It took 56 years for me to discover I had a half-brother – long deceased – and another nine years to agonize about him before visiting his grave. So you’d think once I finally got there, all those pent-up emotions would spill onto the cemetery ground leaving me feeling empty and lost.
In the moment, nothing could have been farther from the truth.
If you need to read the back-story about my big brother who almost never was, you can read about it HERE and HERE. Believe me, he’s been a part of my in-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling thought processes for almost a decade, so please forgive me if I just provide the links rather than recount the whole thing.
You need to know that I’ve never been the kind of guy who will scream and throw things immediately after hitting his thumb with a hammer. Instead, I’ll curse softly under my breath before marching resolutely to the bathroom where I can stare at my thumb and whimper quietly for awhile before taking a picture to share on the internet. Same goes for any emotional trials, I have to savor them like fine wine before embarrassingly blurting it all out in public.
Considering my typically delayed response times to momentous events, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that once I was finally standing beside one of the few above-ground reminders of the half-brother who has caused me so much soul-grinding misery, I felt no deep thoughts, only that I was cold.
I’d forgotten that Texas could still be chilly in early March, and with an icy wind whipping through the tombstones I was in a hurry to mark this thing off my bucket list and then run to warm myself inside the rental car.
Straining at my own leash, I told myself there had to be something more I needed to do after all this effort and expense to get here, so I sank to my knees and my wife took the picture you see here, a silently shivering old man wearing an eccentric bowler hat, paying respects to a little boy who, if our father had his way, I’d have never known existed.
In retrospect, maybe Father knew best.
After snapping the picture, my wife wandered off while I stayed put for a shivery minute.
I wanted to feel something properly profound after so much buildup. After all, I’ve HAD A LOT OF EXPERIENCE COMMUNING WITH CEMETERY STONES, so why wasn’t I feeling anything now other than biting cold and a strong desire to be away?
Searching hard for something — anything — I looked at the base of the gravestone and saw that a tuft of grass was starting to grow over it. I thought maybe this was the thing — I could be the Good Little Half-Brother and clear the grass away as a sign of respect.
I reached for the grass, meaning to pull it out by the roots, and that’s when it happened — pain! Another thing I’d forgotten about Texas, having lived away from my native state for so long, is that there can be grass burrs, and now one had sunk deeply into my thumb.
True to form, I didn’t say a word, just gingerly plucked out the burr and threw it away before noting the tiny drop of blood. I struggled to my feet and soon we were gone.
I’m safely home now and have had time to process and savor the whole experience. Same as before, I’ve lain awake at night thinking about it, wondering what I’d have written if I’d shed a tiny trace of blood in that New Jersey cemetery where I once spent so much time investing its silent inhabitants with imaginary voices.
But of course I DID do that, didn’t I?
“I visited William today and found the same wintry scene that has been prevalent for many weeks. But now the birds are singing and spring is on the wind. In fact, I can see the tip of William’s headstone just peeking out of the snow, and against my better judgment, I leave the safety of the road and walk out to it. It’s hard going. The misty rain of the past two days has formed a crust on top of the snow. I struggle onward — crunch, sink, crunch, sink, crunch, sink, fall — through the knee-deep drifts. After a second fall, I sit there gasping, a lone living fool with a cut hand, surrounded by dead people. Turn back to the car or go on? I’m just over halfway, no sense in quitting now. I struggle to my feet and keep going. . . . Here in the cemetery, it’s the contrast that gets me. Cold and warm. Death and life. And somewhere at the bottom of one thrashing hole, a tiny drop of blood upon the snow.”
Well that’s weird. Substitute grass burrs for ice-encrusted snow and we have something eerily similar to what I wrote 2,561 days ago.
But who’s counting, and what does it all mean?
Was Big Half-Brother using a grass burr to give me a virtual slap for being perhaps the first person from our side of the family to visit his grave? Had my father even attended the funeral in 1948? Had my mother been there, too? How awkward might that have been!
But you know as well as I that not everything has to mean something. Sometimes a grass burr is just a grass burr, right?
I can foresee more sleepless nights pondering that very thing.