A Cemetery at Night

I’m sitting in my car sipping hot chocolate. I’m listening to Pearl Jam. You loved Pearl Jam. At least I think you did. I know I always did. But somehow your past is my past. Or my past is your past.

So it’s been ten years since you died. This is supposed to be important. A milestone in grief? You also died in 2001. Three months to the day after September 11th. This is how I count the years. Eleven + Eleven = Twenty-two. Which was your favorite number. My birthday is September 22nd. You resented me for this.

It’s dark outside. Headstones are silver at night. Like rain. Or the color of the moon behind clouds. It’s close to Christmas. So the cemetery is lit up with battery-operated Christmas trees. They flicker in red and green and blue. I lit a candle. The wind blew out the flame so I have it in the car. It smells like cinnamon.

I don’t know what I’m looking for today. I don’t know what the numbers mean.

So I smoke a cigarette, and I don’t smoke. But I keep a pack in my car for emergency situations. Tonight is one. I’m cold. My fingers need to be warm. The smoke burns my eyes. I never liked the smell. But I’m nervous. I’m restless. I need something to occupy my nervous energy. It’s a wonder I never became addicted. I can hear you say, “Stop fidgeting, Liz. Sit still.”

Once you told dad just for the hell of it that I was a smoker. I was fourteen at the time. I got in trouble, lectured, had to stay in for two nights. I begged you to tell him that it wasn’t true. But you thought it was funny. I don’t know if you ever did tell him it wasn’t true. Maybe he still thinks I do. I don’t know.

I’m waiting for something. I don’t know what.

I watched family members speak in memory of their loved ones on September 11, 2011, ten years after. A woman who lost her niece said that the day marked a new beginning, an ending to the mourning that had shadowed and surrounded them for ten years. It meant a time for celebration for the time spent.

I’m sorry I can’t celebrate. But I’m here drinking hot chocolate with you. I have candy canes. I know you loved peppermint.

It’s close to 8 pm. I came here alone. I told Bret to stay behind. I came with mom earlier. I wanted to separate myself from them. I’m playing the music louder. Though now, I’m listening to Counting Crows because I’m positive you loved Counting Crows. In fact, I remember sitting in dad’s car with you, blaring this song as we swerved through country roads.

Why did you have to die in December? It’s already depressing this time of year, anyway. People are sad. People gain weight. Drink a lot. The trees are bare. They look like knobbed fingers.

I can’t take it, so I get back out of my car and walk toward your grave. Though, I’m lost now. In daylight, I use the pine tree with a garbage bin attached by a chain to find your grave. If I walk in a straight line, twelve steps forward, I see you. But in the darkness, the trees are all the same. And I think they moved the garbage bin.

So I walk to the back. To the edge of the graveyard. I look for the bench that says, “In a blink of an eye, we’ll be together again.” It has sunflowers on it. This isn’t your bench. It’s a little girl’s bench. She died in 1994. She was nine. But it’s close to your grave. I stumbled upon it one day and stopped to read the inscription because I know you loved sunflowers.

The bench is cold and silver too. It’s wet so I don’t sit on it. I’m shivering now. I rub my hands together. I’m certain my lips are blue. I can hear you now, “Your lips are blue, Liz.” I know.

I find you in the silver light. Your grave is wet and flat. Mom brought out a Christmas tree. My daughter brought you a candy cane earlier. I put another one down. This one is blue. It seems silly. I know. I never know what to do here. I try not to think about your bones, but I do. I try not to think about your hair, but I do.

I wish it snowed here. We grew up in the snow. So you should be buried in snow. The way we used to bury each other when we were little. Remember when you broke my wrist that winter by giving me a rocket? And remember how I had to wrap a bag around the cast so I could play in the snow? I wasn’t supposed to. But I did anyway. I’ve resorted to talking to myself now. Cemeteries will do that to you at night.

It’s been so long since I’ve heard your voice. Ten years. I think I remember the way it sounds. But then again, that’s the way I make it sound. The further away you go, the more I reinvent you, your time, our time, your past, our past. If I close my eyes, I think I hear it somewhere. Like rolling down the windows at night in the rain. If I listen closely, I can hear it drip into a silver can somewhere.

I think of rain dripping onto your casket. Your casket. Your bones. Your hair. Casket. Bones. Hair. Fuck. So now I’m crying and telling myself not to think of your casket, bones and hair. It’s too much. You’d be laughing at me. You’d tell me how I was over thinking everything again. You’d tell me I was being emotional. I am. I am. I’m not. I’m not.

It didn’t rain the day you died. It should have. It seems appropriate. Rain is silver and beautiful.

I should leave now. The battery-operated Christmas trees are making me sad. Also, I’m getting scared. I’m sure strange people wander the cemetery at night. Besides, what kind of person goes to the cemetery at night, anyway?

I say goodbye to you again. Your bones. Your hair. I tell you I love you. I should be drinking a beer anyway. Why didn’t I bring one? I tell you I’ll drink a beer at home. But I won’t celebrate. Beer makes me sad.

I walk away from you, back into my car where it’s warm. I turn the radio back on. You’d be thirty-five now. You were twenty-five when you died. I’ve passed you in age, which is odd because you’re my older sister. This is important. Also you had two kids. I have two now myself that you never met. Once I told you that you’d have all the kids for me.

I’m driving away now, faster. I’m in a hurry to be home. I want to see my kids. Bret. I want to drink a few beers. I want. I want. To sleep. To wake up tomorrow.  

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