No matter what we say to each other, we can’t shake the feeling that this is a really shitty thing to do.
It’s an unusually warm spring afternoon in Greenlawn that qualifies as the top news story of the day. We walk, and we sweat. The sun pounds our scalps with more BTUs than we’re used to. The fuzzy air makes us afraid our noses will bleed. The sky is metallic.
It would surprise no one here that Greenlawn is the largest graveyard in the state. In all this time, the employees of Greenlawn hadn’t had the time to clean up all of the plastic poinsettias. Now the place is starting to sprout fake Easter lilies. That’s where we come in. All of the important refuse, the sentimental waste, the heart-wrenching litter, all of that has to go. That’s how it works.
We slowly make our way through Greenlawn.
Plot by plot, stone by stone, section by section, we’re making better time than the trucks sent to collect the mourning we are picking up.
We have to wonder what the solemn-faced people think of us. Moving in waves across the hundreds of acres. People look up from grandma’s headstone to see flocks of teenagers ripping wreaths and flowers and roses out of the ground. It doesn’t seem likely that they think we are doing a public service.
And no matter what we say to each other, we can’t shake the feeling that this is a really shitty thing to do.
Halfway through our day we arrive at Lullaby Land.
Lullaby Land sounds like an amusement park.
Lullaby Land sounds like a children’s book.
Lullaby Land is a whole section of Greenlawn for children.
There are hundreds of headstones that only have one year on them.
It isn’t 1947 – 1998.
It’s just 1965.
Some are a bit more specific: March 29, 1976 – March 30, 1976.
We find the New Year’s Baby of 1959.
There were children who had lived three days and died thirty years ago and they still have fresh flowers on their graves every year. Joey Muldoon’s got a real chocolate birthday cake on his grave. Real frosting, real cake, real maggots.
We aren’t here to mourn. We aren’t here to lament. We aren’t here to pray.
And no matter what we say to other, we can’t shake the feeling that this is a really shitty thing to do.
Skipping across Greenlawn, our only job is to collect anything that isn’t exceptionally expensive or exceptionally sentimental, and put it all in piles on the corners of the winding, rocky roads. Our only other job is to do our best to avoid the foot-shaped sinkholes.
Avoid the freshly covered-over graves. Avoid the weeping families. Avoid knocking over the older headstones.
And although we can’t shake the feeling that this is a really shitty thing to do, we still act like teenagers.
We give each other piggy-back rides.
We play hide and seek.
We tell ghost stories as we walk.
We make fun of the odd-sounding names on the stones.
A breeze starts to pick up, and the oldest one in our group chases a rolling hat up a hill. His baggy pants nearly fall down as he runs, and all of us have a good laugh. This wasn’t a waste of a day after all, we think.
We should do this more often, someone shouts.
But no matter what we say to each other, we can’t shake the feeling that this is a really shitty thing to do.