Monday, Kim and I dropped Maggie at school and headed over to the Phoenix for coffee. Our first time back at a familiar place always seems so sad. Elena had never been to the Phoenix and yet we’d brought her there in our conversations. Among our swapping stories of the past day or so over coffee, one or the other of us would share a story or two about the girls.
So there I sit sipping my coffee, listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” on the overhead speakers, waiting for Kim to put milk in her coffee with tears quietly streaming. I’ve always been emotional about movies and music and never about real life. Elena’s death was the first real life thing I’ve cried about in years.
Joni sings about being “a free man in paris. I felt unfettered and alive”. She says, “If I had my way I’d just walk through those doors and wander”.
But wander where? I’m not heading down the Champs Elysees anytime soon. What is it I should be doing with my time? And then Kim joins me and I’m shaken out of the daydream I’d fallen into.
Two people stop next to us to talk to each other about their kids. One’s taking Tai Kwon Do the other is taking a break. What is yours going to take next session, mine is taking gymnastics. That sort of thing. Wonderful strangers focused on their children.
Kim and I are in no rush to go. We’ve talked about heading over to the cemetery to visit Elena’s grave. It’s one of the many things that we know will be hard but that have to be done.
And so we sit in the Phoenix sipping our coffee and chatting. I’ve known that the Phoenix is a bird that periodically burns and a new bird emerges from the ashes. The Encyclopedia Mythica adds two details I either never knew or have long forgotten. When the Phoenix senses it’s death is approaching it builds a next of wood that it sets on fire. I don’t know why, but I’d had an image of spontaneous combustion.
The second new fact for me is that the new bird “embalmed the ashes of its predecessor in an egg and […] would deposit the egg on the alter of the sun god.” I’d never much thought of the bird that died as being the predecessor. I’ve always thought of the bird as being reborn and so one was a different incarnation of the other.
Driven by an expiring parking meter, we leave the Phoenix Coffee House and head out to the car. We sit for a moment and discuss whether or not we are ready to visit Elena’s grave. Kim says yes but she’s not going to get out of the car. We’ll just park and look. That sounds right to me too.
We take the left onto Mayfield and then the right into Lake View Cemetery. A series of rights takes us to section 32 and Elena’s grave. It is the fresh mound of dirt next to the tree and the little bench.
I tell Kim I want to walk over to the grave. She wants to come too.
When you visit a gravesite long after someone has died, you walk past headstones until you find the one of the person you are visiting. The headstone is your focal point.
With a fresh grave, there is no headstone. Your attention is on the pile of dirt. You can’t help to be drawn to consider the body beneath.
On top of the mound of dirt, the flowers from the funeral sit withered and faded. They remain beautiful in their week-old state.
Kim and I head back to the car holding hands. Quiet. We’ll be back. Even in winter, it’s just what the man from the cemetery had told us. It’s a beautiful park where they happen to bury people.
As Joni might sing, it’s a good place to go when I “walk through those doors and wander . . . thinking how I’ll feel when I find that very good friend of mine.”