Ruben: “Life With the Volume Turned Up Loud”

Vanessa dancing with Ruben at her wedding.
A good friend passed away last Wednesday. He had fought cancer a long, long time.

Ruben was that cool kid that everyone, and I mean everyone, immediately loved. He just had this vibe. Laid back but totally present. Go with the flow but very purposeful. He was so comfortable with being himself that he emboldened everyone around him to be more uniquely themselves. Everyone felt a little more adventurous and free around him.

I looked forward to hanging out with him. I looked forward to his questions. Ruben didn’t small talk or chit-chat. He wanted the real stuff. He was the kind of person you knew for certain took you seriously. And you were powerless to his sincerity. I found that he would get truth out of me that even I didn’t know was there. He would ask me how I was and I had no choice but to dig deeply and pull out something meaningful and true.

I’m not sad for Ruben. I feel so good about his life. There is no possible way that Ruben could have squeezed one more drop out of life. He just loved so deeply. Other than family and friends that he loved with the fiercest of loyalties, there are three things that Ruben loved:

When I say he loved music, I mean this man loved music. I’m sure that he’s been to thousands of shows. Even just a few weeks ago, Ruben went to a huge music festival called Austin City Limits. His Hospice caregivers commented that this was a first for someone under their care. He just always had to have a soundtrack to go with his life.

Ruben loved food. He could work magic — at any time of the day, you could call him, tell him what part of town you were in, what you were in the mood for, and he would tell you where to go. Poof. Not only would it be exactly what hit the spot but it also would become your favorite restaurant for the rest of ever. To this day, our favorite restaurants are places we went to with Ruben — El Pollo Rico, Threadgills, Dog and Duck. I always told Ruben that he needed to just quit whatever job he had and start up The Ruben Food Tour. Then he could take groups of people out to eat around Austin. He would have banked. Not that that was important to him at all, but it was Ruben’s specialty — making new friends and eating really good food.

I didn’t know Ruben a very long time. About four years. And in that time, I didn’t know of any serious relationships he was in, which was surprising because Ruben was really charming. You couldn’t help but love him immediately. I am positive that if he wanted to have a girlfriend, he could have. But Ruben wasn’t one to use up time doing something that he wasn’t 100% into. Then he met Jen. We went to a wedding not long after they had started dating and Ruben and I were talking about their relationship. Ruben was actually the DJ at this wedding. So there we were, Ruben switching songs, me holding Olivia who was passed out on my shoulder, music blaring from these speakers right next to us, and Ruben told me that he knew he wanted to marry Jen. He was sure. I was sure he was sure. Ruben loved Jen, more than music and food combined, which no one thought was possible. What a story those two have. Even though they’ve been married less than a year, it has been one packed with such intense living. Jen even arranged for Ruben to meet Bono (Ruben’s idol). But Ruben loved Jen and Jen loved Ruben. And they carried each other through a lot. Their love is quite epic.

People keep saying that Ruben wouldn’t want us to be sad. Ruben would want us to remember the good times and the laughter. And, oh, was there laughter. I remember laughing with him as he downed a Players combo AND a foot-long hotdog AND anything else other people couldn’t finish. I remember dancing with him at our wedding. I remember how the last time he was at our house he had forgotten to bring a six-pack of beer that he had been saving for me because he knew that this is the first time in a while that I haven’t been pregnant or breastfeeding and, well, I like beer. And I know that’s how he would want us to remember him. But like I said before, I’m not sad for Ruben. I’ve never been so sure that someone is in heaven and that heaven has U2 on repeat right now just for him.

No, I’m sad for the rest of us. We’ve lost one of the greats. We can only hope to live as much as he did.