Of all the things I don’t especially care for when we venture Stateside, one of the top five is cemeteries.
We haven’t been to Will’s grave since July of ’08. It wasn’t the highlight of that depressingly horrendous trip, but it will do as a touchstone.
Dad, from where I was standing, was clearly dying that summer. Death hangs about people, telegraphs its intentions and smothers soul and reason. The air was so thick with it that I should have known better, watched my words and actions with more care. Hindsight must be an invention of the Catholic church because it’s such an effective guilt inducing tool.
Burying Will is a regret. I knew that I wasn’t staying in Des Moines. Knew it from the moment I was told he was dying that the reason that brought me to Central Iowa in the first place would soon be gone.
There have been many moments in my life where something outside me has guided me on my path. In the spring of 1987, Jerry Wadden, the English Supervisor for the Des Moines Public Schools, interviewed me for a job that he knew didn’t exist – yet. He told me plainly that he had no job for me, but he thought he would by August. Could I wait that long? Not commit to another district before I talked with him again?
’87 was an abysmal year for new teachers. The only jobs were down south and only for those who were graduating in the upper reaches of their class. I turned down two offers waiting on Des Moines. Houston, where I most certainly would have met people my age and probably have been far less lonely than I was during the first ten years I was in Des Moines, and a border straddling town in Arizona.
I waited, not because Jerry was so persuasive or that I was moved by his conviction that I was the teacher he wanted to hire that summer – he actually ended up forcing the district to hire me without having a job for me. I waited because something was telling me I needed to be in Des Moines. There were tasks awaiting me. And this impulse? would not leave me alone.
I don’t pretend to be spiritual. I am uncertain anymore about what directs the universe, but I do know enough to listen – mostly. So I waited and ended up staying in Des Moines – teaching, marrying eventually, having a child, burying a husband – before unseen forces guided me to where I am now.
Burying Will was something I did because he wanted me to do it. There was so little I could do for him, I felt guilty not giving him this one final thing. Even though it cost money I barely had established an anchor to a place I felt in the deepest part of my gut I wasn’t meant to be much longer.
On our last trip down, there wasn’t time enough to make the trek to the little country cemetery where his urn rests. Do urns rest? Really?
This time, Dee needs to be made aware that we will be coming within about 45 minutes of it and given the option to visit. I really want to break her of the notion that Will’s grave is a symbol of him. It’s a big rock in front of a shallow hole that contains a metal box with ash and bone in it. He, according to her, is the guardian angel of a baby born last summer. Before that, again according to her, he dropped in on us often. Now he can only come in when he has time off. It’s an interesting concept for a seven-year old to have come up with on her own, but since we haven’t schooled her much in the afterlife, I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, she thinks everyone goes to heaven.
She and I watched a movie called Oliver and Company. Cheesy bad animations from forever ago that twists the Dickens tale into a bizarre cautionary quasi-friendship themed fare for wee ones. The bad guys die.
“That was a good movie,” she told Rob. “And the bad guys died and went to heaven.”
Of course they died. We haven’t mentioned hell to her. She has no idea it “exists” in the whole death mythology. Everyone goes to heaven. Punishment is death itself and then there is heaven.
I dread the cemetery. My earliest memories of cemeteries are pleasant. Strolling with Dad’s mother as she introduced me to relatives and told wonderful tales that I was too young to know I should have been memorizing.
When cemeteries became somber, I had forty years of wonderful memories to overcome and have found that difficult. Hence the other part of my conflict. I want Dee to think of cemeteries as place where history and family are and not as sad obligations.
I have already told her that she doesn’t have to visit her grandfather’s grave. She knew him so much better than she did Will that her sadness is often more profound over Dad’s death than it is for Will.
It’s not helping me gear up for the journey knowing that life is in flux in the States right now either. No one seems quite as grounded or sane as I remember. Crossing the border, never pleasant, menaces. I fear something awful is about to happen and I would rather be here, in Canada, when it does.
And I am allergic. Oh, I am always allergic, but this week has seen a resurgence of vicious, sudden attacks. Eyes swelling to almost shut. Sinuses burn as if I have inhaled acid. It’s something in industrial strength cleaning solvents that causes it. That’s what happened to me when we took our trip to Victoria last fall and I encountered something at Dee’s dance school the other night which has set me off for most of this week. It tires me and is a little bit scary.
My kindly old Chinese doctor didn’t help when I saw him either. I needed refills on allergy meds, and he cheerfully recounted how two of his patients died trying to inject themselves with their epi pens. Sigh. Socialized medicine does not improve bedside manner.
Must pack and begin girding my loins.