I Love Cemeteries!
story and photos by Jessica Delfino
New York City
Signs posted on splintery wooden poles and rusty metal stated “No Loitering” and I knew they were speaking to me. It almost seemed like the teens of my town were hated, like dirty mistakes, and that adults hoped that we would just disappear. So we did.
If you were to wander along the coastlines or hike into the woods, that is where you would find us. There we would be, clinging to rocks and blades of grass, palling around with the trees and the water, elements that didn’t mind if we hung around, listened to the music too loudly or smoked cigarettes.
It wasn’t unusual for our meetings to be held in someone’s mom’s Subaru, in an old construction site that had lost its’ funding. We played demented house in attics and basements, with pot, booze, kissing and just a few other basics of the understandings of how it all worked. In the summers, we’d skinny dip in the dark pools of the mill, jumping off the bridge into the protective night. In the winter, we’d park at the lighthouse and explore the misty evening, dangerously scaling slippery rocks. One false move could have sent us to a quick death in a watery grave, a teen forever. But it never happened, and I can only thank mother luck and the magic of youth for that.
One place we often found ourselves loitering was the town cemetery. It was a sprawling and glorious piece of hill that served as a staircase from Church Street up to the back lane. Large, exotic stones littered the land, and made for excellent hiding places for my friends and I to do all those things that those bad troubled teens you hear about do.
The cemetery was a beautiful lot with a plush green grass carpeting so thick and soft I may have fallen asleep there once or twice. I would ride my bike down the windy slide of asphalt that divided the cemetery into two, turn off into the reeds once I arrived at the bottom, dump my bike and high speed roam around the stony acreage just to get rid of extra crazy amounts of energy that kids have, where they have to do things like run or throw temper tantrums to bring themselves to normal adrenaline levels.
Sometimes I’d lie back on the blanket of grass and stare up at the clouds; they had places to be, I wondered where they were going, and I guess I wondered where I was going, too.
When I left Damariscotta, I was 19. I drove across the country to LA to find my dad and be a star. Then I drove back. I enrolled in art school and studied animation, the most tedious and difficult subject I could have possibly chosen. I moved to New York City, watched the towers fall, dated a slew of unsuitable and barely scrupulous men, pursued a post-college career in my degree, floundered, fell into performing, succeeded in some elements and failed in others, found a home with a nice Jewish man who treats me respectably and got a cat.
All the while, my love for cemeteries has held my interest and fascination. Even to this day, driving by them is thrilling. Near my mother’s home is a large ancient cemetery with moss and southern trees draping their willowy arms down around the place in a shady canopy. Sometimes when I visit her, we will go together, paying respects to people we never knew. One particularly craggy dead lady has a stone which says, “Do not pity me, one day you too shall come this way” or something equally ominous and spiteful. But I walk past the stone anyway, knowing she is right.
There is a shortage of grass in Manhattan, but I’ve found a private, hidden acre behind a black wrought iron gate where I can relive my tween and teen closeness with the cemetery. In the historic burial site, tombstones line the decaying brick wall, providing an unfettered rich green wall-to-wall carpet of grass to lie on and stare up. The square seems to provide it’s own never-ending breeze, and a large Mulberry tree provides a vast patch of shade and a bounty of fruit. Here, merchant marines and ships captains have found their final resting places. Entire families sleep eternally underneath, while above, the living find peace and solstice, and enjoy the days they have left.
The NY Marble Cemetery is rarely open, but I managed to convince its caretaker to allow me to have a yearly picnic there on the summer solstice. On that day, there is food, music and celebration in the cemetery. The field fills up with strangers who are also fascinated by this solid square of grass in a city otherwise known for it’s concrete and asphalt. They peruse the walls, reading names of families who lived here before them, or sit on blankets and talk over sandwiches and tea.
You can often find me walking from one side to the other, interacting with people in a patient manner, calmly surveying the scene, wearing all white to honor the dead accessorized with a face of delight, as I brush shoulders for a few hours with my childhood again.