Have Grief, Will Travel

It was our first day in LA on a very short weekend excursion, and we got up bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 6:30 AM with one goal in mind: get to the cemetery as early as possible. It would be a day full of pit-stops and driving and eating, but we had to start it off right.

When I was 15, back in 2006, I met my friend Chris by complete and total happenstance on MySpace. I was scouring the dregs of the internet for cute foreign boys, and saw him on a guy’s Top 8 and thought oh cute! I took a chance that he wasn’t actually a 40-year-old pedophile and sent him a message with my best opening line –hello :). That message sparked a friendship that would grow from friends to lovers, and then soulmates on this strange journey of life for the next 12 years. I had no idea about any of that though, of course. I only thought he’s cute and funny and Scottish !

When we got to Hollywood Forever cemetery, I had only one thing in mind that I wanted to see – Rudolph Valentino’s grave. I can’t say that I am a member of the Valentino fandom exactly, but I like his movies and something just called me to it; I had to see it. We passed the hodgepodge of headstones and crypts and small mausoleums in search of it. On the way we passed families tending to their loved one’s graves like dedicated gardeners, sun hats on, potted plants and hoses in hand. We wandered a bit with no luck, so finally asked the internet where we might find it, and inside of a mausoleum, I came upon it. It was so nondescript, just there at the end of a row, alongside another unknown person lost to time.

Paying my respects in lipstick.

When I saw his grave, I got a strong sense of melancholy. Other than a single bunch of flowers, it was bare. Rudolph Valentino, for those who don’t know, was a great heartthrob actor of the 1920s. He was basically the (young) Leo DiCaprio of his day. His life was tragically cut short at the age of 31, when he had horrible stomach ulcers that gave him peritonitis that eventually killed him. He believed he had appendicitis, and after surgery, thought he would make a full recovery. He slipped into a coma a few days later, and died shortly after.

My friend Chris, also 31, died two weeks ago. His life was also tragically cut short by an aggressive form of bone cancer that he found out about in May last year. He too thought he would make a full recovery, only to be told after months of treatment that he had weeks to live. Chris was not a famous actor or a celebrity by any note. But he was a heartthrob, a great friend, a giver, with a mind for math and a sassy personality. He had a jawline for days, and the most carefree dance moves you ever saw. He had a giggle that would warm your insides, and a tendency to lean towards melancholy and soulful music. He had manners, a clever wit, and was an all-around great time, every time.

Both Chris and Rudolph died out of my mind and sight. I wasn’t there for any of it. While Rudolph passed away nearly 100 years ago, Chris left the world while I was completely unaware. I had gone to the gym that morning and was riding high on the endorphins. I had been sewing all afternoon, feeling productive and happy. All that time, my friend was breathing his last breaths 5,000 miles away, and I had no idea.

Standing there, looking at Rudolph’s grave, made me think of Chris. Of a beautiful, handsome, gifted, amazing man who had blazed into and out of the world like a firework. While I’ll never get to meet Rudolph Valentino, I was lucky enough to meet and know and love Chris Fairley. Every memory I have of him is a happy, joyful one. The staff at Hollywood Forever are constantly cleaning Rudolph’s grave, as people leave lipstick kisses on it all the time. I thought, huh, even 90 some years after he left the earth, people still remember this person so fondly and with so much love. I found it comforting to know that Chris will be remembered the exact same way.

I looked out at the serenity of the cemetery; the silence, the flowers and trees swaying in the wind, and it felt so calming. The mausoleum didn’t feel morbid or austere at all. The sun was falling softly through the stained glass window, and I felt this gentle buzz in my heart when I looked around me. Though I was surrounded by death, there was no sense of sadness or dread or any negative feeling at all. All of those people are here; in the ground, but here. They are on this Earth, just in a different form.

Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity here?

The rest of the trip was filled with fun, and food (hello Korean corndogs), and love. My friend accompanied me on this journey to the graveyards (we also explored Forest Lawn in Glendale) and soaked in the melancholy right alongside me. There’s no conclusion to draw, no a-ha moment where I realized I was okay with everything. I don’t know when, or if, that will happen. Grieving is a long process, and I am shipping out to New Zealand in 7 weeks, so I don’t doubt that the journey will continue, only I’ll be alone to process it all. To that end, I’m really going to try to treat this blog as a journal. I’ve been an avid diarist since I was 11, and though I know travel blogs are all about the exciting content of your dream life, I aim to be nothing more or less than my authentic self on here. I’m sure sometimes it will be thrilling and sometimes crushing, but always real real.

Happy trails,

Sam x

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