Me and my friend Torie left Jacksonville, Florida last Monday and have been on the road since. It's hard to find the time to write, but I really wanted to get something out. Naomi, back in Fairbanks has been on my butt (Thank you) to not be such a slacker.
I haven't written in a while because the last month has been really hard and confusing. But first, let me lead you into it.
We left Jacksonville around 6pm and got into the garden district of New Orleans a little after midnight. A girl named Claire greeted us at her friend’s studio/guesthouse. It was a large space with a winding staircase leading to a loft, a small bedroom hidden in the front and a modern style living room. A 30ft tall green screen was set up and the entire lighting system was something from a photography studio. It was beautiful.
Torie and I slept on a futon in the living room. We woke to CJ fiddling with the studio lights and treating us to a seizure-inducing light-show wake-up. Standing in the driveway, I could smell beignet’s and fried chicken. I immediately began to salivate. It felt good to be back in New Orleans.
It's interesting, but I continue to meet people that have a strong distaste for the city. They say, “It smells terrible. It’s filthy. It’s dangerous, etc.” All of these things are true in certain situations. But, I would much rather live somewhere that is gritty and FULL (I mean packed full) of life, culture, diversity and energy. NOLA is overwhelming and impossible to describe.
I keep thinking of my drawing instructor Perrin, at UAF, who planned to move to NOLA after graduating. This is before I went. I asked her why, and she shook her head and said, “It’s the only other place I could really see myself living, other than Fairbanks.”
Now know what she’s talking about.
“Are you from Alaska?!” She asked as she pointed, enthusiastically to my license plate. Turns out, Jess just came from Coldfoot, where she had been working all summer. Not only did she know all about Fairbanks and Alaska in general, but we had a mutual friend from when she visited Fairbanks.
Her and Terry were traveling to NOLA to see friends and then catching a ride with one of them up to the Boston, Connecticut area where they were from. Terry had to go back to work and Jess was headed to Bangkok.
The ride was filled with discussion and laughter. By the time we entered LA, I knew I had made long-lasting friendships. They invited me to join them at a drag-king show on Bourbon Street. When we got there, the show was in full-swing as a Justin Beiber impersonator performed “Santa Baby”. I met Mary and her Girlfriend, Kristen, as well as Joe, who was the driver to Boston. Pretty quickly, I agreed to crash with them at Mary’s house.
No awkwardness, no social distance. It just seems to happen naturally, and immediately. That’s how it was with these amazing people. At brunch, I laughed until I cried, over and over. I was invited to stay the night again. Duh.
The next day, Me, Terry and Jess explored the city, skateboarding around the French Quarter with beers in our hands. We strolled one of the famous above ground cemeteries for several hours and discussed topics like death and memory. We got vegetarian hotdogs and corndogs from Dreamy Weenies. We watched the sunset on the banks of the Mississippi and listened to a man play Christmas music with the steamboat engine’s pipes. All day, I felt such a sense of calm and wonder. That night, we all got Pizza at one of their friend’s pizza places and planned on going to a karaoke bar later.
We headed back to the house to chill. In the car, Joe talked about how he shared custody of his dog with his ex. I perked up at this from the backseat and piped in, “me too!”
I ‘ve never met anyone else that shared this odd relationship. We talked for a bit about our personal experiences. I realized I hadn’t thought of Ruess in a while. I’ve definitely never shared with a stranger that I have a dog with my ex and he has been the only thing binding us together, continually over the last four years. Sometimes I am convinced that we wouldn’t have gotten back together so many times if it wasn’t for Ruess. I sat back in the seat and looked at pictures of Ruess. It sort of came out of nowhere.
At the house, we all laid around and I enjoyed another lively group conversation and some duct tape waxing.
I suddenly felt the urge to go out to my car and grab a change of clothes. I pulled out what I needed and then just sat in the driver’s seat. Sometimes I do this. I take moments alone. It’s the introvert in me. Situations that are very social, no matter how fun, must be balanced with quiet alone time, even if it’s just a few minutes. The time at the cemetery weighed heavy on me. I thought of those ancient names, the people laying behind them, the ceremony of burial, and how we are all going to die. I think about death too often. I don't need a cemetery to get me to contemplate these things. But, you can't stroll hundreds of tombs all day and not ponder life.
I had also had my ex-boyfriend on my mind the past few days. Now, especially since Joe brought dog custody up. I couldn’t explain why, but had been recalling moments and contemplating decisions related to our relationship (BAD IDEA). I had expressed to my old roommate and close friend Naomi that he had been on my mind. “Reach out to him.” She told me.
I didn’t think that was a good idea. There was so much hurt and bitterness swirling around him and directed towards me. I didn’t want to set myself up for his cruel rejection, which I felt I deserved.
I know everyone says these things happen, and they are so hard to believe, until they happen to you. I don't know why he had been on my mind. I don't know why Ruess was brought up that day. But, I do believe your intuition can sense things and sometimes, your subconscious tries to help you prepare for things.
There was a picture I had forgotten about under the name. Him as an awkward 18-year old. I made his contact photo as a joke. I stared at it. This must be a mistake. I imagined answering the call and to his horror, him realizing he meant to call another Becca (it’s possible, okay!).
I answer. Slowly, nearly whispering into the receiver, “Hello.”
I’m sure I sounded confused. A heavy “Hi” rings out, as if he was exhaling when he said it. “Hi” I say back.
I’m wondering how long I can prolong this conversation if I just hold us in a perpetual state of greeting. He doesn’t fall for it, and jumps right in. Everything he says has this pained force to it, as if he is reading lines from a play, out loud.
“So, Ruess died today.” It feels like a bomb has been dropped.
I hear the words, but nothing happens. I feel nothing. I go completely dumb and don’t respond for a while. Finally I manage to spit out, “What?”
I can’t really remember what was said verbatim, because at this point, my brain was going absolutely bazurck. I felt like I had just leaped off of a bridge and had to find a solution not to die before I hit the bottom. I’ve received my fair share of world shattering news in my life. I’ll never forget my mother’s voice when she told me that my favorite aunt, her sister, had committed suicide that morning. But, overtime your heart breaks in .2 seconds, a new, horrifying existence begins.
I recognized the feeling. It was like my body and mind were aware of what was happening, and couldn’t quite agree on a plan of action together. Should I break down and cry. No, my mind said to be calm. But being calm was making my insides want to burst out of my body. I didn’t want to upset him. I felt completely useless. There was nothing I could do but sit back and watch this terrible thing unfold. I started breathing heavy.
He continued, “I guess he choked on a potato chip bag.”
Thinking about my baby, that I raised from a puppy, that I loved more than anything I’ve ever loved, suffering that awful death, is nearly unbearable to think of, now, a month later.
He got got uncomfortable on the other line. I was silent. He said he was getting off of the phone. I begged him not to. He hung up right as I spoke his name. That was it. He was gone.
I sat there in my car, looking through the warm, yellow window of Mary's house, at these people I had just met, and felt utterly alone in a way that doesn’t happen often in one’s life. These are painful moments, when we are handed the weight of our humanity. The moments when you realize you are going to die, alone. You, and everyone you love. You have and always will be, alone on this journey of your life.
Sometimes, you have no one to be with in times of tragedy and loss, but yourself.
I wouldn’t recommend it.
Terry peaked his head out and yelled, “We thought you died!”
“Still alive. Don’t worry.” I called back.
I couldn’t decide what to do. Should I tell everyone and ruin the party? Do I even need to be comforted? Do I have the ability to just hold off until I am in my car, alone, tomorrow?
The only thing I knew for certain, is that I had to do something for my ex. I pulled my typewriter out and drug it inside. Everyone was getting ready to walk out the door. They all watched as I lumped the heavy machine onto my lap and started punching at the letters with vigor. No one asked. I didn’t offer up any reason. They all knew about PoembyBecca, so It was exactly shocking to see this.
Without any editing, I just typed out the first poem that came to my mind.
It was called, “Like a Child”.
I didn’t say anything right away. I didn’t know what to say. It didn’t feel real. I kept wishing I could just be with him - give him a hug. It just seemed so wrong. The entire situation. Guilt started creeping in.
“It’s my fault” I repeated to myself like a mantra. If I hadn’t left Alaska, Ruess would have been with me and this never would have happened. He wouldn’t have been in a strange house in a place that wasn’t his home, angry and scared we were never coming for him. I was hit with the gravity of my decisions and how they had ultimately led to Ruess’ death. Me and my ex had attempted to build a life, with Ruess, for Ruess. But, we couldn’t make it work.
So, over and over, Ruess bounced around. He developed bad habits that I didn’t recognize. He became more skittish after years of going back in forth around the U.S. staying with family and friends. Ultimately Ruess belonged to my ex-boyfriend.
He carried the responsibility of him and did not make decisions regarding Ruess lightly. I don't want to imply that, at all. He did an amazing job of making sure Ruess was well taken care of. I have no room to talk. I had to give up my cat to a better home in Vancouver.
He never wanted to be parted from him. I knew that he was hurting in a much deeper way than me. This added exponentially to my sense of guilt. There was nothing I could do.
Further, he seemed like he didn’t want me to do anything. I could gather from past experiences that we weren’t going to speak again. This made me angry. I called him later that night. No answer. I understood, but it was like a burn to a stab wound.
For several weeks following, I cried every single day. No exceptions. I am crying now, typing this. I find it unbearable to accept that he is gone. It is too painful. It must be a mistake. But then, I realize that it isn’t. That these things happen. They are so unfair. All you can do is learn how not to completely break down every time you see a white dog and try and move forward.
This is that moment when you realize you are alone. Everything you love will die. Everything we love will become emotional pain.
I will always love him, even though he is no longer here. I can’t believe I was lucky enough to have him and to feel a depth of love and happiness like never before. What a profound effect he has had (and will have) on me. I will never be the same.
We give our hearts to these animals, though we know that we will outlive them. We take this love on fearlessly, knowingly. We choose to love and to feel the profound loss of their departure. How beautiful! How god damn amazing.
I am honored to have shared this powerful experience alongside the person who showed me what love is. That is something to be thankful for.
We really did love, didn’t we?