During the next several weeks, our family deeply grieved this tragedy. Watching my daughters suffer was excruciating. I poured every ounce of energy into helping them cope with their loss. On October 26th, a celebration of life event was held to honor Brad. I wasn’t invited to the gathering but I traveled to Southern California to support Kim and Kristy during one of the most difficult days of their lives.
Afterward, my family returned to Gaye (Brad’s sister) and Camille’s home where I was staying. I listened as people shared bits and pieces about the event. Jenny Castro, one of Kim’s friends who attended the memorial, joined us. Jenny was a mainstay at my home when she and Kim were in high school; I enjoyed catching up with her. She has grown into a beautiful woman, wife, and mother. Once card games began and devices had been turned on, Jenny sidled up next to me and asked, “How are you holding up, Berta?”
I gave her a long hug and assured her I was fine. She leaned forward and said, “We missed you today. Brad’s death affected you, too. I want to make sure you’re okay.” I choked back tears. Jenny’s heartfelt words unleashed a torrent of emotions inside of me. Although my romantic love for Brad had ended long ago, his death did impact me. How could it not? Our ten years as a couple isn’t erased by divorce or time. Those early days shaped my life.
I met Brad when I was seventeen. He was a tall, handsome man; my first love. Two years older than me, he had a job working in a pizza parlor making $5 an hour (a heafty wage). I enjoyed watching him toss the dough high in the air with such confidence. He trusted me to drive his powerful GTO car. He took me out to eat at nice restaurants. We visited Lake Isabella where our friend Royce lived. Floating down the rapids was dangerously fun. We camped and water skied at Lake Havasu and Bass Lake. He taught me how to snow ski on June Mountain. We traveled to Park City, Tahoe, and Mammoth Mountain with friends for winter getaways. We took a road trip to Canada in our van to visit his relatives, stopping along the way to tour Yellowstone. We bowled in a Kaiser league together. He was in the delivery room when our girls were born.
Brad loved playing card games—especially canasta. He was the happiest sitting in his special chair in a room filled with people he cared about. If a sports game was on TV, all the better. He liked warm jelly donuts, chips with onion dip, and soda. When my friend Debbi was in college, she asked if she could borrow Brad to pose as her date for one night to make her boyfriend jealous (it worked!). Brad and my brother, Rob, drove to Missouri where I attended college. Their visit meant so much to a lonely girl away from home for the first time. The two of them have remained close friends.
I was only twenty when Brad and I married. After honeymooning in San Francisco, we settled into a home in Bellflower. We had one baby, and then another. We tried our best to make things work but we grew apart when the pressures of life collided. We never developed the partnership couples need to succeed. We approached managing the day-to-day grind differently, and we struggled balancing our work schedules with raising a family. Ultimately, we decided we were much happier living apart. My granddaughter, Collette, captured our relationship perfectly years later when she told me, “Mimi, There's no way I can picture you and Grandpa Brad as a couple. The two of you are so different!” Out of the mouths of babes flows the truth.
For the most part, Brad and I had an amicable divorce. Both of us moved on to find our soulmates, savoring long, happy second marriages. We did our best to co-parent through the years, and judging by our two amazing daughters, we did a terrific job.
The last time I spoke with Brad was this past June at a pool party to celebrate our grandson’s graduation from sixth grade. We had the best conversation. I thanked him for attending Camden’s games and for joining Kim on road trips with Cam’s travel ball team–especially Cooperstown. I told him how much his granddaughters enjoyed his visit to Northern California last April where he saw Collette compete in a speech competition, and Sierra play basketball. He loved his grandchildren and planned on spending more time with them now that he was retired. I feel such sadness knowing he won’t be here to watch them flourish.
Jenny Castro unnerved me with her loving words and kind demeanor the day of Brad's memorial. Her gentle probing allowed me to open up and share my thoughts and memories rather then keeping them bottled up inside. For that, she has my gratitude. We’ll miss you, Bradley James Thomson. You gave it your all. Now, rest in peace.