A close friend from high school passed away unexpectedly in an accident the Sunday before last, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot. I sat down a few days ago and wrote what turned out to be over 5000 words of memories and reflections on their life and our friendship.
I’ll spare you the full 5000, for reasons of both privacy and length! But I wanted to share a piece of that reflection with you all. I hope it’s a tribute to a unique and courageous life, and I hope it highlights some of the qualities my friend embodied that I aspire to.
Dear Blevins, Tanya, Tommy—
I’ve been sorting through twenty years of memories, twenty years of friendship. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around the reality that you are gone.
I remember high school band days, you playing the flute and then the french horn, hair shoulder-length and brown before you buzzed it, dyed it blue. I remember visiting home from college and sitting on the curb outside your dad’s house in Woodridge, talking for hours. I remember camping trips, and seeing orcas in the San Juan Islands.
I remember meeting your pet rats. I was hesitant, but you convinced me to hold the rats, to let them walk over my shoulders, climb onto my head.
I remember when you joined the Marines and wrote long letters from Camp Pendleton in small tight handwriting. I remember you liked the discipline of boot camp, of getting in shape, of following orders and no doubt excelling at it.
You picked up a diagnosis there: autism. They said you had flat affect. What I don’t think they told you was that, yes, you were different, but your different was wonderful. Your different made you you.
You were always noticing things no one else noticed. You were always saying things others might have been thinking but hesitated to say. You observed everything and were so spot on, so many times.
And you were funny, so funny. So quick. Your sense of humor was about five steps ahead of the rest of us—but once we caught up, we laughed and laughed.
I remember when you biked—with all your stuff and with your big part-wolf dog Duncan in the back basket—all the way from Seattle to San Francisco. By yourself. It took you about three weeks. You were so fit that you had biked hundreds of miles pulling all that weight behind you—so much weight that I couldn’t even pedal, when I got on your bike and tried.
I remember when you lived in a trailer without electricity out in Granite Falls, when you bathed in the river year-round. You made it through. You made it through so many hard things.
You left relationships that were not good for you. You wrestled with addiction, with your mental health. You did work on yourself, so much work. There was some healing. There were still many challenges.
I remember how much you loved your cats, Nut and Luna. You were so good with animals, and they loved you. Your cats kept you going through the difficult times.
Your cats also bore witness to your wedding at Rattlesnake Lake on a cold rainy Saturday in March, perched unhappily in backpacks Steph and I carried as we stood by your side as your “best men.” Your brother officiated, wearing a unicorn onesie.
I remember when you came over and our cat Athena was there, and you took a laser pointer out of your pocket—because who doesn’t have a laser pointer at the ready at all times?—and you played with her, and she loved it more than I expected. You said, here, take the laser pointer, you should keep it. You were always generous, giving things away.
You had the best smile, but you never smiled unless you meant it. And your smiles meant so much more because of it. You never seemed to feel the need to pretend you were happy when you were not. You were never there to please or placate anyone else. You showed up as yourself, fully yourself.
I remember the camping trips you talked about that I thought were bonkers. It’s actually better to camp in the snow, you said, because things don’t get so damp like they do if it’s in the forties and raining. I thought, both of those camping situations sound totally bonkers. You were bold. You were brave. You weren’t afraid of the elements, of being alone, of the dark woods at night.
You were patient, in your own way. You showed up. You took people as they were. You saw people others wouldn’t have taken the time to get to know, and you saw what was amazing and wonderful and human about them.
The word resilient doesn’t even begin to capture the essence of who you were. There were so many things that could have broken you but did not.
Life held so much pain for you. And you made art. You made friendships. You made a home for your cats. You made space for people to be who we are. You made room for honesty. You were dealt a difficult hand, and you put in so much work to bring life out of it.
I’ve never known anyone quite like you. You were utterly unique. It wasn’t always easy to be your friend, but it was rewarding. It was an honor I will carry with me the rest of my life.
I treasure our time together and trust that you are now in a place of peace like this world never quite was for you. I trust you know more fully than you’ve ever known before that you are loved.
I think you would have been the absolute last person to call yourself a saint—I think you would have laughed at that!—but I thought of you when my pastor at church was talking about All Saints Day, about remembering those who are no longer with us but who have shaped us deeply, shaped the way we think about and move in this world, formed us into who we are. You are one of those people for me. Thank you for being so unapologetically you.