I lost two good friends in the last couple of weeks: Deb Parks and Thom Jones.
Deb was an old friend of my father’s. She called me one night and introduced herself before asking some bizarrely personal questions. My father had just died and I was pretty open to anything. For the next few weeks, we spoke on a regular basis. When it came time for the memorial service, I was surprised to see this skinny, petite woman with spiky blonde hair. For some reason, I had pictured her as large and dominating just from the husky sound of her voice and the generous, robust way in which she communicated.
Deb was a mountain climber, a journalist, a dog-lover, a spiritual person (yet decidedly not religious), a Middle Ages buff, a heavy metal fanatic, a festive spirit who wore glitter on her face all year long (and a little extra on Halloween), a talker who could be wonderfully outgoing yet remained very introverted, a rebel who could fly the freak flag and celebrate the path less traveled, and also a meditative gardener who stuck Tibetan prayer flags among her flowers.
She struggled with mouth cancer and a roller coaster of an emotional life. Her highs were I’m-going-to-conquer-the-world shiny prisms of exuberance. When the pendulum struck the other way, it was common for her to hide out and not answer the phone. I was hoping she was just going through a rough patch. She had been sick with a kidney infection. When her husband called me with the news, it was like a book had ended in the middle of a sentence.
I also inherited Thom from my father. Thom was THOM! Not only was he a wonderful writer and widely lauded, but he was a “cool” guy who seemed infinitely curious about the human condition. He loved juicy stories about people. He could also talk about juicing vegetables for a good hour or so. Nothing was too risky or too mundane for discussion.
Thom and my father attended the Iowa writing program together. I grew up on the letters he sent us–typewritten gems covered with superhero stickers. It’s hard to believe he took an interest in my writing, but he did, and it has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I just wish I had had more success on his watch. Thanks, Thom. I know you are up there banging out one hell of a story.