Searching through my phone for a picture to go with my piece on cemeteries (link below if you missed it), I came across a note I’d found on top of a tomb in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans. If you’ve never been, you’ve more than likely seen one of New Orleans’ stately old cemeteries in a movie (the very one I’m describing was in the Ashley Judd movie, Double Jeopardy, as well as in Easy Rider). No. 1 is delineated in by moss-covered walls, just one square block, and bordered on the edges by family mausoleums with angels on top. It is a haunting and beautiful place.
Next to one of these mausoleums in No. 1, on a lazy stroll last fall, I found a simple note, pictured to the right. It read, “I shall find you again, my dearest William, expect me, darling. Ever yours, Daniel.” It was held down by two stones and graced by a well-placed twig.
Reading it was like a blow to the solar plexus. I almost had to steady myself on the stone from the impact of the sentiments on it. The note was on a tomb that was showing serious signs of age, with pieces of stone missing or falling off, and yet the paper looked crisp, as if it had been left that very day. It hid so much more than it revealed. How long had William and Daniel been apart? When had their love story ended and begun? Had they been gay men in the south, and how had that been for them – relatively safe in the confines of the “anything goes” of New Orleans, or rough a little further afield? Was William inside the old tomb?
The sheer tenderness of the words, along with their longing and bravado – not I hope to see you again, but expect me – stirred something in me so deep that I stood there for a long time, eyes welling with tears at the love story I’d never know anything about.
The romantic in me dies a little every day. The romantic in me finds that very sad, but the pragmatist in me understands that life is made not of notes of longing left on old tombs, but of negotiations about where to have dinner and of the mundane compromises of the day. Love is not expect me, but don’t forget to bring home some milk. I get it. I don’t like it, necessarily. It feels lonely, stripped of substance, transactional, devoid of passion. But then there is not a lot of happiness in a note left on stone that an old lover will never see.
Still, I am so grateful for the Williams and Daniels of the world, and I think of the unbroken devotion it took for Daniel to leave that note. There is probably a part of Daniel that knows he is just calling out into the great nothingness, love more a state of being than a connection. It reminds me of a line from one of my favorite movies, The End of the Affair, “Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other.” That is the love that lives in my imagination, the love of I shall find you again, my dearest, expect me, the love of fierce abandon, the love of a sun that burns without concern of whether the planets call back their gratitude. Love isn’t a transaction or a negotiation, but a burning sun, a thing we give without getting out a measuring cup to see what comes back. Love is the note on the stone that no one will ever read.
Or so the romantic in me likes to believe, from time to time, impractical as that is. For you, and every William and Daniel that ever loved: Keep loving. Keep burning without concern of being spent. It is the stuff that life is made of, the thing that makes us truly alive for as long as we’re here.
Piece on the fascination that led to me discovered Daniel’s note to William: click here.
And, for D+W, this:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark…
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare