I couldn’t tell if what I was about to do was fucked up or funny. If I told anyone, would they laugh before shaking their heads at what I did, or would they stare at me, face blank, eyes blinking, trying to grasp why I would ever think to do that?
I packed my bowl as I drove to the cemetery. I wanted to have it ready by the time I got there, just in case I changed my mind. The bowl balanced on my lap, unsteadily wedged between my thighs. My grinder was open in my one hand that awkwardly clutched the steering wheel, while the fingers of my other hand took pinches of mossy weed and felt for the indent of the bowl to stuff it in. They were quick, jerky motions as I kept control of the wheel, driving around the backroads of Yorktown. Once the bowl was packed, I screwed the top back onto my grinder, threw it in my center console, and held the bowl tightly with my left hand.
Almost there, I thought to myself. Too late to turn back now.
The road leading to the cemetery is a straightaway that you can easily speed on if it wasn’t for all of the potholes and bumps. You can feel the shocks of your car working whenever you drive down the road, lurching and bumping from side to side. The cemetery suddenly appears on your left, with a big, iron arch across the driveway.
When I saw that arch, dread filled me. There was nothing nice about entering a cemetery, regardless of if you knew anyone buried there or not.
Once inside the cemetery, the pathways you can drive along are narrow — only one car can pass at a time. I drove slow, glancing at the endless headstones in rows to my left and my right. But I braked the second I saw a car in the general direction I was going.
“Shit,” I grumbled out loud, before throwing the car in reverse and speeding backwards to avoid being seen.
There was something so awkward about cemeteries. It was as if you had to take turns. How inappropriate would it be if someone was sobbing at the gravestone of their father, or husband, or child, and someone else pulls up, and walks to a gravestone a few yards away? Standing there at the grave of a deceased loved one is an incredibly intimate moment, and the slightest presence of someone else can send you reeling. Which is why I reversed all the way back out of the cemetery, and sped down the street to get away from the place as quick as I could.
I continued to circle around the backroads, and although some of them were unfamiliar, I was always able to find my way back to a street name I recognized. Because of my delay, I started to doubt myself. I barely visited my brother at the cemetery — it just didn’t feel right. You are going to a place where the body of someone you loved is rotting away beneath you, but it is the only place you can “visit” them. In a weird, twisted way, they’re physically there, but that’s it. They can’t understand the words that are fighting through your sobs; only the birds in the trees looming above you can hear. You can’t touch them or feel them there, so why go? To stare at their name engraved on a stone, followed by the day that they died? As if that date isn’t already permanently rooted inside your head like a bad image. I guess the quiet and stillness of a cemetery is what makes you feel closer to them. It does not feel like anyone else is there except for you and that person you are coming to find peace with. You have never experienced nature so still around you until you are sitting in a cemetery. It is eerie, and peaceful, and intimate all at the same time.
Knowing those feelings was what made me keep circling around the dips and dives of the paved roads for the next twenty minutes until I thought it might be safe. I sighed deeply as I pulled back in the cemetery, my body feeling drained to be going through with this all over again. As I inched my car closer to his spot, I finally saw that the whole place was empty. It was my turn.
I parked a few feet from where he was buried. There still wasn’t a headstone there. It is enough to lose a child and have to bury them, but creating a headstone was just another step in the process my Mom was not ready to take. In the place of one, there was a simple marker stuck into the ground that read, ‘Colin G. Bishop July 4, 1985 – October 11, 2011’.
It was cold out. I came in a sweatshirt and sweatpants so I could stay warm while sitting on the frigid ground above him. The few times I did come, there was always something different I knew my Mom had put there. On Christmas, she planted mini Christmas trees next to his marker, and when it warmed up, she’d plant tulips and daisies. She didn’t believe in buying a bouquet of flowers just to leave there until they died too; she wanted something to grow and bloom there. She wanted life to grow out of the ground where the dead presided.
The only time I ever left something for him were dead pink roses I had kept since my 18th birthday. We had celebrated my birthday in Montauk that year, and although Colin wasn’t there for the actual day, he was there for the whole weekend preceding it. That was the last birthday of mine that he was alive for, so it felt like those roses belonged to him also. I had kept them even though they began to wither and die, so I felt like passing them along in that state was reasonable.
Tentatively, I emerged from my car with my bowl and a lighter. I looked around me a few times in fear another car might drive up and interrupt the turn I claimed with my brother. When no one did, I sat down at his grave and began to talk.
“I hope you don’t think this is weird,” I told him. “Or inappropriate. Now that I’m saying that out loud though, I know you would never think so. You would probably be the only other person that would laugh at me doing this. As fucked up as it may be. So, here it goes.”
I lit the bowl, took a deep, slow inhale of smoke, and held it in my lungs as I stared at his name. When I finally released it, a smile tripped across my face.
“Want a hit?” I asked. I angled the mouth piece down to the ground, clamping the carb shut for him while I made inhaling sounds. After a few seconds, I pulled it away and rested it on my lap. Then I cracked up.
“I look fucking crazy,” I said, laughing out loud to him. “Holy shit, this must look so bad.”
But it felt right. I sat there, really feeling like I was in his presence as I calmly smoked my bowl. At one point, I looked over to the grave next to me; it was an old couple buried together.
“Sorry Vincent. Sorry Grace. Hope you don’t mind. Just some bonding time with my brother,” I said out loud, once again laughing at the absurdity at everything I was saying. But smoking “with” him made me feel better about being in such a grave location. I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by headstones and rotting caskets and dead bodies. I felt like I was sitting there with him, just us two, having a moment.
“If I died before you, I would hope you’d do the same thing,” I told him, still smiling. But as quickly as it came, my smile vanished and tears welled in my eyes.
“I would trade with you, in a heartbeat.” I looked down at the bowl, which was almost pure ash now.
“God, what I would do to make it be me instead of you. It should never have been you.”