Imagine you’re looking at a photograph of me and my late wife and ten of our friends standing beside our table inside a dark little café just north of Santa Cruz. For my wife, Mary, and I, this is a 20th-anniversary souvenir.
Imagine that someone has just said something too funny to contain which is causing 10 of us to laugh hard at the f-stop second when the camera blinks.
Patricia and Paul, who you can see over at the right end of our line up, are in some other place — serious, almost sad, arms locked around each other. I remember the sweater Patricia is wearing in this photo. I wonder if she still has it. She doesn’t still have Paul. Speaking of which, Lorre doesn’t still have Joe, nor does Karen still have…Al, I think his name was.
Imagine you’ve just noticed another line up in this photograph. On a shelf just above our heads stand eight tiny white skeletons in festive Mexican outfits. Six of them are playing musical instruments while the other two dance. It’s an authentic souvenir from the café owner’s trip to Mexico during the annual Day of the Dead celebration.
Day of the Dead celebrations are less common in the US. The closest thing we have is Halloween, but it’s a big jump from going trick-or-treating dressed as your favorite Power Ranger to having a family picnic on your grandmother’s grave. I think the idea behind the Day of the Dead is to celebrate those who have passed on. We don’t do a lot of that sort of thing here. I don’t understand the Day of the Dead and I don’t grieve well. And there’s so much to grieve for. Not just family or friends who have died, but ended relationships, lost sweaters, ended celebrations—even our knowledge that we will all someday look just like those eight characters hovering over my head in the photo, only bigger and in less interesting clothes.
So here we all are in a photograph—well not all of us. Kevin, the only person present who was also at our wedding, is either in the bathroom or outside catching a smoke. And yet, here we are and the Day of the Dead mariachis are playing overhead while their compadres dance a clicky little skeleton dance. The noise from the kitchen rises and falls like the surf outside on the cliffs and everyone in the café talks louder or softer to be heard over the din. Kevin finishes his Chesterfield outside, while an old car, full of berry pickers, drives by on Highway One. Someone from the car throws a skull made of sugar out the window as they head south, imagining anniversaries and skeletons of their own.