Have you ever seen your own gravestone? I hope you never do.
Catching sight of your final resting place, even momentarily, will scare the bejesus out of the most hardened non-believer. But there are pros and cons to this extraordinary sight. Extraordinary from a who-would-have-believed-this-possible perspective, and extra-ordinary from a well-its-not-such-a-surprise-as-we-will-all-end-up-here perspective. It really is quite extraordinarily extra-ordinary.
Be that as it may – nothing can prepare you for the sight of your own untimely (can it ever really be timely?) demise. Nor can you ever quite be prepared for the sight of the most unflattering photo ever that your loving husband has chosen for your tombstone. What - you thought he had your best interests at heart – always? Turns out he never even had your best interests at heart whilst your heart was still beating – and he sure didn’t when he half-heartedly chose the words and image for your final resting place.
How is it even possible I saw this eerie sight; I hear you ask? And more importantly, what am I even doing in this graveyard in the first place?
Questions I have also asked. Unfortunately, however, I am surrounded by deathly silent neighbours who have mastered the art of keeping to themselves. No gossip to overhear, or heart-to-hearts from this lot. Not even a whisper from the ancient trees who watch over their charges like prison guards, swaying silently to the music of the wind.
My questions have remained unanswered.
Until tonight. In a flash of lightning, I have been – quite literally – enlightened. That old saying, however, is sadly true. Be careful what you ask as you may not like the answer. Or is it: seek and ye shall find? Either way, I have found – and I do not like the answer.
Even as a child, I always gravitated to this old graveyard in times of conflict and stress. Conflict between my parents, conflict caused by the mean girls at school, conflict in my own heart when my first crush kissed my best friend at the Valentine's dance. Exam stress, growing up stress, life stress – any stress. I always found myself back in the graveyard where I could distract myself with the familiar stories on the familiar gravestones. Sometimes I felt more comfortable with these old friends than with actual living souls with beating hearts. The years passed whilst I continued to find solutions and peace amongst the granite angels and crosses.
It was my escape, and now it is my prison.
At least that is how it seemed in that first flash of blinding lightning. My story would sound so much more atmospheric if I could at least describe the setting as a dark and stormy night, with raindrops that slashed at the turbulent air in their malevolent fury. But the lightning simply flashed out of nowhere and caught me by complete surprise. Followed by confusion, the obligatory shock, and then an immediate wave of familiar frustration as I read the words that were lit up momentarily by the freak lightning flash:
Luci James. Rest in Peace. Forever part of our lives. Died 31 October 1982
That’s it? That’s IT? Where are the proclamations of undying love and abject misery? The soliloquy of my virtues highlighting how I was loved by all, and the path of blessings and happy memories I have left in my wake?
All I can see, however, is a path to oblivion. And don’t get me started on that dreadful photo.
That first lightning flash, however, got me thinking. The image of those banal words devoid of any real emotion and the carelessly (or deliberately?) chosen photo was a clear message that my perception of Nick’s feelings for his darling wife and soulmate was perhaps not an accurate reflection of the truth. Suddenly my graveyard did not seem as peaceful and welcoming, but a little sinister and foreboding.
I had come here earlier to find solace against the turmoil in my mind and the suspicion that weighed heavily on my heart, and must have fallen asleep with my back against my favourite headstone:
Carolyn Matthews, adored in life and eternally mourned in death by her forever-loving husband and soulmate. I shall count the days until our hearts beat as one again and our souls are joined in eternal ecstasy.
Now that’s more like it. That is what I was expecting to see. Not that one ever expects such a moment to arise – but if it was to arise, then a similar message is what I would have expected from Nick.
As the brilliance of the unexpected flash faded back into the dusky twilight of early evening, however, it became comfortingly clear that the creepy (and disconcerting) image was only an illusion. A mirage of my own insecurity combined with the fading light of a traumatic day and the resulting bone-wearying tiredness. The innocuous headstone in my vision was not mine after all, but another Lucy (with a ‘y’) who had lived to the ripe old age of 35 (coincidently the same age as me!) before shedding her mortal coil for the anonymity afforded by her one-lined epitaph.
Relief washed over me in a wave of gratitude as I realised my folly. Halloween in all her creepy glory was playing her ghoulish tricks on me, and my own inner conflict had created the perfect storm (excuse the pun).
Damn Nick for driving me here.
The second flash of brilliance, however, lasted a few seconds longer, and again Luci with an I (that’s me!) flashed up on the gravestone. This time, however, there were two trench-coated figures (I kid you not) silhouetted behind the stone. Two very familiar-looking figures. But as quickly as my bottom jaw dropped closer to the ground, so the image faded as the lightning sizzled out.
Although Lucy with a Y was back, the image on her gravestone stared back at me with a newly acquired look of sympathy in her one-dimensional eyes. “Yes,” she seemed to be saying, “You know who they are”.
Tearing my eyes away from Lucy with a Y, I berated myself for allowing the spirit of the day and my own accusatory vulnerability to get the better of me. Perhaps it was time to leave these old bones and their sad stories and go home to face the well-overdue music. It was time to be set free of the shackles of suspicion.
The third electrifying flash sizzled through the clear sky creating the most brilliant revelation yet. The trench-coated couple were back and sharing a passionate kiss. Even in the sombre setting, the intensity of their shared intimacy was obvious. My heightened awareness could sense their hearts beating together in clear unity and their shared sentiment battered my ears like a powerful mantra.
My romantic soul would have appreciated the picture-perfect moment caught in the spotlight of this illuminating firebolt - if the main actors had not been my Nick and my best friend Alice.
I could not trust them at the Valentine's dance 20 years ago and I clearly could not trust them now!
The final lightning flash lit the entire graveyard like a football field, and the finale was displayed for all my silent neighbours to enjoy. Alice and Nick (no longer trench coat clad) holding hands at the graveside of his wife and her best friend.
In the fading light of that final flash of realisation my gravestone reveals the truth. Nick never loved me like he loved Alice, and Alice never loved me like she loved Nick.
Lucy with an I smiles benevolently at me, and I am actually quite pretty in the photo that was chosen by two people that did love me – but could not love me enough.
Time has faded the etchings on the gravestone and the I of Luci now looks like a Y, but there is no mistaking my image lovingly chosen by Nick and Alice. How were they to know that my heart would literally break when they could no longer hide their love for one another.
The heavy raindrops of realisation cover me in their blanket of lonely truth. It has been 40 Halloweens since the embrace that was their beginning and my ending. 40 times that I have emerged to visit my silent neighbours, longing for a piece of gossip or a heart to heart. But only the trees whisper their silent message to me as they sway to the music of the gathering storm:
You were loved Luci, just not enough. Come visit us again next Halloween, we will be waiting for you as always.