It was cold outside as I walked. I had no set destination. Just…
"Not here." That was the mantra that rang through my numbed mind as I walked. Nothing had happened. No drama at home. No loud fight. No swearing or drinking or hitting. That was what was bothering me. There was a storm coming, back home. A storm that hovered on the edge of my mind. A threat. It had been months, and the storm wouldn't come. Waiting for a battle that won't start is worse than the battle itself. Armies of wit and hatred and tears lining up, facing each other silently. Holding arrows and spears and swords with which to break hearts and cause tears to fall. But those first arrows will not fly. The arms of every archer in my mind drawing back their bows. Holding them taunt, gripping the arrows as mouths dry and blood courses through veins which will all too soon be sliced. But not one wants to let fly that first arrow. None of them wants to start it. Not one wit wants to let fly a word. Not one tear wants to fall in the coming battle. Not one bit of hatred wants to show its ugly blade. And so we wait.
"Not here," I murmur under my breath. The words exit my mouth, forming briefly a shimmering cloud of mist.
"Not here." I watch the words leave again, and again. Every third footstep bringing them to my lips, and setting them free. As if the words will set free the archers and warriors of my analogical mind. "Not here." And so I walk, shoving my un-gloved hands deeper into my pockets. One of them has a hole, and a finger slips though out into the cold air. I bring it backing, but the tiny digit has tasted the bitter winter. It will not warm for many more moments, though it's time in the cold was briefer than a blink. I nuzzle my red nose into a striped scarf laced lightly with frost from my shimmering breath. In through the mouth, out through the nose. That will keep the inside on my nose from freezing.
"Not here." I exit my street, and glance briefly at the barren street. It is clouded like the gray plains of my mind. Fogged over by muggy thoughts, and illuminated by the occasional streetlight of emotion. I am numb, and not only my toes and fingers. My whole being seems to be sedated. I like it better like this, when I can't feel. And so I walk, drifting in a hell-like dream of my own creation.
"Not here." And I turn countless corners. I don't know where I'm going. My feet lead me, letting me wander aimlessly. I will go back when my feet find their way. I no longer control them. My entire body seems strangely detached from my mind. "Not here." I glance at the oncoming traffic, looking into the faces of the people that drive by me, warm in their environment-destroying cars. I turn my thoughts to who they are. Where are they going? What do they think as the drive past? What is their story? Every once in a while, I meet one of their eyes with a quizzical stare of my own and I know they are thinking the same thing about me. In those moments, I feel connected with someone. Then their vehicles murmur or roar past, and the bond is tragically ripped apart, as one tears the papers of a test they have failed and do not want their parents to find out about. But, as with the test, the memory and emotion linger behind.
"Not here." I find myself in a part of town I rarely visit, filled with tiny shops and restaurant. Family owned places that occasionally hire university and high school students once their own children move away. People sip coffees in tiny cafes, or munch on pasta and bread in little restaurants, or browse through endless shelves of second-hand books, out-dated clothing, and candy.
"Not here." I am in a residential street, looking in at flashing TV's and children playing with their parents, or their siblings, or, more commonly, their X-boxes and PS2's.
"Not here." I walk beside a highway, passing a hitchhiker holding a sign that says "California or bust." His upraised hand, showing a thumb, turns over and forward, the thumb recessing briefly as a finger takes its place. Another car has not stopped. I laugh gently to myself as I shiver. No wonder he wants to go to California.
"Not here." I turn off the highway and onto a smaller, country road. Gravel crunches pleasantly beneath my feet and frosted trees line the silent road. Ruts and potholes dot the uneven surface. A car rumbles behind me and I move to the side. The vehicle passes slowly, afraid of skidding on the rocky road.
"Not here." I turn down a smaller path that winds through a park. At least, the sign at the entrance tells me it's a park. Benches line the path, sitting atop browned grasses that snow has yet to cover. Bushes sit placidly in rows, woodchips tucked at their bases, with the ghost of smaller, flowered plants sitting sadly amid them. An abandoned swing set, rusted with age, lies in the center of a barren field. No one has passed this way for some time, and as I walk through the park, a true sense of loneliness descends upon me.
The park branches. Left or right? For a moment I cannot decide, and then a breath of wind brings with it a low chant from the left. I turn and walk through what might have once been a forest. A small, low building, lit brightly, is the source of the sound. A song drifts through a tight-shut door. A sign beside that door says it is a church. I have heard of this place, I remember. Priests come here when they retire, living in the building behind the church. The loneliness does not quite lift, but now it seems the tiny church has begun to share my load.
The path splits again, just after the singing has begun to die away. A gate blocks my way. It is locked. "No admittance" a sign commands. A place frozen fingers on the metal gate, and the cold burns me. I rub my hands and place them back on the top bar, jumping over the fence with relative ease. Curiosity has taken over logic. The path moves, snakelike, through thinly-placed trees. It leads me to a large clearing, though dotted with birches and pine and poplars. Skeletons of trees lifting icy fingers to the graying sky as though begging for summer to come, and for birds and animals to move through their branches and around their bases once more.
Rounded, flat stones poke out of the frosty ground, bearing words and pictures, with browning flowers and tokens of life and memory beside some. Larger gravestones, ornamented with angels and crosses, rise above the rest on the far side of the cemetery. I smile slightly as I walk down the tidy rows of the dead. Reading the names. Seeing the dates. Running my hands over the smooth marble angels on some graves. This place is calm, even though it has almost been forgotten. Weeds grow atop some of the spaces, crawling lazily up the markers beneath which death lays.
I feel comforted, here in the place where only the dead stay. Loneliness deserts me completely. I know that I am alive. No one forgets the living. The dead are easier to forget. They do not shout "Here I am!" But they wait, residing in pleasant peace, for someone to visit them. They listen. They do not demand your time, but whisper for it softly. Almost begging for the life one's presence brings to these silent areas.
I am strangely drawn to one stone, completely covered with leaves. It sits alone, and not in family groups like the others. I brush away the weeds and read the name from the roughly carved rock, void of angels or flowers or offerings. "Elizabeth 1897-1913" is all it says. No last name. No scripture. No quote or acclamation, nor reason for death, or life accomplishments. But strangely, it doesn't need any of that to have meaning. "Elizabeth 1897-1913" is enough, and in that one word and two numbers on plain gray stone, it says to me what none of the other graves can.
"I know what it's like," it whispers, instead of shouting like the other stones' proclamations and tributes. "I have been forgotten in life and in death. I have suffered, but I have loved. Someone cared enough to bury me, and I am thankful to them. I have known pain, but life and joy I have known also." And, in a moment, I understand. It is not the moments that make us, but the compilations of our lives and the people we meet. In silence, Elizabeth has told me what a lifetime of noise has not. Could not.
I sit down on the crumbling grass, leaning against Elizabeth's stone. I am thankful to her. She has affected me as no one else has. In this oasis of death and silence in a world of life and noise, this one girl has taught me not to forget. Not to forget that I am still alive. Though bad times may come, I am never forgotten. In life, no one is forgotten. But we can be lost. The trick to it is to be found again. I need to be found.
I begin to cry. Tears of months of loneliness and pain. The storm still looms, but it seems bearable now. I recognize the still before the battle for what it truly is now; a truce. Neither will fight until the other is ready. In that moment, it is no longer torture, the waiting, but rather a gift. It is both of us saying that we will not forget each other's needs and desires. In life, you can never forget.
In silence I give my thanks to Elizabeth for teaching me this, or, rather, for reminding me. And then aloud, I murmur;