IF YOU’VE EVER SPENT more than a modest amount of time in contemporary cemeteries, you may have noticed that there are basically two categories of deceased: the remembered and the forgotten.
This realization occurred to me when I turned forty-five. I’d been living in a one-bedroom walkup in Plainsville and decided to buy my first home. At the time, the market was tough and inventory low. After months of searching, I purchased a modest, single-family dwelling unit in nearby Devonshire. Quiet street, pleasant neighborhood, walkable to shops. Everything a single person needed.
My work with the Crescent Symphony Orchestra consisted of daily rehearsals, weekly concerts, and occasional travel. Like most professions, mine occupied the majority of my daily hours. A nightly walk through the neighborhood enabled me to decompress and destress.
It was just me and me alone, and I preferred it that way. I’d done the marriage thing—a twenty-year train wreck that had begun at age eighteen, followed by a much shorter, yet equally catastrophic, entanglement that ended with 911 calls, restraining orders, and court dates.
I was similarly estranged from my parents and siblings, having ceased all communication with them in my thirties when they learned of, and immediately condemned, my involvement with certain left-leaning activist groups. The occasional correspondence I received, primarily in the form of a birthday greeting or Christmas card, was neither retained nor reciprocated. I had no wish to re-invite their toxicity into my well-structured world. I was a soloist, both in occupation and life, and the role suited me fine.
During my second summer in Devonshire, a period of road construction commenced that briefly disrupted my nightly strolls. With my usual route inaccessible, I began walking through the winding roads of the Devonshire Cemetery, two blocks south of my home.
Writers of horror frequently depict the cemetery as a place to be feared. I found it quite the opposite. The tranquility of the graveyard was something I’d previously not experienced. Aside from the occasional dogwalker, jogger, or bereaved family member adorning a headstone with flowers, the cemetery was a haven of solitude. It soon became my preferred after-work walking destination.
Which brings me to my opening observation about the deceased being either remembered or forgotten. During my walks through Devonshire Cemetery, it was fairly easy to differentiate one group from the other. I discovered, quite soon and with dismay, that the forgotten far outweighed the remembered. For every headstone kept free of dirt and debris, there were at least a half dozen overrun by leaves, pine needles, and other detritus. For every gravesite adorned with a holiday wreath or floral bouquet, thrice as many were barren of such decoration.
Over time, this imbalance started to trouble me. My mind began to ponder rhetorical questions about the strangers buried beneath me as I passed by them each night. Had they no surviving friends or family members? Had they done such wrongs to others in life that, in death, they should be eternally forgotten?