Ty and I were just forty miles north of Memphis when he got a call. Though muffled by a layer of denim, the ring tone--a sighing harmonica--roused me from sleep. As Ty wrestled the phone out of his pocket, I sat up and resumed staring out the window. It wouldn't be long, now.
Our excitement for the trip--which had been building for the past three weeks--was doused once we learned the reason for the call.
Ty's grandfather had come to the house Saturday morning, his weekly routine. But, on this particular Saturday, he had noticed some sort of lump, some sort of growth, on the leg of the family's 16-year-old shepherd-retriever, Bear. Ty's grandfather and mother had taken Bear to the veterinarian, who eventually confirmed that the growth was a series of tumors, and that the tumors were connected directly to Bear's veins. They couldn't be drained. They couldn't be removed. The solution? Painkillers. The prediction? A few months. It was unexpected and unfortunate and we were out of town and we were on the road and here was Ty's mom on the phone, asking, What do we do?
Ty sighed. "It's decision time," he said.
Bear had been regal, loyal, and had even had bursts of energy earlier this fall. By Thanksgiving, however, he was losing his ability to walk. His hips were stiff. His legs would give out while he was eating. He had to be assisted when going up and down the stairs. And, eventually, he started falling down the stairs. Bear was a curious dog, a sweetheart, and had loved unconditionally.
The rest of our drive was spent in somber quiet and, as we ate lunch at a local barbeque restaurant, Ty's mom called again. It's done.
I didn't know what to say. I'm not sure Ty did, either.
"Do we need to go back?" I asked, wiping sauce off my hands.
Ty shook his head. "No. It'll be okay. I mean ... it's not, but it will be."
"Are you sure? We can go back if you need to."
Ty shook his head again. "Mwhno," he managed, his mouth full of barbequed ribs. "It's fine."
I stared at him, eyebrows furrowed with concern.
Ty sighed and said, "Dawn, it's okay. Really. We've been planning this trip for a few weeks now. I've been looking forward to it. You've been looking forward to it and--"
"I know. I know this was my way to celebrate the end of the legislative session, but ... Ty, I mean ... I don't know." I pointlessly stirred my baked beans with my fork.
"Dawn. It'll be okay." Ty looked at me, his eyebrows and eyes stressing that yes, his dog had just died and, yes, we were out of town, but, no, we were not going back. Not right now, anyway. His eyes told me that I've have to save my sympathy for later, sympathy that he would have difficulty accepting, anyway. They said to stow away the grief, for now, and to just enjoy the day.
We spent a few moments in silence, his steel blue eyes locking with my patchwork ones.
"Okay," I said, nodding.
He smiled. "Okay."
And with that, we shared fries, baked beans, coleslaw, and a kiss. Not long after, we were fighting our way through traffic, snagging a $5 parking space, and walking to Beale Street. Ty had never been to Memphis, and I had been there only once, on a spring break trip with Hans in 2010. As expected, Beale Street was chock-full. Floats in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade wormed their way west, eventually turning left onto Second Street. Those atop the floats tossed green and gold beads into the air. Parade attendees fought and grabbed and reached for the plastic necklaces, their open containers of beer sloshing. Music was blaring. People were dancing. There were horse carriages and enthusiasts. Bodies. Leopard-print pants. Green. Noise. Laughing. Screaming. Glittering. Happy. Drunk.
After the parade ended, we meandered through the crowd, pausing to visit a few shops. Ty picked up an inexpensive Elvis t-shirt for his mom while I stood outside, people-watching. There were whole families, children and toy dogs included. There were the stumbling spring break-ers. The townies. The tourists. The University of Louisville cheerleaders. A drag queen who looked better in a dress than I ever will.
We left the party on Beale Street and began to wander, eventually choosing to visit the National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Though we weren't able to visit the Museum in its entirety (due to renovations), the experience was still very humbling. And, on the upper level of the Museum, where we walked around what was once a boarding house, the experience became surreal. There, in that case right there, was the evidence used in James Earl Ray's trial. And there, in that corner, was the bathroom, the one with the cracked window.
"Look at this," Ty said, pointing a black and white photo. "They photographed foot prints in the tub. Thought he stood in there, stuck the gun out the window, and watched. And waited."
Back outside, Ty and I discussed visiting the Museum again. We would, after all, pass through Memphis on this summer's road trip. We threw out other possibilities as well--the National Ornamental Metal Museum, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, the Gibson factory. We immediately vetoed Graceland.
After discovering an arts district, visiting a bookstore, buying coffee, and driving around Mud Island, we hopped back on the Interstate for our return journey. I spent most of the trip in a restless slumber, buried beneath my corduroy jacket. Back in Evansville, Ty and I nestled in on the couch and watched T.V. with Ty's mom. It was a short, quiet evening in which we tried not to dwell on Bear's absence.
Ty's grandfather came over Sunday morning for breakfast and--per the usual--discussed history and politics. The four of us binged on orange juice and coffee, toast and eggs and too much bacon. And though Ty's grandfather did comment that it was "weird" to not have Bear around, to not have him sniffing our feet or pushing his nose toward the table, we all knew that this was best, that he wasn't suffering. And that maybe, maybe someday, it would be okay.