Her thoughts have been so jumbled since Tom died. So shaky. It’s the little things that give her the most trouble. Like earlier Thursday at the Flourtown Farmers Market. She needed sandwiches for the guests that would be attending her son’s memorial Sunday. But at the counter, her mind went blank.
“I need help,” Annie Reynolds told the clerk. “I can’t even think straight.”
She is angry. She knows it’s irrational, but she’s angry at Tom. She’s angry that she and Bob couldn’t save him. She’s angry at the dealer who sold him the heroin, whoever that might be.
She’s angry about what Tom had told her that Sunday before he died. That he often had heroin delivered to his apartment, right there across from Bredenbeck’s Bakery in Chestnut Hill. That he could just call. It was that easy.
She sat down Thursday at her dining room table filled with photos and condolence cards. It had been nearly six weeks since Tom died from a heroin overdose in the bathroom of the Trolley Car Diner on Germantown Avenue. He was 27.
Annie Reynolds had wanted to talk to me about her son. Then, she didn’t. Then, she woke up one-morning last week feeling she had to talk about his death for what it was: another casualty of heroin’s insidious reach. Maybe that could bring some small dose of healing. Help her think straight. Help some other family.
“It’s not out there anymore,” she said of the heroin and opioid crisis tearing away at the small towns and suburbs across the nation. “It’s here and it has hit us really hard. By ‘us,’ I mean the community.”
Tom was the second member of the 2008 graduating class of Springfield Township High lost in the last 14 months from an overdose. A classmate died last summer. Fentanyl-laced heroin, same as Tom. Annie and the man’s mother now talk – about the four more young people they know from that class battling heroin. A girl in town who was the same age as their sons and recently Oded.
Annie, a retired Catholic school librarian, picked up a stack of photos from the table. “Scanned and ordered,” read a post-it. Molly Reynolds, who is 25, had meticulously organized the photos for a video for her older brother’s memorial.
“No one could make her laugh like him,” Annie said, showing a photo of Molly near tears from one of Tom’s jokes. He made so many laughs.
It was only weeks before Tom’s death that Annie learned about Tom’s devout Twitter audience of nearly 8,000 followers. Bob had tried to keep it from her; it could get raunchy.
A lot has been written about Tom’s Twitter account, @tombrodude. It was delightfully weird and absurdist, sometimes cutting and very often very raw. It was undeniably hilarious. Much of it was far better suited for Twitter than a Sunday newspaper, but it was undercut with sincerity and sweetness and vulnerability.
(“You know what today is. that’s right its Monday baby!,” his final tweet read, written hours before his death, on a Saturday. “let’s get out there and work our hardest and the weekend will be here before we know it.”)
He tweeted about his addiction. His openness made a lot of people who never met him love him. Now they mourn him. A “Tom Bro Dude Memorial Twitter Meet-Up” is scheduled for Saturday at Lucky Strike in Center City.
Those parallel rails of grief – between those who knew him in person and those who knew him online – shows how it is with heroin now. It could be the guy you love on Twitter. The guy who lives above a bakery and makes his sister laugh, who was raking leaves with his father at his church the day he died.
After leaving his father, he met a dealer near the World War I Memorial on Mermaid Lane. Tom rode his bike the few blocks to the Trolley Car and walked the winding hallway to the bathroom, past the old-timey trolley photos and the Cat on the Tin Roof poster to a corner stall. His heart gave out. A cook found him.
At the table Thursday, Annie’s braced herself for her son’s memorial. For what she might say. Maybe a Shel Silverstein poem, she said. Something funny and pithy and intelligent. Like, Tom.
Then, she went back to preparing for the guests who were coming to help her bury her son. Tried to make her way through the little things.