I kept looking for you at the cemetery. I kept waiting for you to appear amid the cluster of people surrounding the open grave. To come from behind a corner of the tent they had set up to protect the casket from the rain. To spring up from behind a weathered headstone chiseled with the faded name of somebody no one knew anymore.
The rain washes away the sins of the dead’s soul, someone said, and I wanted to say something but did not. Always keeping it inside. You always let it out. I admired that.
Another person said the rain was good luck. If we had good luck we would not be here listening to the rain beating down on this tiny tent in the middle of a graveyard.
I looked again for you when I saw your car. My heart skipped a beat thinking for a second that you had made it after all. I remembered then that R. had driven your car. It seemed right though, that it was his now.
We needed you there to hold us together. Mom needed you there. You were there the night Grandma died. You held me when, for once, I couldn’t keep it inside any longer. You held me that time when my twenty years spilled out in twenty seconds. You took all the pain from me, then took all of it from Mom. Your shoulder still damp with my tears.
You asked if we had holy water, and then sprinkled it on Grandma’s head, hands, and feet. You put a folded towel under her chin to keep her lifeless mouth from going slack. She was ready when they took her.
At the cemetery, the boys grieved in different ways. M.’s mouth such a thin line I almost couldn’t see it anymore; J. off to the side, seams starting to split; R. trying to be stoic, but taking it the hardest. Not surprised, him taking it the hardest. Always that jovial demeanor hiding something else. A façade that could no longer sustain.
I was aware of everyone around me, and yet I felt like I was the only one there just waiting for you. I thought of how the dead always came to you. Someone knocked on the window of your father’s second story bedroom as he lay there dying. Death has come for him someone said.
At your old house a man appeared in your garden like a film reel, flickering in silver, playing on a loop. You looked him in the eye, a garden spade in one hand like a dagger. This is my house now. You have to leave. You never saw him again. They always listened to you.
Finally, at the end, the orbs of light that appeared in your bedroom. I just want to be with my parents. You reached out to touch them.
I remember getting the call from Mom while I was away at college. She told me about it through sobs. It’s everywhere. I wasn’t worried though. I thought that you would simply drive it away like you did with the man in your garden. You fought for longer than they expected. They didn’t know you, how stubborn you were. I think that stubbornness is underrated.
It could not go on forever, although I thought it would. A world without end.
At the cemetery I took one last look for you as the service concluded. The priest let us sprinkle holy water on the casket, and as I stood before it, I had to face that you had been there the whole time in that little box. It was a coffin that monks made just for you in the style of their own. The wood not red or brown, but almost purple, your favorite color. It was simple though you were not.
It was fitting that we brought you to be buried at the monastery where you were born. Everything had come full circle. All beginnings lead to an end, and sometimes that end is exactly where we started.
As they lowered the casket I thought about how you had been in my room the night before. How my radio had been softly playing when I walked in, a strange song with a dissonant beat on a station I never listened to, and couldn’t find again after I turned the radio back on. You always talked about how spirits liked to toy with electronics. The television in your apartment would turn on and off for no reason, and you thought you saw a face in it one time.
Mom asks now all the time if you’re with her. Sometimes she sees something moving out of the corner of her eye. On vacation she asked again, are you with me? She saw a perfume bottle with your name on it twenty minutes later.
At the cemetery I looked at the green hills surrounding us, still and mellow, washed clean. Just Mom and I were there then. The grave filled in, a bouquet of bright flowers crowning the fresh soil. I thought about you being there forever. Some thought it was sad to leave you there alone, but I didn’t. You always liked being alone, and the rain had ebbed, faint sunbeams seeping through the clouds.
Patrick Thornton is an MFA candidate in Columbia College Chicago’s Creative Nonfiction Program. He is also a Graduate Student Instructor and a reader for Hotel Amerika. Patrick has performed his work in Listen To Your Mother, a national reading series featuring local writers. This is his first published piece, and he is most grateful to the good folks at Ghost Proposal.