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Tom Struckman

February 9, 2016



Tom Struckman

February 8, 2015

If my brother Tom said he didn’t believe in God, but that he had made himself.  He said that made him noble.  I don’t think he ever changed his mind about that.  He’s dead now.  I am certain that he was not afraid to die, because I spoke to him shortly before he died.

Tom is hard for me to describe.  He was born April 6, 1944, died in 1997.  In Missoula, late August or early September, nobody knows the date because our friend Mark Fryberger found Tom’s body on his kitchen floor, covered with maggots.  The body had been there for weeks, probably.

Tom's kitchen

Tom’s image showed as a light-colored area on his floor where his body decayed.

Mark said he had visited Tom’s house because he wanted to see if Tom would adopt a cat.  He thought Tom was between cats, you see.  Mark said he knocked on the door a few times.  Tom was nearly always home.  Mark looked through the window on Tom’s kitchen door and saw what looked like a scarecrow on the floor.  Mark opened the door and saw what it was, then called the cops.  Then Mark phoned me.  He said, “Tom died.”

I called our son Todd who went to Tom’s.  Todd phoned us later and told us that we had to come to Missoula pronto because Todd’s girl friend was out of town teaching her photography class.

When we arrived in Missoula at night, Tom’s house was dark, except for the glow of perhaps a dozen candles.  Nobody was there.  The smell was unpleasant and the candles were practically useless.  I noticed a used latex glove on the gravel walk leading to the back steps.   Tom’s house had the overpowering, almost sweet, heavy odor of death.

The next day when I photographed every room in Tom’s rented house, I noticed a pattern of pink comma-shaped specks on his kitchen walls, ceiling, even into his bathroom through the open door.  A prescription bottle on an open shelf shelf above the sink had them.  I suspected, then got a confirmation, that after a certain amount of time a cadaver inflates with gas produced by bacteria in the gut.  The body eventually reaches the bursting point and sprays its contents like an aerosol.  Hence, the many light pink comma-shaped marks on the walls and ceiling.  The little tails of each speck pointed to the place Tom’s body had lain.

Right.  I can describe Tom’s appearance in death better than how he looked in life.  See?  I never saw Tom’s cadaver just his imprint on his kitchen linoleum.  The imprint came of our son’s scrubbing the linoleum with chlorinated cleanser.

Tom was hip.  I mean, actually hip.  He was fun.  Even for me, once we reached adulthood.  He did it all, he did it first, and he did it better.  I’ll try to give you a better picture of him.

However, I spent my early childhood running toward, then from, Tom.  Our father died early on.  I admired Tom and wanted to play with him.  He had neat stuff.  He chased me away from him.  He usually punched me with his fists.  Usually in the arms and stomach, not my face.  He didn’t like me.  I was sloppy.  He was a perfectionist and he regarded me with disdain because my facial features were large and plain.  You see, I was destined to become considerably taller than him.  Therefore I started out looking and acting clumsy and ungainly.  My eventual tall stature was not evident during our childhoods and Tom was, frankly, ashamed to be seen with me, so he punched me and ridiculed me so that I wouldn’t follow him around like a mongrel when his friends were looking.

I am here simply telling the truth, not so that you will pity me.  If he were alive, Tom would tell you that nobody needs to pity me.  Or him either.  I just want to tell about Tom here.

He studied Zen Buddhism when he was perhaps 25 years old.  The rest of his life he faithfully meditated several times a day, sitting erect in the lotus position, often facing a wall.

I think I forgot to mention that Tom was schizophrenic, but he took no medicine.  The U.S. government agreed with the evaluation by the psychiatrist.  Tom received a small social security disability pension that he had to supplement with food stamps and several hundred dollars a month his sister and I sent him.

Over the years I have known several schizophrenic patients in my career as a pharmacist and none of them acted like Tom.  He was not delusional, suffered no apparent discomfort, was not paranoid.  However, the last 10 years of his life he wanted nothing to do with me.  He was fairly socially isolated by that time.  He disliked me, and that was that.

Tom was scholarly.  He studied English literature in Missoula, getting A’s from even the most demanding professors, then got into the graduate program in Eugene, Oregon.  In 1976 he dropped out of school.  He became a hippie and moved in with his friends in Seattle.  Our uncle in Seattle bought Tom a 1953 Chevy sedan and had Tom visit a doctor who prescribed Triavil.  No longer available, Triavil was a combined antipsychotic/antidepressant pill and Tom did well.  Tom and his friends got jobs with the Seattle Parks Department.  It was a sweet job that was undemanding, but paid well.  It was the perfect job for him and his friends.  They all smoked hashish.  Really good hashish from Lebanon.  They played music on guitars and drums and drew pictures with colored pens.  Life was good.

We knew Tom was an unusually gifted person, although I’m not sure what his gift was.  I guess I was first aware when I watched Tom make a soap carving with Ivory soap.  I remember that he copied an image of “Sir Edmund Hillary climbing a mountain” in our encyclopedia, the 1950 edition of “The Book of Knowledge.”  The figure was perhaps three inches tall, perfectly proportioned, complete without any broken limbs, of a mountain climber wielding an ice axe, carrying a huge pack and coil of rope.  The space between his legs was empty of soap, same as the areas around his arms.  The detail was perfect, right down to the expression on his face.  It did not look like the work of a 7th- or 8th-grader.  Of course, I tried my hand a soap carving also, and I tried to make a duck or a fish or a cat.  Didn’t matter.  They all looked about the same.  Tom’s derision of my lame attempt was heartless and merciless.

You know how kids like to draw?  Tom’s drawings looked like the illustrations in books.  He was so into mountain climbing that he typed up his own book, titled “The Conquest of Everest,”  complete with full page illustrations of climbers and Sherpas, maps, drawings of the mountain, with all of the climbing routes labeled.

Tom picked and chose at what he would excel.  The French horn in high school, then the classical guitar in college.  (He traded his horn for a Gibson guitar.)  Folk ballads.  (He could play and sing all of the verses to many Joan Baez songs.)   Marvel Comics.  He was into Marvels the first year they came out.  He wrote a play when he went to the University of Oregon, titled “It.”  (He gave it to our mother for her birthday.)  He could play marbles. (He had a canvas bank bag fat with marbles.)  He collected baseball cards, he built model airplanes, he made a telegraph set, he built a wooden castle complete with moat and drawbridge.  He carefully painted every knight and every knight’s horse.   The list goes on.

Even as an adult he learned to swim by reading a book.  He became even better at drawing from life by reading another book.  He built a harpsichord.  And a clavichord and years before, a banjo.

You get the idea.  He read books.  Hundreds and hundreds.  The last book he read before he died was Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.”

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