One spring weekend, we decided to take a trip to DC. It was cherry blossom time, not to mention an additional abundance of tulips about town. Following up our first day of traversing the town, visiting monuments until the soles of our feet burned, we decided to take it easy and stroll through Arlington cemetery.
Arlington cemetery in springtime doesn’t exactly evoke emotions of sadness. It’s a setting of serenity, calm, silence. Precisely the location deserving of people who have made great sacrifice for others. I’m sure if you conducted an exit poll, the majority of respondents would say the prevailing emotion felt whilst visiting the grounds would be pride not pain. I, on the other hand, felt pain. It came on suddenly, without warning and gutted me. I had not lost anyone to war. None of the names carved in stone spoke to me, and yet, I was struck down, emptied.
I had never seen the grave of JFK, nor the eternal flame. My husband and I approached the small hill where the slate rectangles rest atop the Kennedy clan. Like everyone else wandering up the walkway, there was the usual feelings of wonder (what could have been), curiosity, and maybe even that slight bit of hero worship. I’ve gravitated to graveyards all my life, Pére Lachaise, Zentralfriedhof, Green-Wood, fascinated at the collective genius resting beneath my feet. These sacred places, removed from the daily pace of life, unfailingly quieted my soul. This moment was different.
The first slate that caught my eye wasn’t the large stone bearing the name of the fallen President. It was another, much smaller stone. The size of the marker immediately filling your heart with dread for what lies beneath. Carved in the stone was a name, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, August 7, 1963 – August 9, 1963. He lived only two days. I stopped breathing for a moment. Everything around me moved in a slow motion blur. Where was my husband? I fled. I ran as far from that hill as my legs would take me even as they were buckling under the lack of blood flow to my brain. I know my body well enough, I was about to faint. I found a tree with limbs draping just enough to hide me. My body was cold, my hands clammy and then I threw up.
Under the of shade of that old tree, clarity washed over me. I realized what I hadn’t been able to come to terms with for four years. I gave birth to a child, but he had no name. I never held him. I know he was a boy because the doctor’s told me, not because I saw his form. I felt his heart beat inside me and his movements, but never held him. There was no place to mark his time here. There was no place for me to go. It was as if all of the pain that I felt was a fabrication of my own imagination. Jackie had two children the public never knew, but they were given names and a place to rest. This is what was missing in the story of our loss. A nameless boy with no mark on this world. As if it was all a dream. An intensely dreadful dream.