s] house, just a few minutes ago, she asked what was wrong. DUH! She said usually it’s something Gary’s done, so what was it. I just kind of looked at her and said, “Tom just DIED! And you don’t even care! She said she didn’t realize it had hit me quite so hard. He was the only father I ever knew — of course it’s going to hit me hard! Hello?

Last night when I called Mel, I asked if she’d ever met Tom — she said yeah, and laughed, kinda. I told her that I went to call him and found out he’d passed away on Monday. She was kind of stunned, but she made me laugh about it. She said, at least we won’t have to worry about him anymore! ‘Cause he’d written me a love letter once, and still desperately loved Mom. But then she told me about her day — her Grandmother died yesterday. Not the one she lives with, her other one. Monday’s the viewings and she’s going to stop over between them, about 4-ish.

Anyway, Mel said maybe I could come along with her to Pennsylvania Tuesday to take Beth back to college after her Grandmother’s funeral. I said I’d like that.

…I really am frustrated with [Tom’s] kids for not calling, but I guess I can try to understand. I just hope that they pull together instead of going deeper into their druggie little worlds.

I don’t want to let go of him. I want to miss him, and create a puckered, festering wound in myself. I can already feel myself slipping away, becoming bitter and cold. I just want to die so I can see him. He was only about 47; I’m going to have to wait so long. I’m going to have to force myself to go on with my life and try to make the best of it. I guess he would want me to.

It’s been almost ten years now you’ve been gone. I don’t know what I believe anymore; I don’t think I’ll ever see you again. I don’t know if you exist anywhere. But I remember you, and I think of you now and again, and I still dream of you sometimes, and I miss you.

Happy 57th birthday, Tom.