This is my brother, Tom–a 100% board-certified goof. He’s bright as hell, as goofs can be, but crazy nonetheless. Virtually any piece of good news would set him off into these frenzies of celebration: a date with a pretty young woman or scoring some tickets to a RATT concert or acing a final exam he totally forgot to study for. This night’s celebration, however, was exceptional by any standard.

Tom loves jokes, likes to hear them, tell them and especially write them. His dream is to be a comedy writer and he’ll spend days trying out his jokes on me. Honestly, it wears me out. After I hear a different joke every five minutes all day for three weeks you can’t pay me enough to laugh. He mails them out to every comedian, every television show he can think of and then sits vigil by our empty mailbox.

Anyway, to get back to the photograph, I took it the afternoon he got a phone call from Saturday Night Live. Yes, THE Saturday Night live show in New York City–they wanted to use some of his material, work it into a skit involving Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray. Tom let out a Whoop! and ran up to the attic to get the Santa Claus hat then cranked up his favorite RATT album (“Out of the Cellar”) and started singing. It was quite a sight. Mom and Dad came down the basement to see what racket was all about and the three of us just stood there watching Tom.

I’m told that in the Sufi Muslim tradition there are dervishes, or believers, who perform whirling dances as part of a ceremony to bring them closer to God. Well, we’re not Muslim. In fact, we don’t attend any church at all but at times like this I think Tom is feeling the joy of life more than many who sit silently in Sunday pews. That night we went upstairs to bed and left him singing and dancing to the throbbing music below.

Story by Will Conway


Wow… look at that smile.

Never has there ever been a better “before” photo. This was before his arms turned to bruised messes and his cheeks sunk in. Oh, how I miss that full, full face. He looks happy, right? Healthy, at minimum.

Had I known this winter would be our last, I would have made more time. I would have reminded him that I loved him, that mom and dad loved him, that he did not have to head to New York to chase his crazy dream of becoming a magician. He could have stayed right here, with me, where it was safe.

Maybe if I had stopped harping on him for two seconds. If I had just let him make his own choices or create his own life, he would have called me. Had he known that my love was not dependent on his success, he would have called.

Addicts relapse all the time, but he had never been addicted to drugs before. He obsessed over sports and things with wheels, sometimes women, but heroin? How could we have known?

I cannot imagine him with a lighter and a spoon… I had never even seen him sit still before. Someone must have helped him. He found someone who did not judge his decisions, who probably made him feel more adequate than I ever had, and they killed him.

I spend a lot of time trying to remember the last day he was still him. I want so badly to remember the last time I told him I loved him. Nobody really knows when he started using, but I will never forget the day he stopped.

February 17, 1989. RIP, brother.

Story by Kendra Penningroth

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