There are the Boones too, maybe kin to the Bones, and the Lloyds, the Merritts, the Rigsbees. Old Carrboro families my son is among in the under-earth. When I can free myself of the grief of his death, five years ago, it amuses me to think of my Josh entering that dominion, him strange to them in his ways and from unfamiliar family, not of their place. But with a sweetness and bravery and wry smile those folks could not long fail to accept and allow into their fold.
At the moment, a bee is testing a plastic flower at the base of Josh’s gravestone, then it moves on to the asters, marigolds, Russian sage and rosemary I have brought to his grave today. The honey to be made of the dead, the blent nectar gathered among the flowers for the Bones, the Boones, Vonnie and Annie Horton, Darian Earl Bryan, dead in a car wreck at 39, his oval portrait in porcelain, the Darks, the Sparrows.
Camber is that subtle, slight rise of an arch in favor of support for what is above it. The man who was the project manager for the building of my house pointed it out to me before the sheet-rockers covered it. Camber. Laminated beams, cambered and bearing the weight of my bed above. You can see it on I-40, whatever is your interstate. Tractor-trailers, eighteen-wheelers, long open trailers cambered most freely when they are dead-heading, heading for home with no load. Free-bedded. The camber there like a waiting angel. At an angle from Josh’s grave is the Woodcock/ Camber grave. I don’t know the family, Woodcocks, Cambers, but Josh is among them. One of the truths of fatherhood, not knowing how balanced is a son’s full weight in the world, or, in Josh’s case, how his illness lay on the given camber.
When freed from the straitjacket he wore home early from music camp one summer, he went straight to fluent, graceful tai chi and years of every wrong medicine we could offer. Then one that gave him years of clarity and whimsy and a manner all his own. And finally weight his heart couldn’t bear. Enlarged, it stopped in his sleep at age 33.
Josh is buried at the end of a row of graves running parallel to the back-most road of Westwood Cemetery. His mother, Lee, and I shared the duties of putting him to rest. She asked if I would find a burial plot for his ashes. The cost of a plot in the old Chapel Hill Cemetery, even if one could find a family willing to sell a space there, was beyond reason. I went to the town hall in Carrboro, the adjacent town where Josh once lived and where he worked in Lee’s sushi restaurant, and I found that there were available plots in Westwood. On the map there was a space, serendipity, at the end of the row parallel to the back road. And it turned out to be beneath a tree.
That is where my dog Neville and I are today. Neville, a she, goes straight for the October pumpkin next to the flowers I’ve placed at Josh’s grave. Sniff, sniff. And then on to other graves. Bones, Darks, Sparrows. My guess is that Lee has left the pumpkin, along with flowers of her own.
I empty the rainwater from the little plastic music-box piano that was left on Josh’s gravestone shortly after his burial. It is a small-scale grand and has a profile of Elvis on the top. It used to play “Love Me Tender” when wound up. After a few rains it could barely plink out Elvis’s plea, and then it gave up. But it’s still there in its mysterious provenance. When I first found the piano, I called Lee to see if she put it there, but she said no, she thought I had. To this day, we have no idea who beyond family summoned our son’s love. And counted on that summons being heard. Two graves down, on the Butterfield grave, someone has left a scale model Corvette, top down, headed east toward Josh. Maybe the Butterfield boy is taking Josh for a ride. I don’t know. As Marlon, probably aware of St. Peter’s similar question, asked his lover in Last Tango, “Quo vadis, baby?”
Jim Seay teaches creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill. This essay was written in 2008.