Tahoma (left) and Deborah in Philadelphia, December 2003.
Out of the blue one day in July 2002, Philadelphia psychotherapist Deborah Anna Luepnitz, PhD, received a phone message from a stranger. Tahoma Ironfeather was calling from a small island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, and said she needed to speak to Deborah after reading a book called The Last American Man
Deborah was convinced Tahoma had made a mistake in contacting her but decided to return the call. Her efforts to clear up the confusion only made matters murkier. Was Tahoma calling in reference to Deborah's own just-published book, Schopenhauer's Porcupines
, a study of intimacy and its dilemmas? Nope, Tahoma answered. Well then, perhaps Tahoma was trying to reach Deborah's friend and Last American Man
author, Liz Gilbert? No. Gilbert's charismatic, nature-loving, self-involved subject, Eustace Conway, Tahoma explained, was a perfect double for Ronnie, a man who was breaking her heart. Oh, Deborah said, perhaps Tahoma wished to speak with Eustace? "Hell, no," Tahoma said. "I just spent three years with somebody like that—I don't want Eustace; I want some understanding."
Tahoma, a nurse practitioner and certified boat captain, had heard a radio interview with Gilbert, rushed out to buy the book, and devoured every page. The similarities between Eustace and Ronnie took Tahoma's breath away, and the thoughtful passages analyzing Eustace's psyche shed much-needed light on her feelings for Ronnie. Tahoma felt a second presence in those passages and, after sleuthing through the dedication and acknowledgments (both of which mentioned Deborah), decided she knew who it was. Tahoma, whose Chickasaw ancestors had great respect for the powers of the unseen, felt a ping each time she read Deborah's name. Call it a vibe, call it a voice, call it a moment of telepathic transcendence—Tahoma had learned to pay attention whenever it came along.