>>> Primal Urges
By staff writer Nathan DeGraaf
March 29, 2006
Nathan: I think I want to try something classy and inspirational, this column.
Royce: Well, that ain’t really your style, now is it?Nathan: Well you know, life is like a Long Island iced tea—you gotta mix it up.
Royce: Yeah well, whatever’s clever.
Growing up in St. Louis, I lived about fifty feet of forest from a graveyard. When friends came and saw the graveyard adjacent to my house, they would say things like “ooh, that must be creepy” or “‘that looks scary, let’s go play ghost in the graveyard.”’ (Keep in mind, we were kids.) But the truth of the matter is, the graveyard was not that scary. In fact, I really liked it.
The entire graveyard sloped down approximately 150 yards of hill, casting shadows the entire way. From the bottom of the hill, one could look up and see the moon while pretending oneself was buried deep within the canyons of some forgotten wasteland where medieval warriors came to die. There were white, concrete stairs that ran down the middle of the hill with flat, broad, eleven foot steps. At the top one could view the ever-expanding county, jutting out across the once-wild landscape, basking in the soft glow of artificial light and buried under the smog of an industrial city. You could see for miles.
“When I was 16, I made love in the graveyard. …By the end of the night, the picnic blanket was the only thing separating our naked, writhing bodies.”
Around the age of eleven, after living three years in the house, I developed a love for the graveyard. I walked it daily, learning the name of every person on those stones—the deceased, leftover world was marked before me like some life-sized index. I knew the war veteran burial sites from the family plots. I knew where the oldest and youngest stones could be found and I would point this out to my rather apathetic friends who, upon seeing a one hundred thirty year old headstone would simply say, “so what” and invite me to shoot pool or steal quarters from the local fountain in the name of ice cream (once again, we were kids).
My favorite headstone was named Fred Krueger. It was more than just the Nightmare on Elm Street coincidence that caused my favoring this particular stone. It was the size of the stone—as big as a tall man—and the fact that it was made out of a bright red marble that really stood out among all the grey and white headstones.
I once told my friend Curt about that headstone and he said the coolest thing. He said, “All money ever really gets you in the end is a nice funeral and a marble headstone.” But enough about Curt. He owes me money.
By the time I was thirteen, I was talking to Krueger (the stone not the dead body), telling him that I understood his pain while feeling that he understood mine. I would bitch and moan my heart out to a rock and it was probably the best therapy I ever received, dismal as that may seem. Occasionally I would lean up against him, drinking whiskey from my father’s flask, making up drunken poetry for only Krueger to hear. He liked it I guess. I was a fairly sick kid.
As I aged and my hunger for illegal substances grew along with my love for trouble, the graveyard became my own little park. My friends and I would drink alcohol there during the day time, jamming our loud, offensive punk music, winging Frisbees and thrashing the place with our skateboards. Occasionally, after we tired, we would use the headstones to prop our heads against while bullshitting about the meaning of life (graveyards can inspire philosophical conversations better than any institution of higher learning). Cops chased us out of the graveyard on four separate occasions but never caught us because I knew all the hiding places in the woods and we were only seconds from the safety of my parents’ house.
One winter, a police officer caught me sledding in the graveyard, dodging headstones at light-speed like some masochistic-rush-junkie. He saw me walking up the hill and yelled at me from the top to freeze, that he was going to have to talk to me. In a rush of logic I jumped onto my sled and disappeared into the winter night. I was 15 years old. He never followed me. Maybe he didn’t know my house was at the bottom of the hill, hidden behind the woods. Maybe he didn’t really care.
When I was 16, quite caught up in my hormones, I made love in the graveyard. The date started with a sunset picnic, but by the end of the night, the picnic blanket was the only thing separating our naked, writhing bodies from the cool grass, the hungry insects and the smooth, suburban soil. It was quiet love, like the moon was hushing us, watching over us, reminding us that we were young and foolish and therefore needed to be discreet. I remember thinking, as the moon inhaled the distant flavor of our sweat while she and I felt each others’ naked shivers, wrapped in nothing but the night sky, that the best time to be foolish is when you’re young. When you get old, there are consequences. Your actions come back to haunt you. You will not be forgiven by the state, your parents, or possibly even yourself. When you’re a kid mistakes are fun and cheap, but you can’t be a kid forever.
By the time I was 17 the graveyard was like an old friend I had grown apart from. I would walk through it and tap Krueger on his red marble shoulder, yell at the lawn mowers to watch for some fallen stones, maybe even stop for a second and think to myself about the meaning of life, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t embrace the graveyard—I certainly didn’t fear or hate it, I had just sort of become numb to it, like when you move next door to an airport and there comes a time when you don’t even hear the planes anymore. I was immune to the appeal of the graveyard by that time, though it welcomed me with the same love as it had every time I visited.
Friends came and went. Girlfriends entered and left my life in turns. My world changed as I changed but the graveyard never moved. Shortly after I turned 18, before I moved away to college, someone put an ugly wire fence around the graveyard. I didn’t really mind too much though. The fence was an easy climb.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling introspective, I go somewhere in my head—a place where I am free to create amongst stone critics and feel the spirit of the graveyard march through me. It turns out I’ve turned into a fairly sick adult.
I don’t think a graveyard is a scary place. I think it’s kind of beautiful in the same twisted way that funerals are beautiful, and if you look at it like that—like a thing of beauty marking lives long passed—then you can kind of get caught up in the majesty. Millions of stories lying in the dirt below your feet, millions of tales untold, hundreds of souls let loose to wherever it is souls go, all enticing you to live life to its fullest. The graveyard was where I discovered who I was. Even as I am now, one thousand miles from Krueger and six years displaced, I know there will always be a graveyard lingering within me, provoking my actions and shaping my opinions, and I know that I will never ever lose its solid lesson: live life right now, because later is a marble stone.