by Corissa Haury
My sister and I wander amongst the veterans’ graves on a rainy day in May. The cemetery is bigger than I had originally thought; so much so that we will get lost on the way out, but I don’t know it yet. We are making a sort of pilgrimage towards a World War II monument. We won’t see it is the Hebrew Star of David, a great sculpture ten feet high, mounted on a set of steps covered in small stones, until we read the plaque in front of it. We pause to fix the floral leavings from the veterans’ families that have been blown aside by the violent winds of the rain storms over the past 12 hours. The day of our brother’s wedding was, thankfully, a beautiful day, but this day afterward is dark and stormy as the family parts our every which way again. Our brother and his new wife are already gone on their honeymoon, having taken an early train out together to travel across the great western United States to California to meet our grandparents. Well, to meet our grandmother.
My younger sister and I talk about our grandfather, also a veteran, as we right the floral arrangements for veterans we never knew. He was a World War II veteran. The rain drizzles on us, and we are not wholly prepared for it. I am leaving this afternoon, and this morning when we woke up we did not anticipate this weather. I bought my sister an umbrella when we were at the grocery store just a little while ago. We can’t go back to Dad’s apartment yet because he has the keys, and he isn’t home. We can’t go back to our other sister’s house yet because she has her keys, and she isn’t home. So we stay out and we wander the cemetery. Neither one of us was at our grandfather’s deathbed. My sister was one of the last of our family to see him. I remember two years ago, when I visited him. Our grandmother, his wife of 70 years, was stronger than I was when I saw him in the hospice. I try not to think about these things which I cannot help thinking about, and I distract myself by wandering towards the memorial.
The World War II memorial stands tall, but down in a tiny manmade valley paved with a thousand bricks. I have to go up a little hill before I can walk down on the brick path that leads to the monument. The path leads downward into the valley of bricks, lined with long beds of rocks. Many of the rocks have tiny pickets next to them, with carved stone labels above them. There is a lone column beside a wall of vivid and horrid pictures. Pictures of World War II. Memories of a Nazi with his gun to a pregnant woman’s head, as she cradles another child. Images of a pit of bodies, a grave full of a hundred starving corpses. Depictions of things I have never experienced, things I can hardly believe were real in the world. I know there are things happening at this moment I would have a hard time believing were real. Our grandfather was a part of the fight against the evil I gaze on, and for that I am proud. The rocks in the beds around the monument represent the thousands of Jews who fled Europe and ended up in Nebraska, or Nebraskan soldiers who went to fight in World War II. So many lives, even in a place this remote. A place this small, a place that seems insignificant to me, had even felt the sting of the great World War.
My sister and I wander around the monument, reading many of the names on the stones, names of soldiers and immigrants. We read the names on the bricks below our feet, of families who had donated to the memorial. The pictures on the wall is too moving to stare at for very long. The volume of names is sobering. My sister and I are quiet for a long time while we read and look at the descriptions of the families and their experiences. We wander through a butterfly garden dedicated to the millions of children that lost their lives in Europe. I cannot help but cry a little, for all the sadness I feel in the air of this place. This is a place of great sorrow. It is death, all around us. My sister and I wander away after another quarter of an hour paying some respects with our whispers and tears for the grieving dead.
We had our own sorrows as we walk back to the car the long way, wandering around to other graves and talking to each other of our lives on separate sides of the country. She lives in the Northwest and I in the Northeast. We have grown much wiser over the last few years, and have the capacity to talk of our emotions actively with clear words and healthy debates. We share emotions around our parents’ recent divorce. Over the last year, we’ve seen them more and more separate. Grandfather died last week in California, days before our brother’s wedding, no hushed memorial service afterward.
A cremation, Says my sister. They are waiting until Grandmother has passed away also.
The darling man has been in pain for years, and he did not deserve to suffer as far as I know, I say. We are glad he can rest in peace, without pain. We are glad for our brother and his marriage, and talk of our own partners and the joy we can share in our intimacies with them. We are both treated well by kind young men, committed to us.
How lucky the universe is for us right now, we say to each other. How kind it is that we have such men for ourselves when others struggle to find someone. We thank whatever higher power may or may not exist.
Cemeteries have that hushed way of imparting the knowledge of your ignorance to you. This cemetery does the same to us. Everything we say is a speculation, so that we may not offend any listening spirits, whether it be Death himself or a ghostly apparition listening from a nearby tomb.
Soon we return to the car, the drizzle hardens into a heavy rain as we get lost a few times before finding our way to the right exit.
This place is a lot bigger than I thought, I say to my sister.
She laughs and tries to direct me the right way, but I go my own way (the wrong way) and we get lost again.
She laughs at my inability to listen, still in my older years I am the oldest sibling, forging ahead without thought.
I laugh, too, and we stop at a coffee drive through on the way back to Dad’s. We got the text. He will be home soon so I can grab my things and go to the airport.
I will miss you so much, I say to my sister.
I know, she says. I’ll miss you a lot too. You have to come visit.
I know! I say back. I am trying not to cry. You’ve already seen my place twice. It’s not fair to you.
She laughs. But you’ve been to my place once, she argues my side.
Still, I say, I owe you one. Plus, I want to bring August to Seattle.
All right, she says, as we pull up to our sister’s house in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The street is covered in overhanging trees. The front of our younger sister’s shared house looks comforting. There is a nice big porch. I am happy that she has some independence this summer, away from both of our parents’ separate abodes. I learned this weekend how easy it is to get trapped in their inner cycle of conflict again, living so close by. I am glad she does not have to live with either one. We all need that. We need the independence, the way of thinking on our own and dealing with the world on our own. We don’t have that yet, not altogether. I have it. My sisters have it. I think all my younger brothers have it, too. I know the one who just got married does. But the two youngest are just teenaged boys. My sister is getting out of the car, and our other sister is running down the steps to kiss me good bye. Something about this is so bittersweet. I can’t wait to get back to my little oceanside city in the Northeast, but I hate to leave these beautiful, strong young women I am so proud of. We all hug and I cry a little.
Of course the oldest one cries, says the youngest girl, laughing.
Oh, hush. I say. You’ll cry a lot too some day. It’s good for you.
Then I am back in the car and off to Dad’s so I don’t miss my flight in Omaha in a couple of hours. I need time to drive through the Eastern edge of Nebraska and Iowa to a bigger Midwestern city, where an airplane will carry me home.