What I remember most about the summer I spent here are the birds that poked through the short grass, searching for clover and those tiny yellow flowers among the disorderly rows of white and gray slabs. What I remember most is the warm loneliness that let a girl sit for hours against the tree at the top of the hill, gazing out past the skeletons to the sun-soaked fields and farmhouses in the distances, listening to the hooting whistle of faraway trains.
We would walk through the grass up to the crypt, hand in hand, sending the birds fluttering. I always looked for the stone angel with the broken wings, child’s face bent towards the ground and hands begging to be held. She was worn and still, with the same warm loneliness. The only place without it was the crypt, built half under the hill so that it was roofed in dirt and grass. It would have had it too, if not for the door, a mechanism of thick, rusted metal, set into the one brick wall. That wasn’t the scary part, though—the scary part was that the door was slightly open, leaving a sleeping gap that shone with cold. Not open wide enough to slip inside and satisfy our teenage fears, but open just enough to make us feel like we were being watched by some old, old presence inside. All you could see when you peered through the gap between crumbling brick and rusted iron was two shadowed steps down, covered with spiderwebs and small creeping plants.
That cold loneliness, present even when warmed by the July sun overhead, was something we never completely forgot. We never took off our shoes, to run barefoot in the shivering grass. We never did cartwheels, or lay all the way down, and we only kissed far from the crypt. There was something there, something mysterious and frightening, because we feared what we did not understand. We feared the ‘what ifs’. What if they’re listening? What if they know we’re here? What if they’re jealous or angry or restless? What if they can somehow take us down into the unknown with them?
It’s odd that what I remember most about that summer is the boneyard, rather than the boy who was in the boneyard with me. Perhaps it’s because even he, even we, couldn’t triumph over the unbreakable quiet that eventually sank in through your skin, no matter what you did, and took even the whispers when it left. It made us shiver in that way we liked, that rippling of flesh that could easily mean either fear or lust. We liked being scared by those unanswerable what ifs. We liked being quiet and content in the warmth, in the loneliness, because it made us feel like we had all the time in the world.
What I remember most about that long-ago summer is the warmth that drenches me in the here and now. They fill me, these glowing gold shadows, grown by the sun and the visits of those mourning, looking for comfort and the answers to the what-ifs that no longer scare me, because they are no longer unknown. The crypt, too, no longer holds true fear for me, just discomfort. When it was my time to slip through the shadowy gap, I emerged into a room bursting with loneliness that is neither warm nor cold, just a deep, old sadness. The presence there had been sad for so long that it no longer remembered warmth.
I left that place quickly, drifting back into the sunlight and the warmth. I am made of this loneliness, held together by it. Perhaps someday it will fade, but for now I remember it. And I remember the boy and the summer and the angel with broken wings that watches over everything in the boneyard, even the crypt and even me.
Age 16, Grade 11,
Gold Key Silver Medal