Ryan and Jennifer with Blue

A man with shortm unkempt hair stands in a green and blue flannel shirt next to a blonde woman in a thin yellow sweater on a porch while a tan dog peeking through the rails.


Blue Valentine

It was a divine intervention. That’s the only way I can describe it. The realization of what happened left me stunned, leaving me with a clarity that resonated like the sound of a finger tracing the edge of a wine glass.

Have you ever had the entire universe align, just for you, when you needed it the most? That’s what happened when I got my dog, Blue.

Mia was a force to contend with. The moment she entered a room, it was like a firecracker went off.

She was effervescent, you couldn’t help but be drawn to her like a moth to the light. She was loud, you were lucky if you could get a word in most of the time. Her energy was so intense, you either loved her or you hated her. She didn’t give you the option to feel lukewarm.

Mia was 100% a troublemaker and that’s partly why she was so exciting. She got into this phase where she would try to kick her windshield out just to see if she could do it, because it’s free to replace them in Kentucky.

She could talk her way out of ANYTHING. One time, we were leaving Al’s bar—she was driving and we got pulled over for something minor. She didn’t have her license, all she had was her military ID and passport. Her registration and insurance were expired—and with my right hand on my heart, I swear on my Mother’s grave—I watched Mia sweet talk him into letting us go with a warning and a court date.

She loved so, so hard. I’ll never forget the Valentine’s Day when she went to the Dollar Store and bought plastic cups with hearts on them, filled them with mini Reese’s Pieces, tied a foil Valentine balloon to it, and delivered one to each of her single girlfriends. That cup, with the little hearts on it, was my absolute favorite cup I’ve ever had, because she gave it to me.

She had her ups & downs with men … and eventually started going down a dark path. A few years later things got really bad. Her teeth were messed up and she didn’t have health insurance, and she was doing more & more pills to kill the pain.

We were having lunch at Billy’s Bar-B-Que when she told me that she had started doing heroin. I remember feeling the hot rush take over my body as my blood pressure skyrocketed. I remember making a very intentional effort to keep my mouth closed & really listen while she talked.

I’ll never forget standing in my kitchen a few months later, saying to her ‘I need to tell you this now, because I didn’t with Travis and I hate myself for it. If you keep going down this path, you’re going to die and I don’t want to go to your funeral.’

She was confident that she would be fine, and I was overreacting, she was safe blah blah blah. She’d come this far, right?

Two years later & she had multiple stays in the hospital from pneumonia that would never go away, because opioids lower your white blood cell count.

Her health problems became too much. She was skeletal, her eyes dark, and she was extra grouchy all the time. So painfully grouchy.

There were a few devastating moments in her personal & financial life, to say the least, and she finally admitted defeat. I remember desperately trying to convince her to talk to her parents & see if she could move back home. She reluctantly and tearfully told them what was going on, and they came to her rescue.

Several months later, I started to get worried because I hadn’t heard from her at all. Understandably, she changed her phone number and stopped using social media, but we were so close.

I reached out to her sister because I was so worried. Mia finally called, we talked about me coming to visit her at her parents’, and all the things we were going to do in the summer. Around Christmas, I saw pictures of her on Facebook, she was healthy & glowing, she looked so, so good.

Through all of this, my now-husband and I were dog shopping. The Humane Society has a special deal on Valentine’s Day where some dogs are only $10! So we went down and took a look, our 5th trip to the pound. And that’s when we found Miss Daisy Blueberry Pancakes, Blue for short. She’s a low-rider All-American Hound with two turned out ballerina feet, a big scaredy-cat, and sweet as pie. Blue wasn’t part of the $10 deal but we fell in love immediately. She’s my first dog ever, after decades of begging my parents for one. We brought her home at around 4 pm and went to see Jamaican Queens at Al’s that night.

The next day, I was laying in bed when I got the phone call. It was Megan. She didn’t even need to say it, I could just tell. Mia had come to Lexington for Valentine’s Day, and went bowling with some friends and her ex. She had plans to get brunch the next day with her best and closest girlfriend. After bowling, Mia relapsed and overdosed, then died at the hospital. Megan and I sobbed with each other on the phone for nearly an hour, barely saying any words.

Blue stayed by my side for days. Anyone who has had a dog understands the profound comfort they bring. Here I was, with my very first dog on the very first full day that I had her. We brought Blue to her forever home at the same time that Mia was driving to Lexington. We came home from the show—to Blue—at the exact same time Mia was in the hospital.

5 years later and I still get chills thinking about the timing, it was too much for coincidence. Losing a best friend, and yet gaining another. This sounds so cheesy but to me, it’s as if there was an intentional crossing of energies. A great love to balance the darkness.

I held onto that plastic cup Mia gave me, the one with the little pink hearts on it. I kept it for years beyond the time I should have thrown it out. The bottom had dozens of micro-cracks from the heat of the dishwasher, and at first it only leaked a little. The pink hearts had almost completely faded, leaving behind only the raised shape in the plastic. But I kept it. Until one day the cracks got too big. I thought about saving it … but I knew that in a few months it would just be collecting dust. I finally let it go.

The term ‘Blue Valentine’ comes to mind. A blue valentine is when a love isn’t supposed to end, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it dies … leaving both parties with an unrequited longing.

I lost Mia that day, but I believe with the depths of my soul that the universe sent me Blue at that exact moment, knowing how much I would need her.

And for that, Miss Daisy Blueberry Pancakes will forever be the embodiment of my Blue Valentine.”

Lexington in the Time of COVID-19 is an artwork about people practicing social distancing at a time of a deadly virus. And also offering kindness.

Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova capture photographs at the periphery of American culture, where drag queens, discarded couches, and abandoned motel signs exist.