C. Kristine Osnes. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding the C. for more than 30 years. It was a measure of our friendship that Kris ever entrusted me with that small secret detail of her identity.
Kris and her then-partner Adrienne lived in the Summit apartments in Albuquerque in the early 1980s until they bought a house on Las Lomas just west of UNM’s main campus. Kris first got an MA in English. Adrienne reports that Kris often said “I want to go to law school.” Adrienne said, “What does it take to go to law school? Let’s find out.” Kris applied, got in, and started in the fall of 1983. She later told Adrienne, “This is when I really learned to write.”
Kris and I met in 1983 as first year students at UNM’s School of Law. She was a wisp of a girl–very short white-blond hair, barely 100 pounds, shy, quiet, observant. Eventually Kris and I talked. We shared a love of books, words, writing, legal analysis and chocolate. During our third and final year of law school, we were assigned as partners in tax law clinic by our professor Scott Taylor. He and his partner Chris were going on sabbatical, and I think Scott decided that Kris and I needed each other.
Kris and I did tax clinic together for a semester. We represented clients before the IRS, spending HOURS preparing. Scott sent us out there alone to audits and other IRS matters on behalf of our clients. Kris and I were a great team who got excellent results for our clients, but had we been calculating billable hours, no one could have afforded us. We spent so much time together nitpicking every detail, doing extra research, plotting and planning what to say once we got to IRS offices.
Kris and I didn’t have much in common. She was a city girl who loved the urban life, noise, traffic, etc. I was an outdoor girl who loved hiking, camping, and nature. Kris smoked cigarettes to which I was deathly allergic. I loved to bake, cook, experiment with all types of cuisines. Kris, a Minnesotan, once debated that cool whip counted as salad. Kris loved fine, name brand clothes and lots of them (I did benefit from her hand-me-downs for many years, some of which I still wear); I was a thrift store junkie. But we shared important things such as a love of learning, dedication to the law, an ethical approach to the world, a fascination with words and how they fit together, and deep loyalty as friends.
During our third year of law school, we both decided to apply to New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Mary Walters for judicial clerkships after graduation. She had two clerks, and we wondered if we could both be hired. I interviewed with Justice Walters (a former probate judge!) in Santa Fe. At some point she threw up her hands in frustration saying, “I hate this! ALL of you are smart. ALL of you have excellent writing skills. ALL of you are hard workers with impeccable references. How am I supposed to decide?” She decided to go by class rank. Kris graduated #19 in our class, I was #20. Alas, Kris was hired, I was not. But at the end of my interview, Justice Walters threw me a bone. “Have you talked to Judge Bivins on the Court of Appeals,” she asked. “No,” I replied, “I only applied to you.” “Go talk to Bill Bivins. Tell him I sent you.” “Are you saying just show up in his office? With no resume or appointment?” “Yes, go.” she said, shooing me out of her office.
So I dropped by Bill Bivins’ office, telling his secretary Georgia Romero that Justice Walters had sent me, and assuming I would set up an appointment to interview another day. Georgia said, “wait a moment,” disappeared, came back and said, “The judge will see you now.” Oh, dear, for an anal-retentive Virgo, going to an interview unprepared was like being condemned to hell. But I went, we talked, and he hired me. We both had Tennesse and Vanderbilt connections. I think that sealed the deal. At least this meant that Kris and I would both be clerking in the same building in Santa Fe.
We rode the SECA (State Employees Commuter Association) van between Albuquerque and Santa Fe the first year. Sometimes our driver was drunk, so I’d have to drive the van back to Albuquerque. Kris and I rode together, chatting both ways or trying to nap. Our twelve-hour days were brutal, including commutes and working. But we learned a lot and refined our legal writing and research skills. I sometimes created whimsical sketches during the commute. This drawing shows Judge Alarid, who was also on the Court of Appeals, and Kris commuting. I believe Kris is the only friend I’ve ever drawn (10/27/86).
I can’t remember if we walked every day on our half hour lunch break, but I do remember that on Fridays, we would walk around Santa Fe and treat ourselves to the cheapest food we could find/afford–hot dogs, burritos, pastries. It was our reward for surviving another week. I took this photo of Kris in December 1986 in front of the Supreme Court building. This was long before cell phones and social media, and it is one of only a handful of photos that I have of Kris.
After law school, Kris, Adrienne, my sweetheart Mark and I became a foursome. We played scrabble, shared meals, talked, and hung out. Kris had an Amazon parrot named Lexis who adored Mark and hated me. Lexis was named for an online legal research tool, an invention slightly ahead of its time.
Mark and I eloped in our backyard at noon in late May 1991; Judge Bill Bivins officiated. Eight other people were invited, and they didn’t know it was a wedding until they arrived. Kris was one of the guests:
Kris moved to Minnesota for a few years in the mid 1990s after she and Adrienne parted ways in 1995. I remember that Mark, Kris and I sat under our back arbor, and Mark and Kris shared a cigarette in mourning for her departure. I even had a puff although it nauseated me.
Darcy and Kris got together in 1996 and were together until Kris’s death. Kris moved back to New Mexico to be with Darcy. About a year after they became a couple, Kris was diagnosed with COPD. She quit her filterless Lucky Strikes, but it was too late. As her lungs and oxygen levels deteriorated, she became dependent on 24/7 supplemental oxygen. She was put on a list for a lung transplant.
Kris and Darcy were one of two couples with whom we had monthly dinner dates. Kris was working at a large law firm, and she was not comfortable being openly gay. One day she asked Mark to be her “date” to a UNM basketball game outing planned by her law firm. I argued with her “just be who you are.” “You don’t understand,” she said. “I can’t risk my livelihood.” Mark went with Kris, even though they were both sports-impaired, and they had a good time. Eventually Kris became Mark’s best friend in Albuquerque; he’ll write his own entry about that. Years later it turned out the law firm knew Kris was a lesbian and didn’t care. Her law firm valued her for her brilliant mind, exquisite writing skills, work ethic, knowledge of appellate and insurance law, and analytical prowess. Plus Kris was an avid golfer, so she fit right in!
Eventually Darcy and Kris decided to build a house just west of Old Town near the Biopark. It was a really cool, two-story house with a giant metal heron affixed to the outside. We had fun parties and dinners at the new house, played with the cats, and admired Darcy ‘s beautiful gardens, but after a while, Kris’s lungs were not up to the task of climbing the stairs to her lair. We had a fun 50th birthday party in that house, and my favorite photo of Kris and me was taken then:
Darcy sold that house and bought her mom’s old house across from Alvarado Park, just a few blocks from us.
In 2007, Mark and I celebrated 25 years of being together. Instead of one big party, we spent the entire year having small dinner parties, totaling 25 guests, our favorite and closest friends. Kris and Darcy were two of those guests:
While awaiting a new lung, Kris’s world was forever altered when her brother John, a renowned jazz pianist, was murdered on November 23, 2008 in California: https://homicide.latimes.com/post/john-osnes/
In 2010 John’s killer was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder of John Osnes. The LA Times reported, “A jury convicted J— last month in the death of Osnes, a jazz pianist known as a stickler for pedestrian rights, who was beaten by J— and run over by his SUV after a confrontation in a Hollywood crosswalk early in the morning of Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008.” Her sister Mary told me, “John was going to be the person who was to help Kris through her transplant recovery. It was hard on Kris, and all of us for that matter, not having John’s support and help [after he was murdered].”
When Governor Newsom commuted the killer’s sentence in 2020, Kris was horrified. This single act profoundly tainted her notions of justice and fair play. One article stated that the family could not be contacted prior to the commutation. The reality is that no one from the governor’s office ever tried to contact the family, and no one informed them that John’s killer had been released: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-28/newsom-commutes-sentence-of-swedish-rapper-in-2008-road-rage-killing
Mary said, “When Governor Newsom commuted J—’s sentence, Kris put on her lawyer hat and went toe to toe with Governor Newsom’s office and the California Innocence Project (https://
Now Kris’s family included only her beloved sister Mary,
Darcy, and an assortment of cats and rescued greyhounds and whippets.
Of course, Kris also had a cadre of devoted friends. In 2007 she and Mark went to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in Kris’s Miata convertible.
In December 2009 Kris finally got the call that Fairview had a match for a new lung. Darcy reports, “We headed to Minnesota that night in a Learjet provided by Air Angels and, once there, were driven to the hospital in a stretch limo with Christmas lights in the ceiling and white leather seats.”
I’ll spare readers the details of the transplant, the long scar, ‘roid rage, and other hurdles that come with transplants and recovery. Mary said, “Kris needed to have someone with her 24 hours a day for several months. This was impossible for Darcy, since she had animals and other matters to care for at home. They hired a great young man Tim who would be there from Sunday to Friday. I was with her on the weekends. When Kris finally got the green light to go home to Albuquerque, she and Tim drove straight through without stopping.” The transplant was a success; Kris’s oxygen levels were good enough that she no longer needed supplemental oxygen.
Kris had adventures both solo and with Darcy, driving Route 66 and other roads and sightseeing,
but mostly cocooning at Walking Raven Central, a giant room in Darcy’s house, filled with books, ravens, computer paraphernalia, online gaming equipment, rubber duckies, an assortment of Teletubbies, puppets, and trinkets.
Darcy, Kris, Mark and I continued our monthly dinner dates.
My mom died in 2013 and Mark and I adopted Autumn, a papillon mix from Lap Dog Rescue, later that year. Autumn did not let anyone pick her up except us and her foster mom. Autumn would shriek if anyone tried. But in March of 2014, when Autumn was less than a year old, this happened:
I have no explanation other than Kris had good dog karma.
Kris and I used to have “girl dates,” mostly lunches where we’d talk about law, classmates, friends, family and books.
Kris was the best librarian I ever had. We both loved reading and she finally convinced me to borrow her Kindle for a long camping trip. I thought that I was one of those folks who loved holding an actual book to read, but it turned out that putting 8 books on a 10 oz. contraption and reading them in the middle of nowhere, Colorado, was awesome. Kris showed me that I love books, no matter what form they’re in. Every book she recommended, I loved. Our taste was eclectic: Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Jasper Fforde’s 4-book Kazam series featuring teenage heroine Jennifer Strange, Scarlett Thomas’s Popco, Willa Cather, Proust, Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot.
In addition to our shared love of reading, Kris pushed me to write. She said it was in my blood and I could be a southern writer like Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. I think Kris vastly overestimated my ability, but I did write one blog entry due to Kris’s nagging.
My 2014 Retrospective written at Kris’ Request
Kris made it almost thirteen years with her new lung. Mary reports, “A note on the time Kris lived with her new lung: she truly was happy. She loved her time alone reading, online shopping, Facebook, playing video games, and getting an occasional social fix. She learned to live in the moment and not succumb to any “shoulds.” She listened to what she wanted.” Mary also said, “Kris donned her lawyer cap many times with her health insurance company, especially about prescriptions. She showed me that having a chronic condition practically requires full-time attention.”
Kris was also very proud of her new lung’s longevity (surviving ten years was considered great, so thirteen was exceptional). We would have “another year and I’m still here” parties and celebrations. Kris diligently ingested sixty or so meds daily,
endured injections to stave off organ rejection, and dodged several health bullets during those years.
Pre-Covid Kris, Darcy, Mark and I ate out together almost every month. July 2022 was the last time the four of us ate out together. We were supposed to have a joint birthday dinner (I’m a few days older than Kris) in mid-September. But Darcy called that morn and reported she had tested positive for Covid. She and Kris sequestered from one another and Kris was negative for five days. On day seven, Kris sent an email that she had tested positive for Covid. It seemed to be a mild case, she was in the hospital briefly, but returned home October 7. Then Kris experienced terrible pain and was readmitted to the hospital with pancreatitis and blood clots. Darcy sent periodic reports, and Kris was better on October 15. Suddenly Kris sharply declined, was in great pain, and finally was sent to hospice, where she died the next morning, October 19. Mary, who was travelling abroad, got to say “goodbye” via phone shortly before Kris died. Darcy was the only person allowed to be with Kris as she took her last breath.
Kris’s friends, colleagues, and fans are heartbroken. Kris was loyal, cantankerous to those she loved most, smart, smartassed, fierce, funny, quirky, biting, opinionated, passionate, and introverted (one of her many T-shirts proclaimed, “Introverts Unite…Individually”). She knew how to push buttons and escalate conflicts, not necessarily an admirable trait, but she mostly spared me because she thought I wasn’t tough enough to handle her. She was a big fan of Hillary Clinton and so wanted to live to see a female president elected. She believed in social justice, equal rights, and progressive principles. She was passionate about the power of educating women of all ages worldwide and animal welfare issues. Kris was intensely interested in debate, religious beliefs, and reading. She loved to question and challenge her friends. She was wry and sarcastic, good-hearted and devoted to Darcy, myriad animals, and her friends and sister. She was stoic, enduring many physical challenges, some painful, without much complaint.
Kris’s obituary appears at the Direct Services website: https://www.directfuneralservicesabq.com/obituary/c-kristine-osnes Kris was cremated there and her ashes have gone to Minnesota with sister Mary for a Viking funeral on Lake Superior. Shhhh… Flaming arrows optional.
KrisE, wherever you are, I hope I did an okay job writing you.
Postscript: January 1, 2023. I finished reading a book called Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. The last lines are profound and beautiful: “The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.” This morning I read that to Darcy, the first person with whom I spoke this year after Mark and Autumn.
One thought on “Remembrance of Kris Past”
Thank you, Merri, for this wonderful tribute to C. Kristine and for sharing stories of your friendship. You captured her essence–smart, quirky, generous, complex. I am still stunned by her loss.
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