A few days ago my mom got it stuck in her head that to be a true American, one must go to the cemetery to pay your respects to those who fought in the war. But she didn’t stop there. Someone had apparently told her that Memorial day was not just for those who had fought – but for all those who have passed. “It’s a day” she said “To remember them.” Im still not sure about my thoughts on that one. I don’t need just a day to remember them. And while I love them and miss them more than anything, I don’t class them as soldiers who died for the country. I didn’t really say anything, knowing what was coming next, but not wanting to discuss it with her.
And somehow I got myself into a situation I don’t like.
I cant blame it all on her, because I could have said no. Ive said no before, and I am not forced by her to do anything. She wanted me to take her to the cemetery and show her a few places. I don’t like cemeteries. I did, for a while. But for the past five or six years, I just havent liked them. I spent my fair share of time in them, but anymore – I get out of them as quickly as possible.
Much like in the past – I went with good intentions. I had flowers. I had words. I had things to say, and do, the things that your “Supposed” to do, I suppose. On the way in, I got that knot in my stomach, the one that said “Turn around, go the other way.” The one that made me want to run like mad the other direction. But I didn’t. Instead I drove up.
My mom had wanted to find an old “Friend” who had died and been buried up there, so she enlisted in the help of the gardener. Or the maintenance man. Or the man in charge. He referred, repeatedly, to the cemetery as “His” and made comments on how “He” ran it. All the while making me more and more upset. He unlocked a small room, and pulled down a book – a large binder. He flipped to the name my mom wanted, scribbled a few notes – thinking it was the general area of where the grave was – I turned to leave – but he pulled out a chart. A faded with time, giant, old, yellowed chart.
He un rolled a small section of it. As I studied it closer I realized what it was. A map of the cemetery. Small rectangular boxes, filled with different colors of ink, he ran his finger down a row and up another before he finally stopped. He scribbled a few more things, then gave the directions. “You will want to go to section 5. Section 5 row 17. Then count down 23 plots and you will find him.” My heart skipped a beat. That yellowed chart held the names and location of thousands of bodies. Mingled around, with no obvious order.
On the wall there was a map of the general area. Section 1 then section 7. Sections that had been added on after the initial start. Above the sections, on the top was something called “Future section 9.” I wondered how long it would be until that was filled…and if, when the cemetery was started, had they ever imagined it getting “That big.”
Satisfied with her numbers, we left to scout out the plot.
She went one way – I went another.
I didn’t need a chart to tell me where I was going. Or where they lay. Scattered around, with no meaning. Graves. Everywhere. Each attached to a family who knows by heart where they lay. Seeing the names somehow cemented in my mind what I don’t go up there. Seeing the cold stones, in between rows and rows of other names – I dropped the flowers and walked away.
Slowly at first, but then faster. The whole idea of what I was walking over, the whole theory behind cemeteries, and the names on the stones. The stories. The freshly laid sod and the absent stones. The year 2011. Everything about it seemed so wrong. Nothing up there is right.
As we drove away my mom mentioned something about wanting to see where I had gone. I didn’t stop long enough to show her. She can ask the gardener next time.
We neared the bottom of the hill when she said “That was a nice place for a grave, don’t you think?” I didn’t answer her with words. Sure, I suppose it was a nice place at one time. On-top on the hill, overlooking the water, on a sunny day like today, I imagine it could be a beautiful place. But I simply shook my head.
Because no place, is a good place for a grave.