uiding my rental car through the wrought-iron gate, it was as if I was sucked into a vacuum; all sound had disappeared from the world and the air was thick and sticky in my lungs. The grounds were staggered on three levels up a small hill on the edge of town; ribbons of choppy pavement wound through it all, bouncing me like a popcorn kernel on my way to fulfill my misty obligation. I felt bad that I was coming empty handed. Most visitors had the common courtesy to at least leave something behind: flowers, candles, a few salty tears…an occasional small toy or two. The currency of the dead.
Whispering around the first corner, I spotted the office to the caretaker some yards ahead. Leaving the engine on, I ran inside to get the coordinates to Tommy’s headstone. The sky was duckling yellow, threaded with slivers of pink cotton candy. It was another cold day, but I could sense a thaw coming around the bend. Entering the little shack, I was welcomed by a prune-faced alter cocker with cataract eyes, hairy ears, and a few silver wisps blowing like dandelion fluff around the vast expanse of his fleshy cranium. It took a few minutes to get him to understand what the hell I wanted; he kept hollering at me from behind his desk to speak up. Somehow, I was able to wrangle the directions out of him; Tommy was at the very top.
I’ve never been a cemetery fetishist, you know, the type that gets a morbid kick out of communing with old limestone and marble, ascribing an inherent depth to the most mundane of all human obsessions – mortality. It’s always the grave site of some poor slob who bought it young that provides the greatest source of entertainment to those kinds of rubbernecking ghouls, as if the vague proximity to a perfect stranger’s untimely demise might in some way effect or perhaps even curtail their own irrelevant existence. Cheap superstition…three on a match.
I took my foot off the gas, letting the car idle to a stop, took a short breath and got out. My ankles buckled as I trod a few slippery steps to his final resting place.
Thomas Ryan Gallucci 1971-2005
Beloved father, husband, son, brother and friend
A proud soldier who fought selflessly for our freedom
Forever in our hearts
What it lacked in eloquence, it made up for in brevity, I’ll say that much. I stood there for several minutes, white noise echoing in my head; maybe I was attempting to conjure up some water-works, I don’t know. “Beloved father, husband, son, brother and friend” – that he was. They left a few things off the list though: chronic masturbator, powerful farter, avid reader, teller of tall tales, lover of french fries and gravy, mischievous scamp, and – after one inebriated night during my sophomore year where he’d grabbed my penis to “teach me how to whack off” – I’d always suspected the vaguest bit queer. Tommy had been a lot of things.
“I don’t think I’m coming back here,” I said aloud. “I just wanted to say, I may not know what you became, but I know who you were…a good, decent person. I loved you Tommy, I did.”
Pausing a moment, I continued. “I gotta admit I feel kinda stupid talking to you like this, I know you can’t hear me, but standing here, I keep thinking about how crazy you were about the movie Faces of Death. We cut class about a hundred times to watch that piece of shit at your house…remember? You used to make fun of me, ‘cause I always closed my eyes during the really scary parts. I guess you understand what it’s all about now. I hope to God it came quick Tommy. Christ, I hope it wasn’t too scary. You know, it’s okay if you closed your eyes…believe me, I would understand if you did.”
I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to say to tell you the truth; it wasn’t like it mattered anyway. Then something kind of wacky happened. As soon as my words dissipated amongst the damp headstones, a giant hawk swooped down from the east, massive as a pterodactyl. I mean, this guy was big! I raised an arm up to protect myself, but he wasn’t looking for a fight. Alighting on the white branch of a nearby pine, he surveyed the frosted slope with a meditative cock of his head. Perhaps he was visiting a friend. We stared at each other for a moment or two, but when I inched towards him he took off again. I stood there in admiration, watching him surf the invisible current, his enormous wingspan silhouetted against the yellow sky.
As I pulled away from the graveyard, everything seemed so ephemeral. What was the real reason I’d stopped speaking to Tommy all those years ago? Was it an ordinary case of diminishing returns, a routine example of childhood friends growing up, and setting off on their individual paths? The truth was, I had been the one that had initiated the break; I just got bored, and didn’t want to exert any more emotional energy into the relationship. When I thought about it, that was my entire problem in a nutshell – a total lack of will. Work, friends, eating, breathing, fucking, buttoning my shirt, taking a shit: I perceived them all as a series of impositions. I never made the basic efforts required of a human being, and a life without effort is mere existence. Tommy had just been another imposition; it didn’t take very long for me to forget about him. The easiest thing in the world is to forget…it really is.