There is dirt under my finger nails from your grave site. I am glad.
I went there today for the first time since we buried you- the day before our six year wedding anniversary.
I didn’t think I’d want to go to your grave for maybe six months. I kept telling myself early on that you weren’t there- I wanted to go to the places that had meaning to us- not some cemetery that we had never been to, among strangers. I wanted to remember you alive- not dead. I wanted to speak to you whenever I felt like it- not just at the place where your body resides.
But…then I felt this desire…to go where your body lies.
Maybe it’s because it’s Audrey’s 2nd birthday in two days. Tomorrow I will throw her little party. Eight toddlers will play, color, and dance to music. I’ve already hung the rainbow bunting and bought the gummy bunnies she loves. I wish you could be there.
Today I bought three colors of miniature roses for the flowers at her birthday party: yellow, light pink, and a rust color. I realized at the last moment you’re supposed to bring flowers to a cemetery so I took some of each color out of her birthday bouquet and brought them to you. We will have them here- and you will have them there.
I had asked one of your best friends- whom I feel comfortable with and I know is grieving your loss also- to drive me there. Maybe one of the reasons I didn’t want to go is because I don’t know how to get there. It’s not that far, but it’s not an area I’m familiar with. The highways to get there intimidate me. I have started second guessing my decision very much. I think of the other two cemeteries I visited- which were much more convenient location-wise and I wonder why I didn’t just go with those. I wish I had. But then I think about the amount of shock I was in at the time, and I try to be gracious with myself. I made the best decision I knew how to. I did what I thought you would like best- not what was convenient for me. I thought you would like the view of the NYC skyline since you’d lived there longer than anyplace else. I hope you are not unhappy with my decision.
My counselor said yesterday that the fact that I had the idea to go means I’m ready to go. I told her that although I know you’re not there- it is the place where your body is- and I loved your body- and you in your body. That is the only way I knew you. I am so very sad that it is there…under the dirt that is under my fingernails now. But I felt I needed to pay you that respect as your wife and go and be with that body- shell or not, to be resurrected on the last day or not.
I put Audrey down for her nap at 1:30 and a friend staying with me this weekend put her toddler down. She would stay with them while I went. James came to pick me up at 1:45 pm. We talked comfortably as he drove- I don’t remember what about.
I had decided before I left that I had to do something- some kind of ritual. So, I cut a small piece of my hair and a small piece of Audrey’s and put them in a sealed small envelope. I wrote a message on the front and back. First, I wrote one sentence on the back without thinking, “I am with you always.” I realized only afterwards the Biblical connotation because this is also what Jesus said, “I am with you always- even until the end of the age.” That comforts me. On the front something like, “I miss you so much and think of you every moment. I am so very sad and so sorry that this happened…” I sealed it with tape, folded it in four, and stuck it in my front jean pocket.
Neither James nor I was certain where the plot was, but we found it right away, and I was surprised at how I recognized everything so well- even though it’s been two months since I was there and I had been in such shock then-functioning but not there. But somehow I knew I’d know it. I felt the emotion rising up as we sat in the car for a moment. I thought we’d go together first and then I’d have some alone time, but once we got there I found the emotion overwhelming and heard James tell me he’d leave me alone. The skyline was visible today clearly from the hill. I was glad of that.
I knelt down on my knees, with my right palm on the dirt sobbing for a long time.
I don’t remember exactly what I said- that I loved you and that we missed you so much. That you were the best and I was so thankful for you. That I couldn’t believe that this had really happened. “I’m here at your grave- can you believe it?”
And then for a while I repeated in a trance-like chant, “You are the one my heart loves, you are the one my heart loves.” It soothed me to hear these words come out of my mouth without my thinking.
The dirt was dry.
Then I laid down the small towel I’d wrapped the roses in- they had thorns. You had that fortune -“Every rose has it’s thorn,” and you said I was your rose, and I certainly had thorns. I think of Milton’s Paradise Lost in which roses did not have thorns at all until the Fall…and I think of the crown of thorns that Christ adorned as a symbol of that.
I laid down the towel as a place to rest my head and I lay face down on top of your plot. It still needs a stone because I have not gotten to that yet, and there was no grass yet- I wonder if I’m responsible for planting that or not. I’ll have to call and find out. I pictured you below me. I wanted to embrace you. I cried and heard myself sobbing- it was unrecognizable to me. Like everything else in my life now.
Then I set about my tasks- digging up a little spot- very little so as not to disturb you though I know there’s the vault and all that around your casket too…I used a tiny stick…and placed our envelope of hair there…I covered it back up and patted it down, adding some extra dirt on top. I’m sure it’ll end up uncovered, maybe fly away…
Then I placed one yellow rose that had fallen off in the center of the plot, and separated the other stems and colors and placed them around in a circle. It reminded me of the bluebells I’d placed in a circle around my gerbil’s little grave in my backyard as a little girl.
I decided if I left something of us there, I should also ttake something of this place home so I took a small rock and a little bit of the crumbling dirt and placed it in the paper-towel I’d also brought the flowers in. I made it into a little cup and covered it with the towel. Then I took the stick and tried to write something in the ground. But the ground was too dry. The letters wouldn’t take. I tried in various spots.
Then on the top, I just wrote it out anyway, even though you couldn’t see the forms of the letters. “Mommy and Audrey love Dan Cho.”
I hope you got my message.
I look now at the dirt under my fingernails and I am glad I was near you today. I see the chunk of hair missing from a group of strands and also I am glad to see some truncation- some remembrance of the unevenness, the missingness, the lack of balance and symmetry.
I spoke a few more words standing up before I left. I looked around and stared at the skyline. I went back to the car.
On the way home, I saw six butterflies, one at a time, fly across the highway in front of us as if they were being blown by the wind but still fluttering. James said he’d given up on signs.
And that was my first trip to your grave.