Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Journey to the Cemetery

The wig sat on the kitchen table on a wig head. The raincoat had just come back from the dry cleaners and was hanging in my closet. Karissa was almost to my house, and I stood in the dining room for a moment, unsure of what to do. I had not been to my Nana's grave since she was buried there, due to my own irrational fears, and I suddenly felt that I was wearing the wrong thing for such an occasion. I looked down at the shorts, flip flops and tee shirt and thought that something a little more appropriate was in order. I changed into a black suit and tie. I packed my bag full of batteries for the camera, the camera itself, water bottles and the ice breaker mints that I am addicted to. I was ready to go.

Karissa arrived and started putting on her make up, and I told her that I had to take Buddha out before we left. As I walked my little puglet, my mind was racing. I was about to go to my Nana's grave for the first time in seventeen years. I was also taking Karissa, dressed in full Barbara wear to the cemetery for a photo shoot. These things combined were making my mind reel.
I have been working on this show off and on for the past eight years. Suddenly, due to Matt Conner's recent involvement with the project, it is all becoming a reality. Suddenly I was driving Barbara to the cemetery.
I had looked around for a cemetery to take her to, and it turned out that the one that my Nana was buried in happened to be the closest to me. I had only just discovered that the cemetery was right around the corner from one of my places of employment, ArtSpace Falls Church. That alone had made me think, "Hmmm. There's Nana, trying to bring me closer to her." When a google search yielded her cemetery as the best location for the photo shoot, I sighed and thought, ok Nana. I hear you. It's about time to make that trip out to see you.

I'm not sure why, beyond the obvious reasons, that I developed such an acute fear of graveyards, funeral parlors, and the like. Perhaps the film that I am musicalizing is at the heart of it, but I'm not so convinced of that. The person that I lost at 15 was one of the closest people to my heart. The loss I felt was so severe that I equated everything to do with the funeral and burial as horrific beyond belief. Every time that my parents would come down to visit me and go to Nana's grave, they would ask me if I wanted to come. I always found an excuse not to. I don't know why I kept doing this, but I thought to myself that seeing the finality of that gravestone would rip open the seams of an old wound that took a very long time to heal. So I always politely declined. This time, Nana was having none of it. If I needed to shoot pictures in a cemetery, it was clearly going to be hers.

I finished walking Buddha and walked into the apartment, and Karissa stood in the dining room with the wig on, and her make up done. I almost fell over. Vincent A. Hill had gorgeously cut and styled a fall that matched Karissa to a tee. It looked the spitting image of the fall worn by Judith O'Dea in the film. Karissa had done a "mod" style make up and looked exquisite. Next came the raincoat. I almost passed out at this point. It was so close to the original that it was shocking. The time on the clock said 6:35pm. It was time to get going if we wanted to arrive at the right time to get some shots at dusk. So off we went.

I think that the only way to break the curse of my fear was to combine this photo shoot with the first time back to the cemetery. That was the right formula to put an end to the bugaboo that had hid in my mind for so many years.

As we neared the cemetery, I started to feel my body tense up again. I immediately decided to fight this with the joy of my project. I put the cassette tape of the soundtrack to Night of the Living Dead into the tape player and the music that plays when they are driving up the hill to the cemetery started to play. This helped.

We pulled into the gate.

There it all was again. Just as I remembered it. I turned left on instinct and passed the fountain. The music from the film was playing, and I looked over at Karissa/Barbara and everything at once was all too surreal. She asked me, "Do you know where it is?"...not quite the line from the film (which happens to be "Which row is it in?"), but close enough to snap me out of my trance.

This place didn't seem so scary. It actually seemed quite peaceful and gorgeous. The fountains and statues in the grounds are quite beautiful. I knew that I would never find the flat marker on my own, so I called my Mom and asked her where to look. After some confusion on my part about which spigot to park by (I parked at the first, turns out I wanted the second one), I ended up on the right side of the hill.
Right at about that time, I heard Karissa/Barbara call over to me, "She's here! I found her!".

And there she was.

I didn't feel that ripping and tearing at my heart that I thought I would. I only briefly felt my eyes gain some moisture as I said, "Hi,'s been a long time." And just like that, the curse was broken. This wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be, and not so terrible to revisit. I was finally able to concur my fear and break the spell. But now, I had work to do. I said, "I'll be back, Nan, I've got some pictures to take!" And we went to the top of the hill to begin our shoot.

The pictures came out incredibly well, and I love the blurriness of some of them. They have a ghostlike quality that I find eerie. These photos have all been edited now to look like they are film grain black and white. As we shot, I noticed that moon was brighter than usual, and the sky was totally clear. I was ten years old again. There in my photo lens was Barbara/Karissa. It could not have been more perfect. Here are the shots that we took...

I was very happy with what we shot, and it was getting dark. We walked back to Nana's marker before we left. I talked briefly with her, telling her what craziness I was up to traipsing all about the cemetery with a camera and a girl in a wig and raincoat. I'm sure she got a kick out of it. I said my goodbyes, and promised her that I would be back again, and that it wouldn't be another seventeen years until I did. And then we drove away.

I can't tell you how relieved I felt, knowing that I had done this. Leaving, I felt happy about the photos, but happier that I had been able to conquer my fear and face it down. It was an evening full of accomplishments.

Good to see you Nan. Thanks for helping me back to you.



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