Okay, full disclosure here, graveyards have always spooked me out. My father died when I was a baby and I barely remember him, so I never visited his burial plot. Not on Christmas. Not on Easter. Not on his birthday. Never.
Until my mother, my mama, my best friend in the universe, ended up in a coffin a few inches away from him.
Now I sit beside her grave during my lunch break every damn day. It freaked me out at first, but I got used to it. It even started to feel normal. Like I was where I was meant to be.
But then something unexplainable happened. Something that scared the shit out of me.
It started like it always did. With me walking up to my mother’s tombstone and making some random, trying-and-failing-to-be-funny comment in case her angel was listening.
This time, it was, “Hey, ma, how are you? How are your friends?” I glanced at the tombstones flanking hers to read the inscriptions. “How are… Susan and Haley? Good? Yeah? That’s good.”
I talked to her like she was next to me, pausing to give her sufficient time to answer. We chatted about my boyfriend, Pierre. My job at the art studio. My dog. My anxiety. My lunch. Everything. Nothing.
And that was the last normal day I shared with her.
The next day, a Tuesday, I started our conversation with the same question. “Hey ma, how are you? How’s Susan and Haley?”
But when I glanced at the neighboring tombstone, it didn’t say Haley. It said Heather.
That could have been my mistake. I could have read it wrong the other day. Remembered it wrong today. So I went back to talking to my mother, telling her how I had a ham sandwich in my bag instead of turkey and how I wondered when my boyfriend would finally propose and how I trusted him to pick out a ring that I wouldn’t have to pretend to like.
On Wednesday, when I asked my mother about her ghost friends, the name on the tombstone beside her said Ashley.
Now there was no way in hell it had originally said that. No way. It was an H name. Heather. Haley. Holly. Fucking Halsey. But definitely not Ashley.
I scooted away from my mother’s stone and leaned toward Ashley, pushing back the weeds that had blanketed the bottom of it.
When I cleared them all away, I could read the rest of the inscription.
Loving daughter, niece, cousin.
January 2 1994 – February 5 2017
February 5th? I double checked my phone to make sure I wasn’t going crazy and — yup — that was today’s date.
I had a million questions, so I turned to the only one I thought could answer them. Google. I pulled up the browser on my phone and searched for the woman’s obituary. Nothing.
But I kept checking throughout the day. And about four hours later, it came up. She had died in a car crash. Hit by a drunk driver. Around the same time I had seen her tombstone.
From then on, whenever I visited my mother, I would check the stone next to her to read the name. Always new. Always accurate.
Now, I’m not a monster. I tried to help. Once, I scraped the date off with a pocketknife, thinking it might reset fate. Once, I called the police to offer them an anonymous tip. Once, I tried to track the person down to protect them myself.
I could’ve taken an extra step and told the authorities the full story, but what if some type of horror movie magic had hit me and the stone was something only I could see? What if they threw me in a psych ward?
I didn’t want to risk my life for someone else’s. So I stayed quiet. But I still checked the stone every single day.
And — either because of karma or destiny or just some random seizure — it eventually read: Pierre Moreau.
My boyfriend’s name.
My future fiancé’s name.
My soulmate’s name.
I ripped the phone from my bag and tried calling him. No answer. Tried texting. Nothing.
I was about to sprint for my car, to figure out the fastest way to get home to him, but then there he was. Walking toward me. Smiling wide. There were blood stains on his ears and chin, but other than that, he looked intact.
“Oh thank God,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and resting my hands in his hair.
He held me close. “I missed you.”
A few seconds (or minutes?) ticked by. We kept holding tighter. Afraid to let go.
And then he asked, “Are you ready?”
My head was still on his shoulder, but his voice sounded shaky, like he was about to cry.
“Ready for what?”
He pulled away, eyebrows furrowed, head tilted. Then he nodded, like he had an epiphany, like he had realized something important. “Come here, baby. I guess some people don’t realize as quick as me.”
He grabbed my hand and led me past rows of buried bodies, toward a stone shaped like a cross. Toward a stone that said my first and last name.
Was this another one? Another one that predicted the future? Were we meant to die together? On the same day?
I bent down, letting the dirt stain my knees, and read the rest of it.
Loving daughter and sister. She will be missed.
April 15 1993 – August 17 2015
“I don’t understand,” I said. “2015. That’s two years ago.”
He nodded. “Feels like longer. Like I said, I missed you. I can’t believe you’ve been waiting this whole time.”
Before I could spit out another question, he patted his chest, right over his heart. At first I thought it was a symbol of affection, but then I understood. I reached for my own chest. Felt around. Found the bullet hole.
And remembered — the night I got shot. The night someone broke into our apartment and pulled the trigger twice. Once into Pierre’s shoulder and once into my heart. He lived through it. I wasn’t as lucky.
“It’s okay. I’m here now,” he said. “You’re not alone anymore. We’re together. Like your mom and dad. We can go where they are. We can go together.”
His lips touched mine, cold and soft and salty. And then we were gone.