The cemetery spreads around a white church, the steeple reaching into the blue of the sky. Amber and I arrive before anyone else. Until they arrive, we play Pokémon Go, which I think Melissa would have liked. She isn't around to contradict me.
Though Melissa's parents had her cremated, they either bought or had a plot for her in this cemetery. In her high school years, getting out of Hopewell Junction seemed the only thing she ever consistently wanted, unless drugs and the wrong guys might be thought to be consistent. Now her ashes are interred here and she can't escape. At least she isn't sitting on a shelf in her parents' home, which would have ranked as one of her Hells.
(I don't know that her parents were as bad as she made them out to be. They indulged and supported her when she stopped working and fell increasing to addiction and mental illness. They are gun-owning, Trump-voting Republicans, the antithesis of her inveterate liberalism. I do not think this necessarily makes them her enemies. Some of her adamancy had to do with the fact that her drug-seeking behavior got too much for them -- which is saying something given that she overdosed on cocaine while living with them.)
Rob, Melissa's widowed fiancé, pulls up, then Krista. We make small talk, almost as though we are not here to visit our friend's gravesite. Angela calls to apologize for running late. A customer was dragging his feet over buying a mattress and only committed to not buying when she grumbled his ambivalence was making her late for visiting a dead friend.
While we wait, I wander around taking pictures of the headstones and the shadows they cast. It is Photography 101. Melissa would be disappointed at my lack of vision, but I she would want me to treat this memorial like a paparazzo.
Over many of the graves, it is not grass that grows but an herb whose sharp odor is released when I trod over it to get a better shot.
Amber prods at it. "I'll come here and steal this thyme."
I look up from my camera. "Already, time has been stolen from them."
Amber effects a pout at this line, which is justified.
What could Melissa have done with more time? Unless she were finally sober - at least as it applied to opiates, as I do not think we could have liberated her from cigarettes with anything short of a full blood replacement, a month's intensive detox, and liberal application of ibogaine - I don't know that she could have done much more than she had done for years, sitting around her apartment and trying to return to how she had once been. She may have succeeded in marrying Rob. She wouldn't have been able to work, as she hadn't in nearly a decade. Would she have created something? Mended rifts with her family? I don't know, but I am not optimistic. Her progress seemed erratic. She backslid more than she advanced and no one could seem to help her along.
When Angela arrives, Krista shows off a new tattoo of John Bender from The Breakfast Club, near silhouette, fist raised in victory, surrounded by the words "Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place." They all suggested getting tattoos to commemorate Melissa and fished around for ideas, mostly touching on Harry Potter. In the nineties, when Melissa's computer would make an error, the Bender quote would play. It's strange to see in person the outcome of an offhanded social media comment.
We follow Rob to the site. The intention was that we would all say something, but we instead criticize the graves of Melissa's neighbors.
The small rectangle in which her ashes repose is directly before the center of the gravestone, inches from her name and dates of birth and death, and between the names of her living parents. Was it painful for them to purchase and place a concrete memorial to their own mortality when burying their daughter's cremains? When their time is up, will they be buried in body or fellow dust?
Angela and Krista dig things from their cars to drape over the headstone. We all look at it a few minutes longer, none of our comments reverent or on topic, but not intentionally so. We aren't avoiding the topic of her death, six months from when it occurred, only a few days away from her birthday and the anniversary she rather wished us to celebrate, when she began her sobriety from cocaine. Two of Melissa's friends, one who died from a stupid accident and the other from suicide in high school, lay buried somewhere on the grounds. I do not believe her visits to their gravesides were any different than ours today. Even though she would have hated being in Hopewell still, she would want to be among old friends.
This is all we seem capable of doing here, chatting idly on an August day. We retreat to Angela's house, where we watch Sleepaway Camp because she has never seen it and Melissa would have wanted her to.
We part with suggestion that we will get together soon and play board games, which is nice to believe.
Soon in Xenology: The nature of happiness. The sound of silence. Underutilization. Infinite consequences. Abuse.