On our way to the park, I convinced Patrick to pull off the main road near a dirt road with a locked iron gate- the home to long-deceased patients of Bryce Hospital for the Insane (as it was called at the time of its creation). Since we were barred from entry by the gate, we hiked up through a little bit of forest until we arrived at a clearing with tombstones sprinkled around in no particular order or pattern. Bryce Cemetery #2 proved no less heartbreaking than the institution which housed its inhabitants in the interim.
A few fake plastic flowers strewn across the grass offered the only sign of human life, the sole tokens of affection. A Radiohead song came to mind and wouldn’t leave.
Micah stood at the edge of the clearing, where nothing was clear. She began sorting for words and reasons to understand our little stop on the way to the park.
Mommy, what are we doing here?
I don’t know, Micah. Trying to find out what happened to the people that lived in a hospital long, long ago.
She paused and looked around.
I don’t think there’s people here, Mommy. No people.
No people, but brand new tombstones and headstones, freshly cut granite still gleaming gray. The effect was disorienting because the tombstones are so oddly arranged, tossed about like paper bags in a parking lot, that the memorial itself feels surreal.
Most of the tombstones or gravestones could be found only by accident. Is this an accident? Or is it just part and parcel of our cultural conceptions of the mentally-ill or mentally-disabled? No terminology, no euphemistic resort to humane language, makes this scene more humane.
The tombstone of Reverend Handy, who passed away in 1893, sits alone atop a small hill. Was he a chaplain for the old asylum or a patient? If a chaplain, then why wasn’t he buried with his family? Why the lonely grave in a meadow with no roads or visitors? Rev. Handy had a wife and 3 children. He was loved.
As I walked around the meadow, I felt something hard under my foot. When I looked down, the gloss of gray stone poked out from beneath some leaves. After clearing away leaves and twigs, the story of a man or woman named F. Locke Taylor peaked up at me. Somehow, it stung not to know whether I should apologize to Mr. Taylor or Mrs. Taylor for bouncing across their grave.
Vicie Barnett only tasted 21 years of life on this earth. Now, Vicie’s grave marker lies in the middle of meadow marking no particular place at all- an aura, the grass, a blue sky. Under what patch of soil does Vicie lie? Where is Vicie? Why bother to create a new tombstone designating no one space or corpse?
The wild plants pay their respects to the stories human beings try to erase. I have a feeling the munchkins and I will return with a few flowers and chocolates for the 1,550 human beings allegedly interred in this meadow.