It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
-- John Steinbeck
The above quote seems very fitting and describes so well what Tommy has brought into my life and the lives of those in our racing paddock.
When I met Tommy for the first time I saw a reflection of myself: a naive, shy kid that the world would use as food if he did not toughen up a bit. Chuck Graves had come to me asking if I wanted to help a young kid needing a leather sponsor. I figured he knew I was soft when it came to kids and would say yes. But my first day with Tommy secured the fact that Chuck had found me a lifelong friend and protege.
At the time, I did not have the understanding to help others and not expect anything in return. It happened by accident on several occasions, and since, has taught me that "to give for the sake of giving, has a life of its own, an elevated one," far greater than any return.
So, for 16-year-old Tommy, lesson one would be to train. Daytona was approaching and getting down to "race weight" was a new concept for this hamburger-eating kid. It was time Tommy met his new friend, the bicycle. I still laugh at all the rides and "bonk sessions" we had. So many photos of Tommy putting himself "in the box" or "the pain cave" on that suffer device and being so proud of him for finding that place over and over again. Day one had us departing Newbury Park bike shop and riding to Graves Motor Sports in the valley. About 3 hours on the bicycle, with no real route laid out, a typical "Ben" ride. This was going to be a long day for a newbie learning to clip in for the first time on this strange bike. Well, it took us four and a half hours. It was dark when we arrived, and the whole Graves and factory Yamaha teams were waiting on us to do Daytona 200 pit stop tests. I felt horrible. As Yamaha's new rider, this was no way to make a first impression and certainly no way to put Tommy in their good graces as a future rider. In typical Tommy fashion though, exhausted from the ride, he just wore a smile that said, "We were on an epic and did our best to get here." Not one person could argue with the look on his face. Keith McCarty came over, put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in close, and in comforting voice said, "don't worry about it". That just backed up the theory of helping others ten fold.
Since that day Tommy has been on a handful of crazy adventures with our small crew. From weeks in Italy with the boys, to Belgium super moto adventures racing alongside our motocross heroes, Tommy had the ability to make everyone smile in the worst of times. We would always get the biggest laughs at his forgetfulness and ability to laugh off even the worse situation. When Tommy, Chris Clark, and I returned home from our Italian bromance, Tommy realized he had left his camera in Italy. Well, now I know what a blessing it was. Our Italian family friends, found the camera, sent it back, along with an oversized photo book they had made with all the pictures from our adventure. That book makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Being forgetful is not so bad. I think each of Tommy's friends have at least one article of clothing from him that he had left at their house.
Tommy never lost that shyness and that is what made him so special. It showed on the racetrack, though. Riders would take advantage of that, knowing Tommy would not close the door or force a pass that would endanger both of them. He would just settle into the position behind or get shuffled back several spots and accept it. Tommy was a kid with more talent than most, and was probably starting from pole position, but he had not been born with the selfishness that racing requires. I would preach to him the importance of aggressiveness and staying quiet at the track before races, quite hypocritical of me really. So there would be Tommy, always smiling, camera in one hand, iPhone in the other, socializing and laughing around the paddock. This is how most of us remember him and why that Steinbeck quote is so fitting.
Parent in training usually starts with a pet. Gain some experience before you tackle the ultimate attainment in life, parenting. I have to tell you that I was under the impression that I had learned enough from my two boys, Jack and Oliver, and now I was ready to be the teacher. Every day my dogs watched me closely, studying my mood and never judging me for my actions, just there to share time and make the house a happy environment. Since I did not have a human son, I never even noticed that I had taken to Tommy as my son, just trying to teach him some of the lesson I have learned in life, didn't want to see him make the mistakes I had made. It hit me this year that I may have been trying to teach him, but I being taught just as much. It has bettered me as a person and has taught me the importance of keeping a young mind. Never take failure or tragedy in a negative way. It is through those moments that we become better people.
The loss of Tommy has hit me harder than anyone I have ever lost to death. Maybe it is because he looked up to me so much, or maybe because we were so similar. I realize now that he was my teacher just as much as I was his. The parenting definition should include: we are just here as a guide and lucky enough to have these new people in our life to share moments with.
|The day after Tommy died, I took a ride on my bike to cry alone and to ride as high up a mountain as possible to be closer to Tommy.|
Tommy gave me a small fir tree to plant in my yard the last time he stayed over, just two weeks before his death. I thought this was a funny gift because he had called me over Christmas, embarrassed that a mutual friend had run into him while he was working at the Christmas tree lot. I was proud of him and I reminded him that I was a janitor, from 10pm-3am during the week in high school. A few days later Jeremy McGrath backed it up with a comment on Instagram, reminds me of when I worked on a Christmas tree lot. Of all gifts to give before you go, a fir tree, the symbol of immortality and remembrance.
Every year I change backpacks and switch over only a few items that are important: Advil, International drivers license, cell phone charger, etc. Then I add a Mechanix Wear glove that is special to me, and Tommy's bracelet that he had given me during his rookie season, #6. I have always understood the Mechanix Wear glove; keep it as a reminder of how thankful I am to have Nikki in my life. The Tommy bracelet has always been a mystery to me because I do not keep any trinkets from other friends. Now I understand that one too.
The day after Tommy died, I took a ride on my bike to cry alone and to ride as high up a mountain as possible to be closer to Tommy. As I rode, the great moments we had shared flooded my mind. I lost track of time, and the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen set in on Vegas. I marveled at this beauty and said goodbye to the happiest guy the paddock has ever known. Pulling into my garage, I stopped my Garmin and looked down at the screen. Yep, 31 miles. So strange. Plugged in the Garmin to Strava to log in my farewell ride with Magnum Rogers and noticed the same thing had happened to my friend Sean who had titled his ride 31 for #31. Some things in life are inexplicable and require no explanation.
My last text from Tommy read, I'm off to England on the 11th for 10 days to launch the team, then I want to come out and hit some Vegas adventures before I ship off for good. My reply, Lets hope you're not shipping off for good. Typical Tommy in his reply, Yeah, I guess so, LOL, got an Instagram pic coming your way.
It was his last Insta pic. A big hamburger he had just eaten, with the words, @BenBostrom...I'm sorry. So, I scrolled thru his pictures until I arrived at his very first post from a few years ago: a picture of Tommy and my shadow pointing up to the heavens with the simple words. My photographer's shadow is pointing to where it's at.
Miss and love you brother! #BesideYouInTime
-- Your Photographer
It's so strange how life works: You want something and you wait and wait and feel like it's taking forever to come. Then it happens and it's over and all you want to do is curl back up in that moment before things changed. -- Lauren Oliver, Delirium