It’d been a year since I had last been to Rose Hills. He’s not without flowers, though. I’ve made arrangements for two bundles of baby’s breath be delivered every week in my absence; one for his headstone and one for his bench. It’s a private nod to an inside joke between Billy and me.
I stopped at the park’s flower store, anticipating some clean-up needed to be done, and bought a kit that included tiny scrub brushes and some polish. On the drive up the hill, I saw all of the trappings of Christmas: tinsel, decorated trees, and the occasional temporary festive fence built around a plot. And suddenly there I was, on my knees again, this time with some flowers, a half dozen cards I’d written, and a heart-shaped balloon-on-a-stick playfully saying I Love You Now And Forever.
I licked my thumb, spit shining it around in the oval of Billy’s picture. My lips moved while I silently read the inscription. It seemed selfish to me, what the stone said, as if this whole catastrophe were about me. I felt I excluded Billy’s family and friends, that the loss was mine and mine only.
I set about polishing the headstone, which was remarkably free from grit inside its white letters, before turning my attention to the bench. The bench’s tree, once a spindly sapling, has matured into a fine full bloom, its branches providing shade. I was happy to see the brass angel on a red ribbon that I had hung two years ago had made it through another year of the elements, unharmed, hanging freely.
I unscrewed the plastic kit, took out a bottle of marble detergent, and sprayed the top of the bench. With one of the scrub pads, I carefully cleaned out each letter of the phrase, the stanza that echoed at the end of his funeral, words to one of his favorite songs.
Sing with me, sing for the years.
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears.
Sing with me if it’s just for today,
Cause maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away.
I looked at my handiwork, the white words popping out of the black marble. I took the ten paces back to the headstone and fell to my knees, again. Talking and crying and begging for answers that will never come, I caressed the marble, the words home and wait and Guyster. I leaned down and kissed his picture, the ceramic warm on my lips from the heat of the sun. I held it for a long time until I thought someone might see me, feeling like a drunk who just fell onto a barroom floor.
Walking back to my car, I glanced back and said, “See ya again, Billy.”