Saturday, October 19, 2013

Black Cemetery Rain

The heavy cemetery rain hit my convertible top so hard it drowned out the music from the stereo. It was calling attention to itself, pushing everything else away – like the fact that I was here trying to make photographs. Couldn’t even open the window without getting soaked. You don’t want to get those leather seats wet. Shoot through the windows, the rivulets of rain distorting the picture – like the way your mind distorts reality sometimes. The rain is too much with us.

Death and severe illness can be like that too. They push everything else to the side. I can’t remember having an October like this before. My Mom had to have cysts surgically removed, after a several-months-long illness. Just found out they were not cancerous.

I tried to photograph through my car windows, the statues and monuments in the pelting rain, the saturated flags brought to full extension by the hurricane-like wind, or plastered against a granite headstone. May as well be abstract images – reality gets the day off.

My wife’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and will be operated on next week. My Mom said she was praying for her. Amidst all this, a woman I worked with for thirty years died this past week. Retired in June, died in October. So unfair, to make it all that way just to die unexpectedly from cancer. She’ll be put in the ground like all these other people I’m driving over, or she’ll be in the arms of angels, depending on your belief system. 

Everybody in this place had a life, a life that meant something to someone else - even the prostitutes over in the “Home of the Friendless” section. Unless survivors conduct pointed and extensive research, the headstone often remains the only tangible evidence of most people’s existence.

The rain water ran down the steep roadways, flooding the small grave markers and plastic flowers, a river of death, stagnant pools trailing off the main river of flowing life. I drove down the hill, only to come to a flooded portion of the road. Should I drive through? I thought I remembered it being sort of shallow – but then, why would it pool? I heard a story recently about a friend who drove through a small flooded area in another cemetery and got stuck – sunk down into the mud up to his doors. No, I think I’ll back out of here, like when you’ve planned something in life and an obstacle forces you to back off and try another way.

Another fellow I’ve worked with for thirty years had his implantable pacer/defibrillator go on the fritz – had to have it surgically removed to make adjustments. He was shocked five times on the tennis court while playing a match with his daughter; luckily, she is a nurse. Another guy I know has lymphoma. With all these people around me so sick and dying, I’ve never felt so healthy. As you get older, you really feel like that could easily have been you. Why was it NOT you? It’s like taking photographs in a cemetery in the rain – you don’t just drive away without taking a part of the experience with you.

All this at a time when I’m still reeling from my wife’s latest MS attack this past summer. It isn’t easy backing your car up in an unfamiliar area in the pelting rain. I didn’t want to go off the road and sink into the lawn, or hit some sort of analogy. Caught a glimpse of a cemetery worker in a yellow parka watching me from a distance. He moved on, probably thinking, “What’s is that idiot doing here in this rainstorm?

The last time I spoke to Mary was a week before she died. She got such a kick out of buying things for my (now) four-year-old daughter – clothes and toys, mostly. She enjoyed seeing her at the office, where she would let her play with small toys at her desk. The monkey family that sang “The Banana Boat Song” was and still is one of Olivia’s favorites. Mary gave that to her about two years ago. Olivia doesn’t know Mary is gone. The monkey toy kind of provided her memory with immortality, maybe not for Olivia, but certainly for me. A week before she died I offered to bring Olivia by her place soon and Mary said, “I’d like that.” Then she was gone and I hadn’t brought Olivia by.

The rain eventually stopped, but I’ll live with this regret for quite a while. I could once again hear the music. Time to leave this place and head back to the living, as Gram Parsons sings a parting rainsong:

In my hour of darkness, in my time of need,
Oh Lord grant me rhythm, oh Lord grant me speed."

All images made in Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, Pennsylvania