Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cemetery Revisited

Half a year ago I wrote the piece entitled Cemetery. I didn’t feel the need to go use a cemetery for cleverly disguised crying again until today. I tried a different one this time, one I’ve never visited and one in which I’ve seldom noted much traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. (In all fairness, the daily busyness of cemeteries is not something I spend a lot of observation on, anyway.) Well, I was driving home from Walmart, musing, and all of a sudden I started crying. Then a song came on the radio that just made me cry more, and since I was at an intersection directly facing said cemetery, I decided to pull over and indulge in a good cry in the warmth of the sunshine, magnified through the car windows. (The darkness of winter cold has descended upon my apartment; I do not expect to be warm in it again until May.)

Anyway, I pulled over, put on a good song, and sat musing. Just as those few dam-breaking tears slid down my cheeks, I noted a figure in the distance—a man walking a dog. Great, I thought, people? As the figure approached I discerned that both man and dog were of an elderly nature, evidenced by the man’s gaunt appearance and the dog’s rotund belly and decidedly wobbly walk. Fine, I concluded, old men have a right to walk their dogs on fall afternoons; it’s good they’re exercising. I gazed off into the distance, carefully nonchalant, until they passed. Then, just as I was recovering my tearful train of thought, I spied in my side-view mirror more figures—a woman in a tracksuit, shortly followed by a young mother with a stroller and obligatory baby. Seriously? I inquired of the air in irritation. Even here? What is this, a thoroughfare? Anyway, I feigned to be listening to music and hoped the freshly filled gravesite, close by my car, would inspire respectful understanding and avoidance. Two more figures in needlessly bright yellow also loomed in my mirror behind the mother and child. My blood pressure shot up for an instant; apparently I had chosen not a respectable resting place of bodies departed, but my town’s own favorite walking path. Blessedly, the garishly-clothed pair turned aside down another deathly avenue.

Finally, the stretch of mirror behind me was empty but of trees and monuments; the vista before my dirty windshield was filled with only the yet-unploughed greensward and the golden autumn sun falling through gloriously colored trees. Perhaps the rash of living persons thronging the cemetery was a momentary fluke. My song went on repeat and I gave all my attention back to musing and crying. Hard. Soothing tears rolled down my cheeks and onto my shirt, and I tucked my face beneath my hat brim and hand, and luxuriated in my sorrow. Just as I was getting to the really good sobbing…a tap on my window.

I paused for an instant. Surely it couldn’t be—had I not written a lovely piece on the sanctity of sorrow in a graveyard? Certainly no person could be so dense of feeling as to knock on the car window of stranger crying in a cemetery? I raised my eyes and lowered my hand. Sure enough, there was the blond hair and sympathetic face of the woman in the tracksuit. She couldn’t have just circled around and exited by way of the citrus-colored strollers—no no, she had to walk back past my car, just when I was distracted enough to stop paying attention. I flashed what I’m sure was a ghastly smile combined with a shake of my head meant to convey, I don’t want to talk, I’m fine, please go away. I ducked back beneath the shield of my hand.

She tapped again. WHAT! I thought madly, this is ridiculous! I looked up again, trying not to make eye contact (let’s face it, sanctity of sorrow or not, it’s rather absurd to be caught by a concerned stranger when you’re crying hard in what is apparently a very public place.) I gave her another facial contortion and shook my head, attempting to indicate that my actual state of being was much better than it appeared. She shook her head to keep my attention and mouthed, “I’ll pray for you.” I shook my head and gave her a thumbs-up to serve as an I understand and thank you and I don’t want to talk and I’ll be fine. I had instantaneously considered rolling down the window after the first tap but I didn’t want to talk to anyone! Gosh! Also instantaneous was the thought that since no one in my actual life knew I was sitting along crying in a graveyard, it was kind of nice that a perfect stranger walking by was kindhearted and would pray for me. I was rather miserable, after all. Well, Lord, I hope you’ll listen to her prayers, I said mentally, checking the rearview to make sure she was in fact retreating into the distance.

I really couldn’t return to my cry after that; it was so ridiculous as to almost cheer me up. Not quite; but really, if you at all value a sense of humor you have got to take note of the height of absurdity of a situation like that. I drove home.

There was still a little afternoon sunlight left, and I didn’t relish the idea of the arctic frigidity of my apartment (although there is thankfully a fairly safe bet of privacy in your own home if you’re in it alone.) At the last turn before home I briefly considered trying one of the other old cemeteries in my neighborhood. After all, I had been denied not only my cry and my privacy, but even my illusions of the sanctity of death had taken a blow; and, as the character in one of my old books was wont to say “A person must have some compensations.” But I thought there ought to be a limit even to the credulity of a hopeful person, and decided to just go home. When a person cannot even indulge in a good cry now and then without interruption, one must settle for chocolate.


Bethany Streng said...

you know, chocolate has a powerful healing ability. also, i find cemeteries comforting as well, and it may be a safer bet to get out and walk in them. that way you can easily move when some hopeful person starts towards you. said...

Oh Ali, maybe it was good I didn't join you to walmart, not that you got your good cry in, but I would have deprived you of that as well. I'm thinking God sent that woman there for some reason. I hope that chocolate made you feel better....

"I need chocolate" -Laura's 3 year old cousin, Alexander.