Understanding




Martina Preston

 
© Copyright 2022 by Martina Preston





Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay
Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay 

Row upon row of white headstones pierce the grass in front of me. The white crosses gleam in the early July sunlight, and itís almost hard to look at them without my eyes watering. I know itíd be perfectly fine if it looks like Iím crying, but I donít feel like it. This is a graveyard, after all, a graveyard just off the shores of Omaha Beach. Itís important, heavy, and the weight of where Iím standing in my purple-and-orange sneakers should give me some form of seriousness.
   
   But I donít feel it. Not yet, at least. Maybe I will later. I know I should soon, of course, I know more time in this place has to make me think about why I can stand here, see the ocean sparkling in the distance, walk through rows upon rows of white crosses and stars of David.

      Instead, I weave through plots to reach the aisle and jog up the path to meet Chloe and Frankie. Chloe has her phone out, taking a panorama of the scene, and Frankie has her fancy camera pointed at a monument in the distance. I strike a pose and make my way into the last bit of Chloeís panorama. She laughs, but quieter than usually. Oh-- she might understand already, even if I donít. Then she shows Frankie and me the photo, and we both laugh with her. Well, maybe she doesnít understand. I donít know. Looking at the photo Chloe took, me standing on one foot in the corner, hands like a lopsided starfish, lightens the mood a little.

      Chloe drops her phone back into her backpack and slings it onto her shoulder. ďIím gonna check out the museum area,Ē Frankie says, pointing behind her to a large, semi-enclosed building. ĎYou guys want to come?Ē

      I shrug. ďIím good.Ē Chloe wants to, though, and she and Frankie leave me standing here. I watch them walk inside before walking back toward the rows upon rows of marble headstones. Where are the names? I get close enough to see that the name is carved into the bright marble, and I begin to read the inscriptions under my breath as I pass each cross and star. ďJake Hemsford. Landon Billingsley, Avery Turner. Isaiah Crollard.Ē I should be writing these down. Theyíd be great names for in stories. ďHenry Martin. Elliott Grempler.Ē

      Wait-- Elliott? An image flashes in my mind of the Elliott Iím friends with back at home, spiky brown hair and blue eyes, joking and playing UNO and celebrating birthdays and growing up together. Yesterday was the first fourth of July that I havenít been at their familyís neighborhood barbecue night. I think of soccer games between his team and my brotherís team, with me on the sidelines in a foldable lawn chair cheering on both sides. Wii bowling games, and Nerf wars, and Halloween dinners at that one Mexican restaurant where they give all us kids balls of uncooked tortilla dough.

      Another image follows after these, another image where my friend is in a different situation, one where heís grown up and the blue eyes are frozen open and the two men carrying him arenít even sure whether heís alive or dead. A sharp breath sticks in my throat and makes me gasp for air. Now I feel it, now I understand, at least partially, what the children and the grandchildren and the relatives and the distant bystander felt and feels and will feel. As much as I might be able to handle, the weight of these graves hits me. These crosses, these stars, try to tell the stories of the people that lie beneath them. They had so much more to miss than tortilla dough on Halloween, and for their family, their friends-- it was real. It is real.

      The grass is green and bright, and when I look up, eyes burning, I can see a man watering the shrubs across the field. Some part of me is annoyed by this. Why is he trying to keep the shrubs green, why is he paid to make this place beautiful, this place of death and destruction and hearts cleaved in two pieces. There is a monument to the unnamed soldier, a massive pit filled with crumpled bodies, over past the museum area. I was just there, only a few minutes ago, laughing and talking with Frankie and Jasmine and Chloe, laughing and talking without thinking. There are shrubs around that monument also, shrubs that are nourished and cared for, grass that is mowed and fertilized and made to look beautiful.

      Of course I realize, somewhere in the corner of my mind, that the grounds are kept nice out of respect, that the flower baskets filled with red roses at the foot of the memorials are a commemoration of the astronomical sacrifice that these people carried the brunt of until it killed them. Or maybe the sacrifice was the death, the greatest sacrifice a person can give. Everyone wants to respect that, to show their admiration and love and thanks.

      But to me, in this moment, it looks like an outrage, a twisted attempt to hide the horror from innocent tourists who donít stop and think. I didnít stop and think. I know that I truly donít want to be disrespectful, but wouldnít it be better not to lie?

      Iíve been staring blankly at the tombstone with my friendís first name on it, that deceptive white cross that shines in the sun, that seems to glow in its affront of pacificity. Even the cross, the murder weapon, is made to look serene and clean. Someone washed the blood off the cross, someone decided to make these headstones a replica of the instrument of death. They knew what happened here. They, whoever chose the cross and the Star of David for these headstones, knew more than the person who decided to make them out of marble, who decided to clean and polish them until they sparkle.

      I grind my toes into the ground, but I donít tear up the grass. Behind me, I hear Chloe talking, sharing a story her older sister told her once about some silly thing that I canít even try to listen to right now. I turn around, but not to see my friends, to see instead the glittering water beyond the shrubs, off in the distance where the grass turns into rocks, then sand, then ocean. Omaha Beach. Weíll be there soon, later today, and Iíll think. Iíll stand on the beach, with my colorful sneakers on the sand, and understand why Iím standing there. Iíll understand what it cost.


Martina Preston is an undergraduate student in Washington state, where she is double majoring in English and Communication with a minor in Ancient Languages. She has a passion for linguistics and connecting with people through the written and spoken word. Her fiction work has been published in several online compilations, and she has worked for five years at a lifestyle and current events magazine. To read some of her recent works, visit 
https://www.clippings.me/martinapreston.



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