I went to the cemetery yesterday.
During summertime, the cemetery shows movies on Fairbanks Lawn, where we had Lena’s funeral service. There’s a photo of Lena taken the first time she attended a movie there. She looks happy, relaxed, leaning back in a lawn chair – not far from where she is now buried. Her friends still go to the cemetery screenings and sometimes slip past security (cemetery access is restricted on movie nights) to visit Lena’s grave, which is why I went to the cemetery yesterday. Not to see the film. I went much earlier, in daylight, to prepare Lena’s grave to be seen by her friends.
Lena’s sister complained to me earlier in the week that because there is no marker or statue or other embellishment at the gravesite, Lena’s friends think we don’t care. I try to figure out what it is they think we don’t care about by having failed to make a traditional show at the place my daughter’s body rots. I am aware of the drama inherent in the previous statement. Similar, I imagine, to the outrage Lena’s friends must feel when at the end of their solemn pilgrimage to “visit” her, they are greeted graveside not by the breathtaking monument they would expect to be erected in memory of their beloved friend, not even by a simple gravestone bearing her name, but by the same, cemetery issue stake that was stuck in the ground the week after she was buried, a white card attached bearing Lena’s name and plot number.
I decide I will rectify my perceived negligence on the Saturday afternoon before Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the first movie of the season.
Before I go to the cemetery, I drive around to a couple of small nurseries, looking for something unique, like Lena would have wanted. I have never been one for traditional sweetness or sentimentality, and neither was Lena. She preferred the provocative, pushing people to think and see and find beauty in what they had previously overlooked or avoided. I am afraid, though, to make a statement at the cemetery. This is our private space, yes, but I’d like to fit in to the neighborhood.
My search for something acceptable yet edgy produces nothing – and I’m running out of time. The cemetery closes at 5. I give up and head to Lowe’s, the weekend warrior mega supply store. One of their recent ads featured a solar powered LED butterfly that lights up automatically at night. Just outside the entry of Garden Center a big display of miniature rose bushes catches my eye. Deep red, vibrant orange, bright yellow. So much for untraditional – I load eight into my cart. Then I go butterfly hunting.
Inside, I march past other shoppers with urgent intensity. ‘I am shopping for my daughter’s grave,’ I think. Everything slows down. To a stop. A simple trip to a chain store garden center, the comforting blandness of the absolute most ordinary mass produced merchandise, distorted by a schism in my perception. One moment everything is so precious because it exists in the here and now. The next moment everything is worthless because something very precious no longer exists. I am dizzy. I resent that I am alone and that this entire project is the result of being accused of not caring about my daughter’s grave (and by extension, not caring about my daughter). I haven’t decorated a plot in the cemetery not because I don’t care, but because it fucking hurts. I start to feel sorry for myself. A sob swells in the back of my throat. “Don’t dwell, ” I tell myself, “look around.”
Once, after a fairly intense surgical procedure, I began to panic as the nurse helped me into the shower. She was the one the other nurses warned me about, the tough nurse. “Don’t close your eyes!” she demanded as I leaned against the tile wall, moaning, eyes closed. I didn’t want to see the stitches, the oozing drains sticking out of my body. I didn’t want to be there, all cut up and in pain. I wanted to close my eyes and go away. “Don’t close your eyes!” Over and over she said it, forcing me to open my eyes, to look outside myself, to observe something besides my own fear.
In the middle of Lowe’s Garden Center I force myself to open my eyes and look around.
A thin old man, late sixties, maybe even past seventy, wearing a Lowe’s employee vest heaves huge bags of compost onto a pallet. I ask him about compost for roses. He says he likes roses – in someone else’s garden. Too many thorns. The fact he doesn’t grow roses himself and works in delivery, not garden department, means he can’t help me, but he says he’ll get someone who can. He walks away with a stiff jointed gait, like the tin man looking for oil. How much longer can he do this job, I wonder. In the the retaining wall aisle a man condescendingly lectures the woman he’s with – his wife? – because she has miscalculated what something would cost. She listens without response, resigned to being treated with contempt. A mother tries to shop while struggling to control her two daughters whose behavior gets worse with every scolding. A young man with a garden center name tag arrives and directs me to the best compost for roses. I load it on my cart. I don’t feel like crying anymore.