My friend, Tom, died yesterday.
I’m sitting on the couch in Cambodia at 4am, with hot tears on my cheeks, trying to negotiate a way to get him back.
I met Tom when I was in grad school in New York. It had to be the first month in Greenpoint, that Erin and I wandered down to Franklin Street and into Dandelion Wine. The shop had these warm yellow lights outside, and I’m attracted to shiny things, so we went in. They did a wine tasting on Thursdays, I’m not sure if they still do, but it was so much better than the usual swirl and spit. They would get piles of Murray cheese, and fresh bread from some renegade baker in Brooklyn, who only sold to people he liked.
Tom was in the back of the store when I met him. I asked him about some of the wines, and ended up in an hour long conversation with an extra glass of something amazing from the back, that was going to “blow my mind.” It did. We stayed at the shop late that night, drinking, eating all of their cheese, and talking to Tom and Lily. Lily owns the shop, and Lily is a badass.
Thursday at Dandelion became a thing, and we spent a lot of time there, shamelessly indulging in each new week of wines and ensuring that not a crumb of fancy bread was wasted. Tom became a friend, and one of the people I looked forward to seeing most. What’s funny is after a few years of Thursdays of talking about wine, I learned nothing about it, because I just trusted Tom’s choice. I drank Tom Wine.
Tom was Greek, and you would learn that pretty quickly after talking to him. He talked of summers in Greece, the islands where his family still lives, how the government was full of idiots getting in their own way. He would say that he could run the place better that they could, and I think he was probably right. I’d vote for Tom.
He loved to cook, and one of my biggest regrets is that I never had his lamb; he would NOT stop talking about his lamb. Our first meal together was at Rye, in Brooklyn. It’s a cozy little spot where you can order a jug of Old Fashioned cocktails and eat meatloaf sandwiches. He talked about how he could make everything better than they could.
He swam, like a crazy person, in any ocean he could get to. Miles at a time, and way too far away from the shore. He was unphased by the thought of sharks, waves, currents or anything else that would immediately convince me not to swim alone for miles in the ocean. Tom was big and brave and would fight a shark. Actually, no. Tom would flight a shark, then become friends with the shark, introduce it to it’s shark wife, and bring the best wine to their shark wedding.
Tom had stories. He had stories of New York and Greece, and “I’m not going to say who” Hollywood actress who was all over him in the 70’s. He had stories of shady mafia people, and of travels to the other side of the earth with beautiful women and danger. He was working on a TV show when we talked a little while back, and I so wanted to see those stories on a screen.
He had a son, who I think is about 20 now, and he was the thing Tom was most proud of in the world. He would constantly brag about how handsome, smart, kind, and accomplished his son is. He fiercely loved that kid and would go into any number of battles for him.
I feel like I’m not writing as well as Tom deserves. Tom deserves a fucking parade. He deserves the streets lined with sobbing women and children and old friends, cursing the skies for taking him. He deserves poetry and drama and fanfare and drunkeness. He deserves a party, on a mountain top in Greece, like the one in Mamma Mia, but less Abba, more Rolling Stones, though Meryl Streep should probably still be there. He deserves a holiday, a feast, and money with his face on it.
He died in his apartment, which is total bullshit. He was too young, to full of energy and ideas and revolution. This feels like theft. Tom’s soul would have gone out riding a great white through a ring of fire after saving a family from a sinking ship while punching Donald Trump in his stupid face.
Tom was kind, unbelievably loyal, funny, and warm. He was an amazing friend, and always had time for me. He had the biggest damn heart in the world. He didn’t follow life’s vague rules, and constantly challenged the system and the people running it. He was brave and strong and his hands were so big they were like paws.
Whenever we would say goodbye, he would say I love you. I would say I love you back. To know him was to love him. I will miss him forever.
“Step outside of the bill paying obedience school and rethink everything we’ve been taught.” -Tom Athens
January 6, 2017 at 8:27 am
Oh Caitlin, I feel so sad to know you have lost such a friend and such a vital human being. What a tribute you’ve written to him. His larger than life spirit will serve as kindling to your own fiery spirit. He will live on. Bless you as you mourn your friend. My love, Deb
January 13, 2017 at 10:15 am
I knew Tom Athans briefly as a wine rep who had paid several visits to my store in the last 8 months or so. I held him in high esteem as a wine expert and enjoyed talking with him a great deal about many different matters, both within the world of wine and broader subjects. I could tell we were heading towards a warm and lasting friendship so of course I cursed the heavens and shed a tear today at his passing, news of which I got via a simple and thoughtful letter from the wine company he worked for. I also drank some great wine today and toasted his honor but frankly I am bereft. My friend who works with me at the store sent me this link. I thank you… and share your loss!
7th Avenue Wine & Liquor Company