Chattanooga Thoughts

One of my stories got rejected while I was in Chattanooga. It’s stupid to be bummed about it because I knew it wasn’t quite right for the market and they knew it wasn’t quite right, but they still took a lot of time to consider it and wrote me a lovely personal rejection.

But still, tomorrow I turn thirty-eight and I am devoted to a life that circles around me having enough time to do something that I’m just not that good at. I’m good enough at it that I don’t feel like I can just quit. It’s like, you know, if you’re a pitcher and your opponents are routinely scoring eight runs on you, it’s time to give up your dreams of the Big Leagues. But say that your top speed is just two miles an hour slower than where the scouts would like to see you? How long do you spend pushing yourself in the back yard–and I’m not just talking about how long after dark, I mean, how many evenings with only the fireflies for company? How many months? How many years?

And yet, I just can’t stop. I can’t conceive of my days spent not writing. I’ve got nothing else to organize my life around. I don’t enjoy anything else as much.

I wanted to say something about the day in Chattanooga. I guess I still feel strangely disconnected from the battlefields, though I go to them. The dying in the hospital or the long trek from Bridgeport to Anderson’s Crossroads and down to Chattanooga feels more real to me. To be so far from home, in this beautiful place, not sure if you’re ever going to get safely where you’re supposed to be.

But the thing that really stuck with me were the lines of vaults at the National cemetery, the ones crowded side by side above ground waiting for the ground to be opened to them, and the ones already in the ground waiting for the dirt to cover them. I had thought they were in the dirt more. Like the dirt was a muffin tin, the vault the aluminum foil, and the war dead the cupcake batter. But there is no muffin tin. It’s more they dig out all the dirt to form a cake pan, place the vaults in the cake pan side by side, row upon row, and then frost the whole thing with dirt and grass, to give the appearance of a solid cake.

It looked very efficient. If you like order, then there’s something appealing about that. And even in the older part of the cemetery, David Ransom was so easy to find. Everything is so well-marked. Well-ordered.

Is that better than having your remains left under the Bridgeport football field?

I can’t say. The only people I know of who would still visit Ransom–us–went both places. The football field is in a lovely part of Bridgeport, up on a hill, surrounded by lovely trees. There’s frequently the sound of children.

The cemetery is enormous and very quiet and, from Ransom’s grave, the whole city seems so far away. And the cemetery keeps filling up, dead upon dead upon dead.

Oh, that reminds me, on our way down, we stopped to go to the bathroom at a gas station at the bottom of the mountain, the first exit after Monteagle. And there, next to the gas station, was a small cemetery with a crumbling stone cairn. In front of it was a marker and I can’t remember the dude’s name, but it said “He deathed this life” on such and such a date.

Isn’t that something? “He deathed this life.”

But that’s kind of how I felt about the national cemetery–that is a place for the process of deathing.

And the football field, obviously, is still used for living.

This is a hard birthday. I’m not sure why, but it is.