I walked along the grass, weaving in between graves, careful not to step on the fresh ones, pausing as my feet almost touched the new soil. The heat of the afternoon sun collided with my skin even through my clothes, perspiration dampening my forehead. After walking the same section, eyes darting from stone to stone, in one small patch of shade provided by a lone tree, I found a grave with the name ENCAO engraved into the stone – a relative. I rested my hand on top of the stone. My grandfather’s grave had to be somewhere nearby – thank god for the map I had printed out earlier, but simply finding the section he was buried in didn’t help me much. I walked back to the edge of the paved road and moved right, my eyes grazing over each stone.
Finally I saw it, a stone identical to the Encao grave, except my grandfather’s stone had two lilies engraved into it, each one beside the engraved depiction of Jesus. CASSARINO, the stone read in huge grey letters. Three graves; Josephine, Rosario, and Louis, my grandfather. My grandfather also had his own stone flat in the ground to the right. A small, tattered American flag had been plucked into the ground above his name.
I plopped my backpack down and then sat down in the grass between the two stones before taking out my pack of Senecas and lighting one. Despite never knowing my grandfather, I could feel my eyes glazing over, and the bright sun only made it worse.
“You smoked,” I said to the grave. “I’ll share a cigarette with you.”
The tombstone reminded me of the fact that he had been in the navy. I have a picture of Louis in his uniform in a wooden box that had been passed down to me, young and handsome, but I always forget about it. “BM2 US NAVY” – Boatswain’s Mate Second Class. Below that, “WORLD WAR II”. I had no idea he had even fought in WWII, though I’m sure a family member had relayed that information to me at some point.
“I would have loved to have heard stories about that,” I said to him.
His birthday. I never knew his birthday. “April 12, 1925”, the stone told me. “Happy belated birthday,” I told him. An Aries, I immediately thought.
I spoke to him for a while, never receiving an answer, but finding more solace in that fact. I told him I hoped he was happy wherever he was and wondered if my grandmother had raised Hell when they met once again after her death last spring. I told him that I knew so little about him and what I had been told had probably been misinformation. I let him know that my mother missed him, and thanked him for visiting her.
“You could visit me sometime,” I said, staring at the stone, the flag flapping in the breeze. “Although I don’t pick up on esoteric, cryptic messages very easily.”
I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet, but got up to walk around a bit nonetheless. Holy Sepulchre was bigger than I anticipated, but in comparison to Mt. Hope, felt smaller and somehow newer, with its organized rows of still-shiny tombstones. I wasn’t used to the flatness of the land and the lack of gnarled trees and abrupt hills. I walked past my car into a plot of graves, all flat stones, each one paired with a small American flag. Another reason I wanted to visit this particular cemetery was to find the mock sculpture of Michelangelo’s Pieta. I walked more, stopping once in a while to gaze at a stone or to replace an object that had been blown away from a grave by the wind, and then, most likely by sheer luck, I did find a Pieta. It wasn’t the massive, bronze statue I had seen only on the internet, but a smaller, marble version. This Pieta wasn’t just a statue, it was someone’s grave. At first glance, I thought the Virgin Mary’s eye had been destroyed – it looked like it had disappeared into blackness – but on further inspection, and much to my relief, I saw that it was simply some sort of stain. It did look as though she could be crying, but I pushed that thought away. A stain overwhelmed the lower half of Jesus’ body as well as he lay in her arms. I reveled silently in its presence for a moment and then, feeling satisfied with my find, headed back to my grandfather’s grave.
Feeling guilty for completely forgetting to bring flowers, or anything at all, I plucked a stem of small purple flowers, still decent-looking, from a nearby wastebasket and sat down next to Louis’ grave once more.
“I don’t know if you even like flowers,” I said as I sat down, placing the flowers in the upper lefthand corner so his name was still visible. I lit another cigarette. “You’re probably scolding me for smoking. I know, I know.”
I talked to him some more, about school, about my family, about the world, as white pollen floated through the air. I reminded him again to visit me, if he ever felt like it. After the cigarette went out, I placed it next to the first one, telling him I hoped he didn’t mind; if anything, they’re reminders to him that I was there.
Before I got up, I fixed the flag, then cursed myself for not bringing my own miniature American flag from my bedroom. “Next time,” I assured him. “I love you,” I said to the stone as I backed away, waving one last goodbye, then reentered the stale heat of my car. The engine whirred into action and I was headed back home.