had decided before going to the Birmingham airport that I would stop and lay flowers on their grave but I realized, as I pulled into the empty lot next to the veteran's cemetary, that I really didn't have a clear idea of where their graves actually were.
I started at the back of one small area, marching through thick sod. Looking for SMITH. I paused a few times, but just for a moment--nope, not the right Smith. Eventually I worked my way to the middle of the small area by the gate, but I was certain that I recalled the gate being ahead of me, to my left. There were more graves now the there were seven years ago, the only time i was here.
I turned back, carrying the heavy wreath. Marching the rows. Scanning left, then right. I stopped in front of a grave where the portrait of a young man in uniform, wearing his beret, was etched into granite, and lavished with fresh flowers. I wondered about his story. I moved on, reaching the front of that small section again, still not finding it. I turned back, to try again. It was cold, and the wind was picking up.
Now my eyes blurred with tears of self-pity, frustration and shame, so that I couldn't read the markers. What kind of a person was I? How could I not know the exact location? I panicked, envisioning a scenerio; I would never find it; drive to the airport to the rental car company with this huge floral wreath, where it would be thrown in a dumpster. All because I was a horrible, horrible daughter who didn't know exactly where her parents were buried. I was having a panic attack. Where was it? My conscience shouted. What kind of daughter doesn't know where her parents are buried?
When I reached the front of the small section, instead of turning back yet again, I crossed over to another small section past the gate, and then, there it was, in front of me. I was still crying, but able to take one deep breath, to let out slowly.
Without me sobbing and marching it was quiet, with only the rustling of leaves. The bouquet of silk my sister dutifully replenished every season was tasteful, in Autumn colors. I stood for a moment, and then bent, laying the wreath. I straightened, looked around, then back down. I felt at a loss of what to do, or say, or think...so I plucked a few brown leaves off my mother's marker and stood there some more.
For not the first or even second time I was overwhelmed with a feeling of frustration, of having been cheated. Then, just sadness--for them. They should have been at my neice's wedding yesterday. When the mothers and grandmothers were escorted to their seats my mother should have been there, escorted by my father. This was not how they envisioned the future: My mother dying of a weak heart, and then my father, of a broken one.
My mother never met Sweet Baboo. She never saw me finish grad school, or my children graduate, or me run my first marathon. She never saw me get my shit together. She was still worrying about me when she died. She loved to eat, and eschewed any physical activity. She left many paintings unpainted, and scultures undone. She never enjoyed her "golden years," dying at 61.
I'd hugged my older sister earlier, admonishing her to get back in the gym. She seemed shorter than she used to, and looked tired. I wondered if she ever had the same thoughts I had, that I didn't want to leave this aching void in my own children. This sometimes feeling of being adrift. I don't want to leave any broken hearts.
I stood a while longer, but there was really nothing more to say, or do. I walked back to the rental, and drove to the airport, and by the time my plane left Birmingham I was dry-eyed and ready to go home, and return to my wonderful, long life.