“Suddenly, I lay back in the cemetery with tiny beads of sweat on my forehead. My body ached with memories long forgotten. A mournful bird swept over me, serenading the dead and a fatherless daughter.”
“Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills”
― William Shakespeare, Richard II
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” she let out a blood curdling yell and my bare feet hit the pavement as the screen door slammed. I felt like a thousand panes of glass had shattered in my chest. Panic surged through my knees and crept towards my brain as I realized I couldn’t turn back. At least tonight. My body plummeted against the street again and again until my steps were in rhythm with my short breath. Ten feet. Five feet. The cragged white chainlink fence didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Five feet. Five feet. The space in between us seemed to give in then and I fell at the entrance to the place they keep my father.
The first time I was in a graveyard, I was five years old. I remember staring at my sister’s blotchy face and asking why she was crying. She knelt in front of a stone shinier and less decrepit than the others and her bawling increased like I had upset her. Feelings were a mystery. “He’s gone,” she whimpered. I stood still for a long time until I felt like I had become a tombstone just like the others. Silent but beautiful. I wanted things to stop changing because my life was not a plaything. My eyes closed and I realized that I was happy. Not because my daddy was gone but because time had seemed to stop in the graveyard. The slow pulse of my tiny heart was all I could feel.
Soil and freshly turned earth was my resting place. The night we fought the feeling of undisturbed joy I’d become addicted to came too slowly. At first I only felt like I was writhing in the ocean; my body tumbled in the waves until my throat was sticky with salt and my dripping hair matted together with sand. I fought to break free but I knew it was all my fault. Everything. I could hear my sister saying, “Ash you need to look around sometimes. You’re stuck.”
Ana knows I come here. The people here are my family. I’ve tried to pretend I know him because we see each other every day but his face is a black hole in my mind. All I know is, “Peter Rust- 1960-2007. He is missed by many.” Sometimes I don’t think that’s true. My salty tears and flower petals stand alone.
In my dreams Ana and I are sitting on a park bench. Fragments of white chalk lay strewn about like fallen soldiers. Untouched. We sit silently and I watch an empty swing go back and forth. Back and forth. I knew we were waiting because I’d spent my life waiting for something or someone to come back for me. But nothing ever has.
Suddenly, I lay back in the cemetery with tiny beads of sweat on my forehead. My body ached with memories long forgotten. A mournful bird swept over me, serenading the dead and a fatherless daughter. Strangely I feel less alone than before. My tired feet gently touched the earth as I moved toward the fence again. A cool breeze made the gentle auburn waves that frame my face dance but my skin was cold. The air smelled different than the day before. Little Plains Road was quiet. So were the willows and the passing cars. No radio. Running back the way I’d come the night before made my head swim.
A monstrous Rite-Aid that I’d never noticed before loomed on the corner. Odd. Mrs. Lambert’s porch looked nice which is also odd because she was a registered crazy cat lady with no pride of property. Westine’s Bakery had a crisp new sign up that said, “Cinnamon Buns~ Banana Bread.” Maybe I had never paid attention to anything before. Maybe my sister was right. I told myself that she would forgive me and we would finally be happy. I would stop using a dream as my reality. Inhaling false memories as if they were a drug. Ana might be gone by now and if she wasn’t…I couldn’t decide which was worse. I told her she was the reason we were alone. Even though it was me. It’s always been me.
My door looked decades older than it did when I left last night. When I opened the screen my eyes rested on magnets on the fridge with school pictures of new children growing up. Stories of the life we’d always wanted were everywhere. Mocking me like I had been a mistake. Maybe I was. I choked back tears and turned on the radio. “Bad Blood” came on and I sighed because it seemed that not everything had changed. When the song finished, “Bad Blood” started again. The third time I heard it a little blonde child who came straight from an adorable picture on the fridge ran into the kitchen and started jumping up and down and singing. She wore bright pink velcro shoes that lit up when you stomped. Thin wispy pigtails adorned with rhinestone studded hair bows peeked out of her tiny head. I wanted to yell at her to get out of my house but I couldn’t open my mouth because my eyes were full of longing. I had never had a pigtail tie-er or a pink shoe buyer. She was the girl I had always wanted to be.
“What are you doing here? Why do they keep playing the same song?” I finally sputtered. Her eyes turned cold when she looked at me. Something was different here.
“What do you mean? It’s the only song. I live here. Who are you? I’m Marly and my mommy says that someday I’m gonna to be really tall. Hey! You look like this girl my mommy has a pictu-”
I ran out of the house before Marly could tell me any more. Ana didn’t play pranks. When I approached the white chained fence again I paused for a moment and saw a woman with auburn hair like mine streaked with silver. She kneeled in my spot where the grass had been worn down as if standing in for me. I pushed the gate open and let out a broken scream but the old women only glanced at me and smiled. Her pale blue eyes looked sick with too much pain. That’s when I knew. She was me. My heart pounded as I ran to be beside her. But when I looked up she was gone.
I’d always thought that time stood still in Amersham Cemetery but before now it was only a dream. A state of mind. An escape route made for me to leave this world with those long gone. Denying that the living people in my life would last or meant anything at all. The feeling that I liked a place that haunts too many children’s nightmares came to me quickly and I shuddered because I knew I was truly alone. Time had stopped here but it didn’t wait for me anywhere else. I had driven the living away. Graves lined with stone carved angels made of bones laughed at me.
“Come back,” I whispered to my dad for the first time. Silver rain poured from my eyes and hit his grave. I had always wanted to join him under the ground but now I wanted to be free. I wanted to go somewhere where time had a nice pace. Somewhere I could grow up and the world wouldn’t want to replace me for being a screw up.
The next morning I didn’t want to look at the world. Something inside of me had died when I saw that the world had left me behind without a second thought. I was sure that Ana hadn’t cried for me the way I had always cried for my dad. I realized if I stayed in the graveyard, I would be committing suicide. When I picked up my feet, I tried to ignore the not-so-subtle changes that had occurred in who knows how long. Except that was nearly impossible because my small town seemed to be three times louder than before, with the bustle, I imagined of New York City. It scared me to see all of these unfamiliar faces, melded together like one big gooey chocolate chip cookie. I felt invisible in this world that wasn’t mine. Actually, I always have. There is a pristine traffic light that we never needed before. The pavement was smooth and made for sports cars on my still bare feet. A boy with a strange grey hat stood on the corner handing out newspapers and yelling who knows what. I caught my breath and ran into a home that wasn’t mine.
It was silent in the house, but as I moved inwards I heard a gentle hum echoing out from Ana’s old bedroom. An elderly woman with knobby knees and sunken eyes stared at a tattered frameless picture of a smiling little girl with thin auburn waves. Her pale blue eyes looked happy as they stared with admiration at a tall lanky man with the same reddish brown curls and black framed glasses that shielded his smart blue eyes.
“Come back,” I whispered to my father for the second time. I had spent my whole life looking for him but my life had left me behind. I had nothing. I sunk to my knees beside the woman I knew was Ana. Now I knew I had been wrong. She had cried for me all these years while I had cried for father. Gently, I reached out to embrace her but when my thin fingers gripped her back It felt cold. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“I know.” Her exhausted body crumpled and went limp in my arms. Goodbye was all she had needed to move on; past the life that had been lived without me. I murmured again and again that I loved her and I wasn’t going to leave ever again. My intentions were as pure as the tears she had cried for me and I meant it this time. She would have realized but she was already gone.
The last time I was in a graveyard, I stood by a black wall teeming with Ivy and watched Ana lowered to the spot beside Peter Rust. I had spent too much time living through his past life that I hadn’t lived mine. My life seemed over though I’m still 13. I looked down at my still young hands. A cold feeling came to me now that I guessed was fear. I hadn’t been scared of this place before. I hid myself in the back corner in a crevice of the hedge. In another life I would be standing beside her.