I felt the need to pay respect to an old friend who passed a few days ago. Rusty was one of my first true mentors back when I was starting a career in photography. I was no more than 23 years old when I walked into he and his business partners studio back in Orlando, Florida. His partner wanted to hire me and all Rusty said was “I have one rule for you here…dont sleep with Wiley!” (that was his business partner). Over the years I learned more from these two guys than I ever did in school. After taking a hiatus for 2 years to get a bachelors degree I found myself right back where I started in a new studio location with these guys that would end up leading me to opening up my own studio in 1996.
In the beginning I was scared to death of Rusty. He just had a quiet way of making you feel uncomfortable. He always said I asked too many questions and it seemed he was always angry. Over the years I learned that it was his way, he held a lot of hurt in his heart and no one could ever get through to him. He closed himself off and the only joy I ever saw in him was from his best friend (always a golden retriever) the newest tech tool and his photography work. Even though he had this hard edge and his words could bite you to the core Rusty had a way of making you love him. Although the reasons are unclear to me I always thought he just felt unloved and that is why he closed himself off to the world. It broke my heart to know that someone could be so lonely inside even though so many people loved him.
Most of his life he battled depression. He would try the newest drug, get better for a while, get frustrated stop taking it and get sick until he was given something different. I am not sure how many times he attempted to take his life but it was a constant struggle he spoke to me about and there was no way to understand what he was dealing with inside. A few months ago he called and said he had gone through heart surgery. I spoke to him on several occasions after that and he was having a really tough time dealing with the decline of his health. A few days before Thanksgiving he stopped by to stay the night as he often did when passing through Nashville. He had always stayed in touch with me even after all the years and all the miles.
Two days ago Rusty was found lying with his golden retriever in his parked van with the generator on. He had died by exfixiation. I got the call last night and I cant say how weird it is knowing he is gone and that he was just here. I still have the sheets he slept on sitting in the hamper to be washed. The night he visited we sat at the table talking about his health, about all the friends he had lost last year and about work. I made him a PBJ although he did not have an appetite he did eat. He spent hours playing new tunes for me to hear from his latest collection, he always had cool music. He showed me his latest work project and his web site. He slept in the next morning and I tried to get him to take a muffin before he left but he didnt want it. We hugged and I watched him drive away.
As I sit here I cant remember if I told him I loved him. I always did in our emails but it bothers me that I cant remember if I actually said it before he walked out the door. I never though it would be the last time I would see him, if I had I would have been sure to say so much more. Last year I put that in a blog, to always tell the ones you love that you love them because you never know. Now I am feeling the remorse of his loss and what I did not say. Although I know that no matter what I said there was probably no chance of changing his choice I do wish I had spoken. Once again I am reminded of how precious life is and how there is no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring.
For now I just want Rusty to find peace, I have prayed this morning that he know I love him and I will miss him. His memory will stay in my mind until I have the chance to meet up with him again on the other side. R.I.P.