Cemeteries are playgrounds of names and stories all ripe for the picking. I’ve walked through many cemeteries in my day and always spent more time jotting down names and piecing together ideas for stories than mourning my losses, facing a hunk of stone that is now supposed to be a place holder for a spirit that is gone. Crossed over. Vanished. But this cemetery, this headstone, her headstone, I know her story already. I cross back into it every time my car finds its way back down the familiar path toward the tree she rests under now. Even when I’m a few streets away from the cemetery entrance, I turn my music off and let the wind carry me forward. Maybe I’m afraid of silence and that’s why I need a constant stream of music. But in this place, I feel silence pressing in and I want to be alone with that fuzzy sound it has.
My aunt died tragically. She was fine on a Monday and by Wednesday evening she was gone. Nine hours later my uncle, her brother, followed her into death. Unrelated. Both cancer. One known, another a sneaking viper that took her heart before mine had time to handle the break. I’m not a religious person but I always feel her at her headstone. I feel the eyes of all of these names watching me as I write them down in my notebook for use in my stories. But I feel her entire being at my back as I clear off the lighthouse on her grave. She was always so connected to the world around her and to her own mind. The borders people normally had didn’t seem to block her from knowing more than seemed possible. And now with me in ratty jeans, her beneath my feet in a white gown no doubt rotting and tarnished, but really her at my side, I feel light in my head for the first time in months. I see her opening a door and releasing pressure from my mind.
All the names I’m seeing around me seem bigger than they should. Bourne. Blood. Killpack. Holding. Holding onto what? The decaying flowers sitting above your skulls? Born into what? The secret world we all want a peek into but that we are all dying to avoid. This cemetery is drenched in history and memorials. A marble angel stands guard over its child corpse, an angel that would turn from lovely to fearsome in the moonlight. A sand blasted headstone stands not even two feet tall for Millie Clair next to my great-grandfather’s headstone. Born October 20, 1891. Died February 12, 1892. Her headstone has a tree stump and a lonely little dove. I can see her blonde curls, pure as the dove’s wings. Next to her headstone is a newer model. Decorated with a basketball carved into the stone, another actual ball at the base of the statue. Flowers overflowing the pots. Did Millie see this boy’s family leaving the flowers what looks like hours beforehand? Did her little heart break at a lack of visitors for over 200 years? I vow to bring her flowers next time I visit. Yellow like her hair.
An amazing pyramid while I am here. I stand with my Aunt. Three rows away two gravediggers are finishing filling a new grave. They are smeared in dirt and decidedly less cheerful than the clowns of Hamlet, headphones bouncing around as they swing their shovels back and forth. A few rows behind them a casket sits on a pyre high above the ground, all guests having left minutes before my arrival. Two maintenance workers work at removing floral arrangements and throwing them back into their bed of their truck. A few petals fall into the hole beneath the casket. One worker curses as he stubs a finger against the wood. Is this what we have to look forward to?