Goodbye, Old Friend

Last Friday, my friend Jason passed away after a two-year battle with cancer.

We met in high school.  He was the friend of a friend, and we were set up for a dance, my first one.  On the big night, we meet up at my girlfriend Colleen’s house for photos.  When I take off my coat, someone’s dad asks me if my mom knows I’m wearing that dress, a form-fitting number with a sweetheart neckline.  “My mom bought me this dress,” I tell him which is true; my mom’s from Peru and frankly, she thinks showing a little skin never hurt anybody.

In the photo below, I’m trying to pin a boutonniere on Jason as Colleen’s mother looks on.  I look young, but Jason looks younger.  When I show this picture to my husband he laughs and says, “You look like his babysitter.”

Jason and me
Jason and me, his babysitter

From Colleen’s house, someone’s mom drives us to Le Titi de Paris, an expensive French restaurant.  It’s the first and (sadly) last time I’ll eat there.  Our waiter raises his eyebrows in dismay when we order our filet mignons “well done”.  The teenage sous chefs in the kitchen make goo-goo eyes at Colleen and me and write I Love You in raspberry sauce across our dessert plates.  She and I leave the restaurant in a flurry of giggles and whispers, our poor dates all but forgotten.

It’s not a love connection (few are when you’re fifteen), but Jason and I become good friends.  He’s quiet and kind and I like to tease him.  I have so many good memories:

-Taking Jason’s 16th birthday present, a brand-new Camaro, for a test drive around my neighborhood.  At 70mph.  Before I have a driver’s license.

-Driving downtown with Jason, and his brother, Kyle, in said Camaro to see a Blackhawks game.  Somehow ending up in Cabrini Green instead.

-Listening to Jason’s band “jam” after school with a girlfriend, inspiring us to have fake concert t-shirts printed up for their upcoming world tour.

It’s Saturday night.  I’m sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant when I receive a CaringBridge update via email.  Jason’s wife, Kirsten, has posted a journal entry.  The first line reads, “He is Home.”  I stare at the screen of my phone.  In a few minutes, I’ll be meeting up with some girlfriends for a mom’s night out.  I put on some lipstick, get out of my car, and try to pull it together.

Inside the restaurant, Louis Armstrong is singing “Dream a Little Dream”:

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you  

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you  

But in your dreams, whatever they be  

Dream a little dream of me

Jason was a big fan of New Orleans and its jazz.  I take the music as a sign that my friend is enjoying his new life on a higher plane, finally worry- and pain-free.

He and another friend were the inspiration for Quentin Knight, a policeman and sidekick to my novel’s protagonist, Camila Castillo.  Quentin gets his looks and big heart from Jason, so a little piece of my friend’s spirit lives on for me as I write my first book.

Jason, you were a fighter and a man of faith.  You were a good friend, husband, and father.  You were a good man.  You will be missed but not forgotten.  Rest in peace, my old friend.

Author’s Studio – Festival of Crime Anthology

Festival of Crime AnthologyLast Saturday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Author’s Studio Workshop at the Edina Art Center which featured the editors of Festival of Crime: The Twin Cities Sisters in Crime anthology.  The anthology includes stories of murder and mayhem at festivals and fairs across Minnesota (spoiler alert: it’s a great read).  Editors and crime writers Christine Husom, Michael Allan Mallory, and Mickie Turk were interviewed by fellow Sisters in Crime member and anthology contributor, Colin Nelson in a relaxed and informative session.

Panel Discussion
From left: Michael Allan Mallory, Mickie Turk, Christine Husom, and Colin Nelson

One of the questions Colin posed to the group was why crime fiction remains so popular with readers.  Mickie quoted the writer Sue Grafton: “The mystery novel offers a world in which justice is served. Maybe not in a court of law, but people do get their just desserts.”

Michael added that people like the idea of resolution.  “Our friend moves away and we never hear from them.  It’s an unresolved issue, and we want to know what happened.”  Christine seconded the notion of resolution, stating that her first mystery novel was based on an unsolved crime.

I can relate to the need for resolution. My novel-in-progress, The Rip, is loosely based upon true events (including a break-in at my sister’s house) where things were not resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

From left: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, Christine Husom, an audience member, Mickie Turk, Michael Allan Mallory, and Barbara Merritt Deese
From left: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, Christine Husom, audience member, Mickie Turk, Michael Allan Mallory, and Barbara Merritt Deese

After the discussion, the writers gathered to sign copies of Festival of Crime.  Three other contributors to the anthology showed up for the signing: M.E. Bakos, Cheryl Ullyot, and Barbara Merritt Deese.  Also present was an older gentleman who (jokingly) asked me for my phone number.  His request took me by surprise, but it’s good to know I have options if things don’t work out with my husband.


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