little girl we lost two days old
Responding to the poem “Annabel Lee” in ninth grade felt urgent, even though I struggled at first to understand its meaning, and had been hesitant to call attention to myself by asking my teacher, “What does sepulchre mean?”
Familiar. Like a scent on the wind, or a face you can’t forget.
“Sepulchre” felt visceral and would eventually stick to my consciousness like a piece of chewed gum smushed against the underbelly of a table. I recognized this word, I just didn’t know why.
Tall for my age; tall enough to see inside the casket.
Inside the funeral home, eight-year-old me is on tip-toe. An alternative memory has me waltzing my bravado right past the white Jesus on the wall and peering inside the raised rectangular box, reacting just as indifferently toward my grandfather’s dead body as I had to his live one.
Another recollection (the kind people have when they know themselves pretty well and have done some therapy) reveals a clenched heart and stinging tears pinched back.
Puffed, buttoned, cream-colored satin lined the dark wood casket and inside lay a man I only remembered as a quiet, chair-sitting person who always had a whole coconut sitting next to him. He ate his peas with a knife and opened letters vertically. But these are pieces of knowledge, not actual memories.
I was young and he was old—he was eighty-two when I was born, and ninety when he died. Too young to know their history, my mother’s and his. I was also too young to know that my sweet, skinny, donut-making grandmother had endured more than her share of an angry man. Forty years of sobriety had not erased the hell my grandfather had put his family through, but neither had it erased, one can only assume, the memories of little girl we lost two days old.
This is where my sympathy lies—in a great stone sepulchre of generational history, memories and feelings—of sadness and forgiveness and love.
nevermore: adverb. At no future time; never again.
“I order you gone, nevermore to return.”
Pain never works so well—it’s not possible to send it off. Yet Poe’s dark love, the way he painted his feelings onto the page so vividly, allowed me to place my own history of loss into Annabel’s tomb, to feel less alone in a world that had already pulled me close to far too many caskets.
sepulchre: noun. A place of burial, tomb.
“To lay or bury in or as if in a sepulchre.”
Over a hundred years ago, after the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, my grandmother placed a thin locket of blonde hair, labeled and tied with string, into a small, pink cardboard pill box—a tiny sepulchre, her baby’s memories floating on the sea of her ever-aching heart.