The No Name Resting Place
By Anna Ray-Jones • June 29, 2012
The No-Name Resting Place
by Anna Ray-Jones
Word Count: 1,281
My father and I had been enemies since my feet first hit the floor.
And I was not the only one in the family that made him mad. He never got along with my Mom or my older brother either. When he and Mom would argue, they made the house a scary place. They would quarrel for hours over the stupidest things and even take their fights from room to room. If one of them walked away, the other would follow just to get the last word in!
My brother and I would clear out of their way, trying to keep their yelling at a distance. Often we'd end up in the backyard with the cats (who escaped with us, scared that dad might kick them). The backyard was a good place to go, because as pissed off as our parents were at each other, they had this weird thing of not taking their craziness into the street. They hated to think the neighbors might be listening. If we were lucky, we'd get out through the gate unnoticed and run off to a friend's house until things had calmed down.
Of the two of them, our Mom was the nicer person. She was kind, easily gave you hugs and always tried to make things right. It wasn't that hard to side with her against dad. The problem was the situation in our house became a war—three to one—year-in, year out. Mom wouldn't or couldn't divorce him. My family never had much money—and there was nowhere else for us to go. She promised she would never leave without Brian and me.
The situation didn't change until I was 16 and my brother 18. We both had dropped out of school and had jobs. This was the time I destroyed my father's life, as much as if I had taken a gun and shot him.
He was so much older than Mom and had become weak and pathetic (but could still act up.) I was so hell-bent on hating him and proving that I could defend my mother that I didn't pay any mind to a strange sadness that settled on him. I didn't care! I was busy plotting our ultimate escape!
My brother and I had planned a savings account together, each of putting a little cash in every month. A year passed and we finally had enough money to move out. I actually found this great apartment through a family counselor at my school, and told Mom we were all, at last, going to get free...of Dad. She took some convincing but we got her to agree and she left with us.
No one ever actually said to our father, "You can't come," but it was understood. He stayed behind, alone in the slummy, decrepit house we had all shared as a family. From that time on, he seemed to age very quickly into a fearful and lonely old man, grateful for any kind word or smile. My mother took pity on him and would have him over to Sunday lunch every week, but my brother and I just ignored him.
I managed, by some weird miracle, to get a scholarship to go to college and was a few weeks away from leaving town when the police called to tell us our father had been hit by a car. He had left a bar very drunk and had walked out into the traffic.
Mom and I visited Dad in the hospital, and for the first time since I was very little, I felt sad and guilty that he was badly hurt and in pain. He died alone a few days later. My mother and
I planned a cheap funeral on what was left of his pension. We were the only people at the graveside in an area of the cemetery that was quite barren. Dad had few friends and Brian flatly refused to come, saying, "Close the lid and walk away. He can't bother us anymore!" (My brother had taken a lot of abuse from Dad over the years.)
But Dad did bother us. At least he bothered me. A few summers later, when I was visiting Mom and Brian, I decided to go back to the cemetery alone to see if I could find his grave. I was curious, I guess. I found no headstone and was shocked to discover from the caretaker, Mrs. Lewis, and her lists of the dead, that he had been buried in the "Potters Field" side of the graveyard, where no name people and criminals were laid. (My mother had never told me she left him there because we had lacked the money to buy a plot.)
The field was a bare green uneven slope, the ground curved now and then at what might have been a grave. I remember it began to rain heavily. I ran all over that small hill trying to find some clue as to where my father might be buried. The more I searched the more I freaked out, like an animal with a sudden deep cut, until I collapsed sobbing in the middle of the wet green.
I realized that for the first time in my life I was finally grieving for my father. Not just for him, but also for all the things that seemed lost to us. I had been so angry and so busy changing everything for Mom, Brian and me; I'd left out the one person in my life who had needed help the most.
Sitting there in the rain, I finally understood that some people simply don't know, and may never know, how to be their best selves, that often bad things happen to them that makes them the way they are, and, if no one reaches out to help them get free, or if they're not strong enough to do it for themselves, there's simply no way for them to change.
I stayed there in the field until it was dusk and Mrs. Lewis found me with her flashlight. I poured out my story to her and she took me back to her office to go through dusty files. From faded records and plot maps, she was able to pinpoint a narrow patch by a rowan bush where my father lay in his no-name place. Then she asked me what I wanted to do. "I'll come by tomorrow," I said hesitantly, "with some flowers."
"No time like the present," Mrs. Lewis replied firmly. "Those folks out there... She nodded through the window to a line of white headstones. "You can bet some of them thought they had time to make things right." She turned and raised a bunch of orange tiger lilies from the vase on her desk and handed them to me.
It was quite dark when the two of us laid the lilies down in the muddy grass by the rowan tree. Mrs. Lewis explained that it was not allowed to place a headstone there. For that I would have to buy Dad a proper grave, and what would be the point of moving him after all this time? But...I had an ultimate scheme.
I had once seen "Meadow in a Can," in a local florist, cans of wild flower seeds that can be scattered to grow as they would in nature, their colors and blooms shooting up every which way. I would be back-to sow the whole damn field, a lush riot of flowers...an Eden for all those pushed-aside and misplaced people...and for my dad...at peace at last, I hope, knowing that his daughter finally honored him in that no-name resting place.
* * *
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