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Burning Our Love
My Grandma once told me, “Why does a man climb a mountain? Because it’s there!” I had no idea what that meant at first, until I began watching our Gilligan’s Island DVDs. My grandma and I both love this show, and although it is a very funny thing to watch, I felt as though this certain quote perfectly described the reason why we were going to this place, this dark, dead place. What was I to think of a cemetery, at the time? I was only eleven. Everyone’s seen at least that one part in a scary movie where the hero or heroine it tin the cemetery, at night, their back to one of the graves, and suddenly… BOOM! A hand explodes from the mound of dirt and drags them down to the depths of the Earth. How did they, the people who I trusted so, expect me to get dragged to this evil place anyway? At least it would be daytime.
Alone with my thoughts, I crammed myself into the gray Honda minivan. We started driving to that creepy place.
“Why are we going here again?” I innocently questioned, hoping my family would forget and we could head home. No such luck.
“We’re visiting the cemetery so your grandpa can see his siblings and visit his mom, dear,” my mom responded. “Now, don’t complain. Your grandpa hasn’t seen his brothers and sisters for some time.”
“I still think this is a dumb idea,” I mused to myself. My great- grandma died when I was seven. I never spoke to her. I groaned softly and focused my attention out the window, staring at the fresh fall foliage whizzing by. Why do I have to go? I, who never knew this person. Someone will surely start crying. It is my grandpa’s mom after all.
I began to think about the funeral. I tried to see it before my eyes. I watched as the vibrant trees blended together into different shades of gray. They were being molded into the different people that attended the funeral. Everything took their places, and my memory began. Each person was weeping. We were seated in cold metal chairs, all eyes glued to the front of the room. There lied the casket of my great- Grandmother. Tears rolled down people’s cheeks like raindrops on a gloomy day. I glanced to my left. There sat my mom, still as a statue. What would I do if she died? I couldn’t bear that thought. My head snapped back forwards, where someone was reciting a few words about what my great- grandma was like. I couldn’t listen. My mind was focused on the sobs of my relatives, the people who loved her so dearly. I began to weep too, gently. I couldn’t figure out why. There was just something about the room, the air, the people, that radiated sadness. I squinted at the ground, trying to hide my tears. The heartbreaking torture finally ended, and we piled into a limo. Why do people die? I asked myself. Why must the ones we love so dearly leave? And yet, I knew that living forever would be agony. We pulled up to a cemetery. There the casket was lowered into a dark, dank pit. We were each handed a beautiful white rose. A pale white, with a deep green stem. I pricked my finger on one of the thorns. It didn’t hurt at all, but blood was slowly seeping out. Everyone threw their roses into the grave, one at a time, until it came to me. I stepped forwards and gently tossed mine up in the air. It floated down, down, down, until it hit the water and floated away. Mine was the only one with a slightly red petal.
A few weeks after the funeral my grandpa went to China to build a memorial for his mother. When he came back, he gave me a beautiful jade necklace, with a red string and intricate knots. I clutched it in my palm and it brought me back into reality. The trees slipped back into their original forms and colors. I looked around- nothing had changed since my daydream.
I glared to my left, where my brother was fast asleep. I tried to inch as far as possible away from him, and lucky me we reached the cemetery. I limped out of the car, desperate for fresh air, and looked around. We were the first ones here. It was chilly, and slightly drizzling. I shivered and turned around as if to head back in to the car. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a minivan pull up. A family of four slid out and we went to greet them, although I had no idea who the heck they were. I had no choice but to stand by the chatting adults and immerse myself in thought. They seemed happy, but they must be forgetting why we were here. Really, who could be happy at a cemetery while visiting your dead relative? Lost in thought, I somehow ended up with the umbrella and didn’t realize until my hands went numb from the cold. I opened my mouth to ask if someone could take it when another car pulled up, followed by yet another. That must have been everyone since we started to head towards the grave.
One step at a time, we went past numerous headstones. Each were unique… Some were flat on the ground, others were standing straight up. Some were in swirls of different stones, others were a solid gray. Some were big, others were small. Some looked more loved than others but each was only one of a kind. I wondered, how did they choose the headstones? Did it reflect the dead one’s personality? Colorful flowers surrounded many of the graces, bread was left at the side, stones were wobbling on top. I gazed to my left and saw a landscape that was so mesmerizing, so stunning, it looked fake- like a painting done a hundred times over until the artist had everything just perfect. Different colored trees ranging from dark green to bright red to deep orange splattered the hillside. There was a house with white concrete walls and a red- brown roof in the middle of all the life. There were puffy white clouds on the horizon, slowly fading to a flat gray as it came over the cemetery. The sky off in the distance was a stunning mixture of baby blue and dull gray. This is nothing like the cemeteries you see in those horror films. I listened to the rhythmic steps of my mom in front of me… pat, pat, pat… pebbles were being shifted, making a clacking noise, and leaver were being crunched and rustled. The scent of fresh rainfall and autumn air was floating about. Seagulls were fluttering about, happy. I felt content. So a cemetery really isn’t evil after all, I thought to myself. I twisted my head around and saw two men carrying a large metal crate with holes in it.
“What’s that?” I leaned over to ask my mom.
“Oh, we’re going to put fake money and cardboard replicas of everyday things in there.”
I thought. “And then what?”
I suppose she didn’t hear me as the wind was fairly loud, and everyone was saying how excited they were to see each other. Someone found some wood and carefully placed it inside the crate. Another relative took his lighter and exposed the wood to the flames. I stared at it. The blaze was huge, and very hot. Red bits of the fire started turning the pale brown timber to a dark black. The flames danced around the cage happily, bursting in and out of the holes at random. I was handed a pile of papers by and sweet looking old woman.
I turned my mind to the papers. It was fake money, and a lot of it. One billion dollars each! There were probably more than a hundred being passed around. I examined the pictured printed on the front. There was a middle-aged emperor staring back at me. He had long black hair and wore a red hat. On the back was a temple. Swirls of green covered both sides. I glimpsed up and saw everyone was throwing their money into the fire. I did the same. It floated down, down, down, until it hit the flare. I watched intently as the paper shriveled up, black burns overthrowing the green designs. With every little thing being thrown in, every sacrifice, the fire burst up and climbed higher and higher into the air. I smiled. The flames felt wonderful on such a shivery day as this. My grandpa then explained everything to me.
“Everything we burn here, your great- grandma gets,” he started. “All that money, she gets. See that newspaper?” He pointed to a paper with Chinese characters on it. “That’s so she has something to read, and knows what’s going on in the world.” We burned everything she could want… A car, a house, clothing, a TV, a lobster dinner… of course, they were all smaller and made out of cardboard.
I then saw a few people holding long, thin sticks with a red bottom and a yellow puffy top. One person held all the sticks outward, while another took his lighter and tapped it to each one. Oddly enough, it did not catch on fire but started smoking instead. Each person stepped up and took three or six of the sticks. When it came to my turn, I was a little reluctant to hold onto a smoking stick but everyone else was willing so I figured there would be no harm. We were told to bow three times at the foot of the grave, then to poke the sticks it in the ground near the headstone. After everyone completed the task, a whole roasted pig was brought out of one of the cars. Its skin was a crispy brown, each part looked tender. My mouth watered at the sight of it. But would we eat it?
“We have to burn that?” I asked my grandma, disappointed.
“Of course not,” she replied. “We get to eat it!
We gathered around a small pavilion near some other graves, anxiously waiting for the pig to be cut. A huge butcher knife was brought out. One of the men held it steadily above the pig, slowly brought it above his head, and swiftly chopped off the body parts. Everyone was laughing at jokes and funny anecdotes others had to tell them since they last saw each other. It had stopped raining. The sun was shimmering brightly. I smiled and glimpsed around. These people had learned to let go of the past and celebrate the present.
“Life is not always what one wants it to be, but to make the best of it as it is, is the only way of being happy.”
English editor and playwright