I started this post when I was in Tucson last week. It was a light-beat, slightly sardonic–you know, the usual writing blog stuff.
I never finished it, though. For years I worked as editor and sole writer of small Alaska newspapers and one of my tasks was taking enough photos to fill a weekly paper. I also had to update the online stories and all the social media accounts. So for me, snapping photos and posting them online isn’t always fun. Sometimes, it feels like work. It feels like a job.
Which is a good excuse as to why I haven’t been taking many pictures lately. Or blogging. I’m trying to stay in the moment as much as possible, and taking photos takes you out of the moment and into the future. It takes you away from the solitariness of that moment, that connection between you and whatever you see around you: mountains, trees, creeks, moose, or as I so often see as I run here at my sister’s house in the Philly suburbs, squirrels (which are everywhere).
It’s been a whirlwind of two weeks, from visiting with my older sister and mother in Tucson to my younger sister in Philly, to running beside desert river washes and seeing roadrunners and coyotes to the more tame Penn Valley suburban trails. It’s all running. It’s all good.
Until it isn’t.
Right in the middle of a gearing-up-for-a-semi-high-mileage week, I got the news that a woman, and friend, from my writing group had killed herself.
It hit like a slap. It knocked the breath out of me. I sat down on the couch, stunned. I couldn’t believe it. This woman was a beautiful writer, a talented and gifted writer, a gentle soul. Things were looking good, at least to an outsider it appeared that things were looking good. Who knows what demons she fought, where her mind took her when she closed her eyes for the night. Do we ever really know what goes on inside another’s head?
To commemorate her death, I ran 10 hilly miles through the Philly suburbs and trails. It was hot, in the 80s, and sweat poured off me, and it felt good to sweat and move my body, almost as if I were also moving, or fighting, against death.
The grief hit the next day. I felt hollow and empty, and when I set off for an eight mile run, I made it less than three miles before returning to my sister’s house. Running felt pointless. Everything felt pointless.
I spent the rest of the day and most of the night on the sofa, reading books and watching dumb movies. I ate a large batch of popcorn. I had two containers of coconut milk yogurt. I walked to the store and bought a bag of croutons (croutons, for christ’s sake), which I ate by the handful as I watched “Miss Congeniality,” the same movie I watched, over and over, when I heard about my sister’s death fifteen years ago.
I hadn’t been a very good friend to Louise those last couple of months. I was struggling with stuff of my own, and working, and trying to finish a book, and training for an ultra race, and all summer I was hit with one of the worst case of insomnia I’ve ever had. Sleeping during the Alaska summers, when there is almost constant daylight, has always been difficult but this year it became almost impossible. My body was exhausted but my mind wouldn’t turn off. The only way I could make it through the day was by taking a nap as soon as I got home from work. My life revolved around my lack of sleep, my trying to find sleep. I got up, went to work, came home, napped, got back up, ran, lifted weights or swam, ate a late dinner, spent time with my partner, walked the dog with my partner, wrote for a couple of hours, and then I fought against sleep again.
So I didn’t see many friends, except to run with friends. I basically didn’t do much except work, run and write.
And now I’m left with a deep sense of loss. I put running in front of friendships. Looking back I realize that it wouldn’t have killed me to skip a nap and thus skip a run and instead spend the evening with Louise. One missed run does not make a summer. Yet I couldn’t see this at the time. And l know, I know: looking back is futile. Still, I chose running over spending time with a friend who later took her life. This really, really, really makes me feel like shit.
Rest in peace, Louise, honey. You will be deeply and wildly missed.
Louise Freeman-Toole: Nov. 8, 1957-Oct. 18, 2016.
Louise Tina Freeman (also known as Tina Louise Freeman-Toole) suddenly passed away in Moscow on Oct. 18, 2016. Known as Tina to family and childhood friends, she was born in Gardena, Calif., to Marguerite “Peggy” and Peter Freeman on Nov. 8, 1957, the fifth of seven children. For most of her childhood, the Freeman family resided in Redondo Beach, Calif., but for a few years in Bethesda, Md. After graduating from Redondo Union High School, she then attended Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, where she met Richard Toole, her future husband. She received her BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in creative writing.
In 1979, she and Richard married in Santa Cruz, where their sons Emlyn and Ambrose were born. True to her dedication to family, the Freeman-Tooles moved to the Northwest in 1988 to join Louise’s sister, Ingrid, and her husband, Rick, beginning her powerful love of the Palouse. Though she worked primarily as a librarian, her true calling was writing; her award-winning book, “Standing Up to the Rock,” chronicled her connection with Idaho and the Snake River. As a freelance writer, her work was published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Alaska Magazine. Moving the family to Illinois, she received her master’s degree from Illinois State University while her husband pursued his doctorate before they returned to Pullman for several years. During that time, she also worked in the University of Idaho’s College of Education, assisting the National Board Certification teacher candidate program. She received several fellowships and awards for her beautiful writing, including the John Steinbeck Fellowship. When she moved to Alaska to pursue future writing opportunities, she spent several years in the “bush” where she left a piece of her heart in the adventure of living off the grid in Eagle, Alaska. Later relocating to Anchorage, Alaska, for several years, she only recently returned to Moscow for a fresh start after her divorce.
View the full obituary here.