Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Please read the earlier chapters first.

Click here to read Chapter One.
Click here to read Chapter Two.
Click here to read Chapter Three.
Click here to read Chapter Four.
Click here to read Chapter Five.


T O M B S T O N E   T E R I

Months earlier I made the mistake of clicking unsubscribe on a few pieces of junk mail, which only proved, to the charlatans and con artists sending it that my email was alive and active. Now, as a result, I now found myself forced to delete thirty or forty junk emails every morning. This morning, however, one email caught my attention immediately. It was a RestingPlace private message from Tombstone Teri.

I opened the email and clicked on the link which took me to her message on the RestingPlace website. It read: “You beat me to the Ritter grave. I took a picture of it, too, but you uploaded yours first.”

I smiled. But how to respond? I learned a long time ago that genealogy is a hobby dependent on the goodwill of others so I couldn’t afford to gloat. No, I had to appear magnanimous, even though my entire goal was to beat her to the punch. After a little thought, I typed: “I’m surprised I beat you to anything. You are putting up some impressive numbers.”

Almost immediately after I pressed return, a response came back. “Thanks, that means a lot,” she wrote back. “I really admire your work.”

My first inclination was that she was bullshitting me. I definitely viewed her as a rival, but, then again, there was no evidence that she felt the same way about me. Maybe she did admire my work. After all, I did put a lot of effort into it. I was definitely proud of it. It actually meant more to me than my work at the hospital. Suddenly Tombstone Teri was looking better in my eyes.

“Thanks, Teri,” I typed, but what to say next? I didn’t want to compliment her just because she complimented me. That would look totally insincere. I decided it was best to quit while I was ahead. So I typed: “I look forward to running across you at a cemetery one day.”

After pressing return, I prepared to close the browser, but Terry offered an immediate response: “I’ll be at Holy Redeemer around 1pm.”

I turned to her image. Instead of a photograph, she had chosen a cartoon illustration of a tombstone as her avatar on the website. My thoughts went back to how Rita over at Eternal Faith described her: White, mid-thirties, kind of stiff -- like a high school math teacher. I stopped myself as I mulled that description over in my mind. What did it matter what she looked like? She could weigh four hundred pounds and have a full beard and still be a talented contributor. What did I have to lose by meeting someone who admired my work? In fact, it was just the kind of boost I needed today.

“I’ll can be there,” I typed back. “Where do you want to meet?”

“You’ll find me,” she typed back.

I had two hours to get ready and I used every minute. After a long shower and both brushing and flossing my teeth, I agonized over what to wear. I normally wore slacks and white button down dress shirts at work. However, dress shirts made me look a tad overweight when I tucked them in. Outside of work, I generally wore Hawaiian-style shirts that didn’t need to be tucked in. That’s how I usually dressed on my cemetery expeditions, but I didn’t want to appear too casual. I didn’t want Tombstone Teri to think I wasn’t sufficiently respectful of the dead. I eventually chose tan khakis, and a short-sleeve, three-button, pullover Hopkins shirt. It never hurt to fly the Hopkins flag around Baltimore, or anywhere else for that matter. I was casual, but not too casual, but formal enough to take her to a nice restaurant, if things developed.

When I left the bedroom, I pointedly did not look at the computer. I didn’t want to see the dark woman’s mocking smile. Keeping my eyes averted, I walked over to the computer and turned off the monitor. I would deal with her later. I had more important things to do now. I had a girl to meet. I only hoped that she wasn’t already married with five children.

Holy Redeemer Cemetery sat about twenty minutes from my apartment. I was very familiar with it. My father Stan was a bit of a mutt with Bohemian, German and Italian blood. His ancestors all immigrated directly to Baltimore between 1886 and 1913. They were all Catholic and they were all buried in Holy Redeemer Cemetery. All-in-all, counting spouses, about forty-five members of my extended family were buried in its thirty-three acres. If I didn’t already have a space reserved at Eternal Faith, I would prefer to be buried at Holy Redeemer. It was much more to my liking.

I entered the cemetery through its ornate front gate. The front area was the oldest section, with graves dating back to the founding of the cemetery in 1888. Monuments of every variety, from simple marble tombstones to thirty-foot obelisks and decorative statues of angels, filled the area before me. The front sections were definitely the most interesting. The further one drove back into the cemetery, the more recent the graves were and the more boringly uniform the look of the monuments. Fortunately, most of my relatives were in the more interesting front sections.

I stopped on the hilltop near the front gate that overlooked the cemetery. The place seemed busy with the typical post-church Sunday crowd. I spotted about ten cars scattered around, but where was Tombstone Teri? I checked out the visitors one by one. Most of them were elderly couples, but I saw a single woman parked near the resting place of my great-grandparents, Jan and Kristina Bakos, with a camera around her neck. It had to be her, or at least I hoped so. From a distance, she didn’t look bad. Not at all.

Although I rarely visited the graves of my immediate family, I had no qualms about visiting the graves of my more distant ancestors. I felt my visits gave them a small measure of immortality, and, in return, I hoped someone would return the favor and stand over my grave in a hundred years’ time. It would be nice to be remembered. Even if we disappeared into utter nothingness when we died, and I would never know of my visitors, the thought comforted me in the here and now. Still, visiting the Bakos’ grave always made me feel a little uneasy.

When you live in a family wracked with tragedy and suicide, it is only natural to search for the cause in the past. My search led to my great-grandmother Kristina. She was the first member of the family to commit suicide by walking right in the path of a fast moving truck near her home on Chapel Street in East Baltimore. I always heard whispers that she was distraught over the death of her five-year-old son Vincent. Sadly, it seems she passed her self-destructive melancholy onto her progeny. Her son, my great-uncle Norbert, committed suicide soon after returning home from World War II. His military records indicated he saw some very heavy combat from D-Day through the Battle of the Bulge. My father said he was never the same afterwards. Today he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, but back in his day Uncle Norbert was on his own. He shot himself with a German Luger he had picked up on a European battlefield as a souvenir.

Norbert’s older brother John also committed suicide. He drowned while fishing in the Chesapeake Bay a few years later. Initially everyone thought John slipped off the boat accidentally that evening until they went to his house and found that he had placed his will and all of his financial papers neatly on his desk along with detailed instructions concerning his burial. Despite his obvious preparations, he left no explanation whatsoever for his actions. My grandfather, Harold, was Kristina’s only child who survived to adulthood who didn’t die by his own hand. His branch of the family was spared the pain of suicide until the death of my brother, although I could hardly blame Kristina for my mother’s death since she wasn’t a blood relation.

As I pulled up and parked behind her car, the woman was taking photographs of the cemetery while standing near the classy, five-foot marble obelisk monument dedicated to Jan and Kristina Bakos. She wore jeans and a sunny, flowered blouse. She obviously didn’t see the need for solemnity. She didn’t turn to me as I got out of my car. I spoke first as I started walking toward her.

“Tombstone Teri?”

Lowering the camera, she turned to me with a smile. “Please, just Teri,” she said as she walked over and extended her hand. “Teri Poskocil.”

“I’m Rick Bakos,” I said. Her handshake was firm and lingered just long enough to express some warmth.

“I know,” she said.

“Well, here’s something you don’t know,” I said, motioning to the monument beside us. “Those are my great-grandparents who came over from Bohemia.”

“I know who they are,” she replied. “That’s how I discovered you.”

Her words caught me off guard. There had already been too many coincidences that weekend, and I definitely wasn’t in the mood for another one. Teri took a step back and motioned to the arched column monument beside my ancestors. I saw the name etched in stone and smiled: Poskocil.

“They’re my great-grandparents.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Nope,” she said. “Our families are neighbors, and that’s how I discovered you in the first place. When I came here to photograph their grave, I photographed the entire row. When I started uploading them, I saw your memorial for your relatives. I was really impressed with the photos and all the biographical information you included about them, and I loved the way you linked all of your relatives together. I was able to take a stroll through your whole family history.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“But what even impressed me more was the information you dug up on people who weren’t even related to you: Obituaries, death notices, census information, military records,” she said, with genuine appreciation. “That’s a lot of work, and shows a true commitment. “

“Or a total lack of a social life,” I replied truthfully.

“Then I’m guilty as charged, too,” Teri said with a laugh, “I don’t know if you’ve been following me, but I’ve been adding quite a few graves, too.”

“Oh, I know,” I replied. “You’re my biggest rival in the state.”

“Rival?” she said amused. “Not colleague?”

“Maybe I’m just competitive,” I said, then I confessed: “It’s like yesterday. I went out to Eternal Faith specifically to fill the Ritter request. When I went to the office, Rita told me that a woman was just in asking about her. I assumed it was you. I expected to find you in the mausoleum. When I didn’t, I took the picture and hurried home to try to get it online before you did.”

Teri laughed. “I have a confession to make, too,” she replied. “When I said you uploaded your picture first, I was lying. I never got my picture. I went there but I know this might sound crazy, but something about the mausoleum scared me and I left without taking the picture.”

I felt strangely relieved that someone felt the same thing I did. It proved I wasn’t insane. But I didn’t say anything.

“I think it was the flowers,” Teri added. “It was like every flower in the place was dead except down at that new burial.”

“That wasn’t a new burial,” I said. “She’s been dead since 2014.”

“Must’ve been her birthday.”

I shook my head no.

“Well, someone must really love her.”

“I don’t think so,” I said quietly.

Teri stopped and gave me a curious look. I think that was the first thing I said that surprised her. “There’s something about that woman that scares me,” I said with an honesty that surprised me. “I can’t imagine anyone loving her.”

“Did you put up a memorial?”

I nodded.

“Do you have a picture of her?”

I nodded again.

“I gotta see it,” Teri said, taking her cellphone out of her pocket.

“Don’t,” I said, touching her hand gently. “I’ve been a little freaked out since I saw it.”

Teri put the phone away. Suddenly embarrassed, I added, “I know how crazy it sounds. I mean, it’s only a photo.”

“Native Americans used to believe photographs stole a person’s soul,” Teri added.

“To believe that, first you’d have to believe there is such a thing as a soul.”

“Mr. Bakos, are you an atheist?” Teri asked, an eyebrow raised.

I recognized this as one of those moments that would decide what kind, if any, relationship we would have. I decided to answer honestly but circumspectly. “I wouldn’t call myself an atheist,” I replied. “But I’m definitely a skeptic.”

Teri smiled. “That’s okay,” she replied. “We’re all skeptical at times.”

Not wishing to mislead her, I added, “I’m a skeptic most of the time.”

“I’m only skeptical about five percent of the time,” she replied. “The rest of the time I teach English at Mercy High School.”

I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“I asked Rita over at Eternal Faith to describe you. She said you looked like a high school math teacher.”

“I am so insulted!” Teri laughed. “English teachers are so much cooler than math teachers.”

I laughed, too. Then I added, “Do you like Mexican food?”

Click here to read Chapter Seven.

Copyright 2016 by Sean Paul Murphy.  All Rights Reserved.

Be sure to read my memoir The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

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