Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Memorial Morning

I went to the Lafayette Crosses this morning. It’s not something I’ve been able to plan ahead to do. I can’t predict how I’ll feel the morning of, which is today. Would I want to stay snuggled in my warm bed, not thinking about things? Or would I want to do the remembering on the day supposedly the whole country is remembering, as if my loss as an aunt (though paling in comparison to those closer in degree to him) as if my loss should just be rolled up into the big national story of patriotism and war and exceptionalism? As if it is not intensely personal and privately painful in a way only people who know me completely can understand? Could I scramble myself together and drive up and around the hills between where I am and where the many many makeshift crosses are? But this morning, ahead of my husband heading out for plans of his own, I decided to go.

I got ready and headed out the back door towards the car, only to realize (as per usual, hearing the thud as the door closed into its frame) that I’d forgotten something. I returned inside to the supply room. Where did I put the bag of essentials for cleaning up and maintaining his memorial cross? The vase, the gloves, the weeding shears, the paintbrush and white paint, the fresh photograph? I don’t know where I put the bag or if I even still have those things. I think I decided a few months ago that I wasn’t going to go back, since I hadn’t been there in a while. I wish I’d had more faith that the time would come that I’d return. So there I was, taking out the one photo I keep framed on the wall, re-appropriating yellow paper flowers from my kitchen window so that I could mark his spot as loved, grabbing the small hand-broom and dustpan, then throwing in scissors just in case. And I drove the 10 minutes there.

I live so close to those crosses. You can see them from the Lafayette BART station. I remember being at that station several years before October 2012, and taking a photo of the crosses, posting it to Twitter, I think. I live so close, but going and doing this Memorial Day thing, or for Veterans Day, or for Armed Forces Day, or Day of the Dead, or anything… I don’t do the collective mourning thing very much, so living close doesn’t make it easier. I thought about posting a picture to Instagram while I was there (I took two, I’ll maybe share them here, if I post this to anything at all), but I decided I don’t want to say something public. Who would I be talking to? My nephew? To everyone else? I don’t want to do this for anyone. I don’t want to perform my remembrance. Can’t I just keep things to myself?

There is so much I keep to myself. I guess it’s the contrary person in me. I used to share publicly, now I don’t so much. While I’ve seen the value in the collective experience… sharing joy is multiplying it, sharing loss is dividing it so the burden is less… I’ve needed to retreat into my private experiences. Genuinely being in a space, quietly cleaning the ground around the cross I chose for him, dusting and washing the garden stone I made for him, replacing his yellowed plastic photo with a newly framed one… these were mine. I cut the spiked weeds, I dug a new spot for the vase of paper flowers, and I cried. A small way of taking care of him. Remembering the boy that I played with when we were both technically kids. He never knew how much I loved him. Why do I cry? Because I miss what could have been. I miss what was.

Today, for me, this loss isn’t a national thing. It’s just me and him, my story and his and the stories around us, the living stories that keep building over years and years, even though his story cut, suddenly, abruptly, to the end before the rest of us were ready.

So… I will post this to my blog. Hardly anyone reads the blog without prompts from alerts on social medias, and since I turned off those alerts, I get to post this here with the illusion that it’s almost completely private, while at the same time, putting it out into the world, because I’m an artist and well, I can’t help wanting to craft, create, form, edit, then exhibit, because, well, that’s what I do. And I think there’s something worthwhile about that.