Slapped against Flathead High orange locker metal, the “I heart Tom Petty” sticker surprised me. Tom Petty was Dad’s music. Yet there, pasted on the inside locker wall above textbooks and locker junk, the sticker with the bold black font and the bright red heart riled me.
Whoever hearted Tom Petty, I’ll never know, but I strode across the tile and out the glass doors and thought, “No. No, I’m the one who hearts Tom Petty.”
Any late-century Tom Petty song shot me back to childhood and a blue and white swing set, a springtime Texas sky, and Dad’s probable violation of neighborhood noise regulations as Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open and Wildflowers spun on the turntable.
The radio dial, however, was fixed on 99.9 KLUR – country radio. On Saturday Nights, we flipped to TNN for the Grand Ole Opry. At home, I was famed for “knowing them all.” At school, I was that weird girl who knew about Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl price tags, and the latest Shania news.
Yet, the summer I turned seventeen, everything changed. My mom, dad, brother, and I met up with my aunt, uncle, and little cousins at the Gorge at George, Washington.
I’ll never forget the silhouette of the Columbia River Gorge canyons, that summer constellation tipping over the amphitheater, and watching the iconic Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take the stage. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would actually see them. “Listen to Her Heart” was the first song I heard live. They performed all my favorites. It was all I could talk about my senior year.
It was all I could talk about ever. My obsession with Tom made every boyfriend jealous, and two things fanned the flame harder: a newbie willing to listen and the friend tired of me talking about him.
Oh, and the friend eager to tease me about him.
And the fellow fan, especially my dad and uncle. If anyone truly understands my obsession, it is them.
I heard women cried the day Elvis died. I knew would cry the day Tom died, but I did not know I would grieve. Losing Tom feels like the last scene of A River Runs Through It, the last chapter of Into the Wild, like death and divorce in the family.
Maybe you think I am insane, but Tom is the poetic riff on my brother’s guitar, the summery song on Mom’s patio CD deck, the meditative album that got me through the dismantling of my family. He is a shared family memory and I’m broken that he is gone. There will be no new music, no new show.
Sometimes, I dreamed about meeting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I was always hellbent on not playing the hysterical schoolgirl, but always sought to strike up casual conversation. Last summer, the summer Zach and I crossed through Utah on our way from Montana to Texas, I dreamed I shared Christ with Tom and his band as the red-orange Utah canyons around us faded to black and the dark blue sky glittered.
For all my love for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Christ is the only worthy obsession, and as much as I love that brilliant poet, Tom’s lyrics sometimes convey a sense of sad discontentedness.
I always prayed for Tom and his band to accept Christ, because hey, even Bob Dylan got saved. Whether or not it is true, they say Bob used to preach the Gospel mid-show.
“I hope Bob Dylan shared the Gospel with Tom,” I said to Dad when Tom’s death was still unconfirmed.
“Or Johnny Cash,” my uncle texted.
Eerily, one minute before Tom is reported to have passed, Mom texted, “you just never know.”
All we can really know is that these are wildflower days, gone as swiftly as they appear. Death cares not for human logic and pays little mind to age. Untimely deaths cause sorrow and place on my soul the burden of urgency.
Today, Christ waits for the discontented seekers to return home to Him. Today, Christ bids His children to share with the world His sweet salvation gift. And like all our yesterdays, today passes swiftly.
We are only given a handful of time, and the sand slips, no matter your grip.
Return home and find contentedness, and even when the world dismisses your obsession as insanity, keep talking about Him.
For these are wildflower days, gone as swiftly as they appear.
Ps: I love and miss you, Tom.