What follows is a true story.
The nearly full moon hung precariously in the sky as our group drunkenly shuffled down Bourbon Street. This was my first time in New Orleans, and here in the french quarter I could almost see the Anne Rice vampire books I read as a child come to life around me. My Uncle called this place “The party capitol of the world” I believe he was right. The blatant chaos of this city enthralled and excited me. The crowds of brightly clothed tourists making their way down the road, the drunken natives hanging from the balconies, the eclectic mix of music, strange smells, stranger personalities, and especially the quietly lurking possibility of danger all seemed to heighten my senses and intoxicate me even more.
“Duuuude, I’m telling ya, Y’all gonna love it here so much, you ain’t gonna wanna leave! This here’s the party capitol of the world baby!” he exclaimed proudly. I had no reason to doubt his assessment. I liked the idea of getting lost in a place like this; I could only imagine what a night like Fat Tuesday was like in this town. Instead it was a Sunday; the night before my birthday, and we were down from Wisconsin, visiting family I’d only met once before, some I had yet to meet. For now however, we were partying it up like the hundreds of other like minded drunkards wandering around.
We soon approached a group of fortune tellers, complete with candles, crystals, and tarot cards, all laid out on cloth covered card tables. My husband John, my little brother Dustin and I waited while Toots and Carrie (my uncle and his girlfriend) got their fortunes read.
I had no intention of having my future foretold. I didn’t like the idea of letting another person interpret and decide my fate although I did have a fondness for the “esoteric studies”. Looking back, maybe I should have done it… maybe I would have gotten a warning.
We eventually wandered off, and spent the rest of the night sampling the various bars of Bourbon Street, finally making it back to my grandpa’s trailer just before sunrise. John and I found our way to our room and soon fell into a drunken slumber.
I could hear a distant drum beat, louder and louder it became until very suddenly it seemed I was jolted out of a dead sleep to a frantic pounding on the door, and Dustin yelling “Wake up!” KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK on my brain. “Becky! John! Wake the fuck up! Cathy’s dead!” Cathy was my Aunt. We were very close, most of the time.
Horrible as it sounds the first thing I remember thinking was “What a shitty way to wake a person up on their birthday.” I didn’t believe him. Dustin was a known prankster he wasn’t above joking about something like this. I rolled over trying to block out the world with my pillow…the light was so bright. I was so hungover.
More knocking, and his persistent voice on the other side of the door still urging us to wake up… maybe he was serious. My head hurt. “Ugh, I’ll be out in a second, let me get dressed.” I threw on some cloths and stumbled out the door, and into the kitchen next to our room while wiping the sand from my eyes. There my Grandpa (Cathy’s father) was waiting with a cup of coffee and a hug. I saw the look of sadness on his face and I knew this wasn’t a joke, Cathy really was dead.
“What happened?” I asked, staring into my cup of coffee. Grandpa started crying, thickly speaking in a strange mixture of French and English which I couldn’t understand.
Dustin cast a sad look at Grandpa before explaining what happened… According to what mom told him on the phone, Cathy woke up and was displaying the signs of a heart attack. Instead of calling an ambulance or driving to the hospital in town, her boyfriend Chuck tried to drive her to the next town over, 12 miles away. At some point in the car ride Cathy lost consciousness and he turned the car around to try and take her back to Columbus.
Instead of taking the highway straight to the hospital which would have been faster, he tried to go through town, where he got stuck by a train. He pulled into the Gas station next to the tracks. Cathy’s 12 year old daughter Cyndi dialed 911. They waited 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived, by that time she was gone. Cathy died in Cyndi’s arms.
“But why didn’t he just call an ambulance in the first place?” inquired John sleepily, to which Dustin heatedly replied “Because he’s either really stupid or really evil, but probably both. You know Chuck man! She should have never got with that guy!” Her boyfriend, Chuck had a police record 10 miles long. I’m not going to go into details, but suffice to say there were enough things on it to make our family very nervous and suspicious about Chuck, his intentions, and the safety of Cathy and the kids.
The speculating and dissection continued with Toot’s and Carrie’s arrival, everyone commenting on how sad the whole situation was, what a bastard Chuck was, and how they might have been able to save her if it weren’t for him. I excused myself and went outside. I agreed with them, but it made me feel very tired to do so. I didn’t want to think about it. I leaned up against a tree and closed my eyes thinking instead about the times I had treasured with Cathy and the things I loved about her.
I remembered how she always had a cup of coffee waiting for me when I’d visit, and an ear for my rants on different subjects, and a shoulder to cry on when I was feeling miserable. Cathy may have even saved my life, there was a time in my life where I was seriously considering suicide, she saw this and got me help. She was always someone I could turn to. We would drive around at night chasing storms, and sometimes we would stay up until sunrise talking about the cool esoteric things that most people were uncomfortable with, until lately anyway. My thoughts shifted; what did I do for her?
Tell her how to run her life? Tell her she was a horrible person for staying with Chuck? Tell her that her house was too messy? Tell her that she had too many cats? Tell her she needed to get a job? Tell her how she never did anything good enough, basically? Worst of all, I gave her the cold shoulder when perhaps she needed someone there more than ever. At that point it had been almost a month since I had seen her.
Now she was gone, and I couldn’t tell her all the things I should have told her. I should have told her I loved her, and that I did care, and I’d be there for her if she needed me. Instead, I avoided or scolded her. Who was I to judge her?
It was at that point that it really hit me, and I cried for the first time in a long, long time. I cried like a little girl. I cursed the world and myself. I felt guilty for feeling bad about it, with as awful as I was feeling how could her kids possibly feel right now? How could I sit here and cry while those two kids are up there are without a mother? I’ve never endured the loss of someone close to me until that moment. I was in shock. I cried until finally I just felt numb and empty.
John came outside looking for me, and wrapped me in his arms saying, “It’ll be ok Becky, I love you” and he kissed my forehead. I was grateful for his presence, it was difficult, but he made it a little easier to bear. We stood outside for a few moments in silence, until he led me back into the trailer where the rest of the family was waiting.
“How ya doin’ girl?” Toot’s asked with concern as we stepped inside. “I’m alright” I lied. I wasn’t alright, but thanks to John I was doing better than before. We all sat there trying to figure out what to do next, and it was decided for me that we were still going to celebrate my birthday. Toots told us about a plantation in the area that was a historic sight, and there was also a vampire tour in the french quarter that started at midnight. “But first…” Toots then pulled out a bag of weed, and rolled two joints holding them up he said: “This one here’s in honor of Cathy, an’ this one here’s for your birthday, I promised ya’ll a good time now.”
Dustin cheered. John and I looked at him and laughed. We smoked and I found myself staring at my grandpa, this frail old man, with a bushy white beard and glasses, taking these huge rips off of the joint, only passing with an exaggerated wave of his bony arms when it got small saying “Aw, hell no. I don’t-want-that-shit. Burn my fingers.” The way he talked reminded me of the assistant coach you could never understand in the movie “Waterboy”.
When we were finished, we all got ready for the day and piled into Toot’s white minivan, and as we were headed to go check out the plantation Toots got a call from Chuck. He put his cell on speakerphone, and asked him to explain what happened, and as Chuck retold the story I could feel a furious heat growing inside of me. He was criticizing the ambulance for taking too long, but he kept referring to it as a “meat wagon”. Never mind the fact that if he would have called 911 in the first place, or even drove her to the hospital in town Cathy might still be alive. I wanted to reach through the phone and strangle him. Even his remorse seemed fake to me… I felt like he was playing us. Incidentally, a couple weeks later, when we got back, I found out he was posting ads on facebook for a new sugar momma.
The conversation finally ended and I was relieved not to have to listen to any more of it. Unfortunately the rest of the car-ride was spent reviewing all the changes in Chucks story, there was no escape from it. I stared out the window at the Louisiana countryside. The flora of the area looked battered and weary from the assaulting winds of hurricains past. It seemed like an appropriate setting, matching the emotions I was experiencing.
We soon arrived at the plantation to find out they were just closing for the day and no longer doing tours. That didn’t seem to concern Toots, who snuck us into the building anyway. We quickly found out that Toots was quite the history buff as he gave us all a private tour of the Plantation. A while later, John and I broke off from the group and darted around humming mission impossible music, while trying not to make the floor boards creek. Anything to escape the storm of sadness that was churning inside of me.
When we joined back up with the rest of the group a small crystal ink bottle on a desk caught my eye. Toots saw me looking at it and whispered that I should put it in my purse. “What? I can’t do that” I whispered back “They’d totally come after me man!” Toots laughed, “Aw hell, they ain’t gonna miss a little thing like that, they got more money then they know what to do with man.” I still wouldn’t take it. I had a more developed fear of authority then Toots, he seemed disappointed but shrugged it off.
We soon left the plantation, when we were a few miles down the road Toots reached in his pocket and pulled out the bottle I’d been looking at before, and presented it with an exuberant “Happy Birthday!” My jaw dropped. “Duuude…uh…thank you.” was all I could spit out as I gingerly took the bottle from him and examined it in the light. Dustin and John both thought it was hilarious. I found it kind of heartwarming that my uncle would do something so nice, illegal as it was. “I thought it would go good with all yer tattoo stuff. An’ don’t worry, they ain’t gonna miss it.” I still wasn’t sure I believed him, but I put it in my purse and took his word for it.
We passed the rest of the day with me doing tattoos on various relatives, happy to have something to distract me, until it was time to go catch the vampire tour in New Orleans. We arrived in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral where the tour was scheduled to begin. With nothing to do, I was lost in thought, secretly and sarcastically hoping a vampire would jump out of an ally, or down from a rooftop or balcony and drain me of my life-force, or turn me, so I could join the legions of undead, and match how I felt physically and emotionally.
I was jolted out of my morbid reverie by the arrival of our tour guide, a strange man with silver hair and a compelling charisma. He started to deliver his presentation on vampires and at one point he looked down at us, and I feel like he was looking right at me when he said this. He asked us, “Would you really want to be a vampire, and give up all the things that make life worth living? Would you want to outlive everyone you ever cared about? Would you want to throw away any thoughts of some day having a family, of raising children? Would you really be willing to say goodbye to everything you ever held dear? I certainly wouldn’t want to…” His words sent chills down my spine.
John put his arm around me, and I wrapped my arm around his waist. No… I couldn’t give those things up. I thought about John, my brother Dustin, the rest of my family and friends in Wisconsin, and my new found family here in Louisiana, and I realized I had a lot to live for. I had a husband who I could trust with my life, I had family who would do anything for me, and great friends who could make me laugh when times were hard. I missed Cathy, but she wouldn’t want me feeling this way. She wouldn’t want me to be depressed, she would want me to celebrate the good things in life, not waste it with self pity. Our guide then left the steps of the Cathedral and motioned for us to follow, at one point he suggested that we take as many pictures as we could. The spirits were thick in this city. Many people here had reported finding strange orbs, ectoplasm, and other anomalies in their photos.
We followed his advice and took some pictures, when I looked at what we got I almost peed myself. Looking at the camera, I believe it was Cathy’s spirit in that picture, this brightly glowing orb, saying “hello”, and possibly protecting me from the vampires that might be lurking nearby. I never did get to tell her the things I wanted to say, but I believe now that she’s out there somewhere, and she knew all along. Rest in peace Cathy, or do whatever it is you’re doing, as long as you’re having fun. I love you.
There are a few things that have happened since that night which I would like to share. I would like to share with you synchronicity and hope for the everlasting spirit.
A while after Cathy passed, I forget exactly when, I had an interesting dream. Cathy was in it, she was talking to me, she was telling me that she was doing fine, she was in a place called “The Zoo”, she had some kind of position of authority. What is interesting about this is that I found out her son Zach had a very similar dream, where she came to him and told him she as at the zoo and doing fine. We were both incredibly comforted.
If you knew Cathy, you knew she had a big heart and a bigger love for animals of all kinds. When she was a kid, she could catch a bee by it’s wings and never get stung. She was always catching different animals and she had a gift when it came to the animal kingdom. I find it very appropriate that her afterlife would be a place full of animals, and that she would be a part of it.
Cathy never forgot your birthday, you could always expect a phone-call on your birthday, and warm wishes. She continued that tradition even after her passing. My Mom told me a story about how the Lilly plant Cathy had given her as a gift got it’s first bloom on her birthday in September. To my Mom this was Cathy, stopping by to wish her a happy birthday, and I would agree, that sounds just like something Cathy would do.
So if you have a loved one who has passed, I hope this story offers you some comfort. While I am sad that she couldn’t be with us longer in this plane of existence, I’m grateful that she has given me the gift of knowing we continue after this world. This is a gift I would like share with all of you as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and much love.