… on our way to Rock Creek Cemetery and Gore Vidal’s grave. Georgia is all stop and go traffic and saggy storefronts, a sad landscape in no way helped by the humid morning overcast. Google gives the wrong entrance to the place, so we asked a woman working in her garden how to get in. “Down that alley,” she said, pointing, “and turn left.” Bumpity bumpity down the alley and there it was, the church at the entrance (I sang in its choir one Sunday – a paid gig.).

We saw a big stone with McGOVERN on it and looked more closely. No first name, but next to it was Eleanor’s, and next to hers, Terry McGovern’s. Bette and I both remembered Terry McGovern’s cold drunk death.

We knew Vidal’s grave was near the famous Saint-Gaudens Adams Memorial (watch this with the sound turned down), so we first sat for awhile in front of that. Bette took this picture.

gaudensrockcreek3

Then began the difficult search for Gore. Section D, steps from the Saint-Gaudens – we knew this much. Also an unusual combination of a long slab and an upright gravestone. We munched the taffy we’d picked up at the cemetery offices, where a nice woman told us Vidal wasn’t in their system yet. I thought of the strange state he was in almost exactly a year after his death – a kind of predigitalized bardo – and how he’d maybe find that amusing. Anyway, I knew if the woman gave us Howard Auster’s location, that would also be Vidal’s. D 48, she said, and she circled the location.

The 48 was no help – Rock Creek Cemetery is not user friendly – but we tromped on, munching, peering, following this lane and that among the boxwood and statuary. Traffic from North Capitol Street streamed by. We were the only visitors, far as we could tell, in the whole place. Just us and two guys digging a fresh grave.

We circled and circled Section D but kept coming up empty; and I said to Bette: “Let’s go. It’s the thought that counts.” And as the Volvo crept away from the D Section I saw it, just curbside, and twenty steps straight downhill from the Saint-Gaudens: An upright stone and a large slab. “Hold on. Stop.”

vidalgrave

So I would be able to salute him after all; which I did. I saluted him and I said I know you said love is not your bag, but I love you.

He wrote this, at the end of his memoir:

I’ve… been reading through this memoir, adding, subtracting, writing over half-erased texts, ‘palimpsesting’ – all the while looking for clues not so much to me, the subject, if indeed I am the subject, as to what [my] first thirty-nine years were all about… [on] the small planet that each of us so briefly visits… Finally, I seem to have written, for the first and last time, not the ghost story that I feared, but a love story, as circular in shape as desire (and its pursuit), ending with us whole at last in the shade of a copper beech.

So after all he wrote a love story, the story of his imperishable love for Jimmie Trimble, who was killed in the war and is buried near Vidal, both of them in the shade of a copper beech. Strange to think that his entire life after one passionate encounter with Trimble felt to Vidal partial, unfulfilled in any important way, and that his memoir anticipates the final lying-in that would bring him back to completion.

UD now stood under the beech thinking of all of this, of the way she read Vidal for clues not so much to me, the subject, if indeed I am the subject

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2 Responses to “Bette and I staggered down Georgia Avenue in her 1998 Volvo…”

  1. Jack/OH Says:

    I liked Vidal. His essays (I have “United States” upstairs) I recall as dense, suave, acutely observant. I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s replaced him, or his onetime opponent, Wm. F. Buckley, Jr., both of whom seemed to me men of great feeling and intellect.

  2. Mr Punch Says:

    Among other things, Vidal was I think the best historical novelist of American politics. He did run it all into the ground (as it were) eventually, but then he was a paranoiac with much to be paranoid about.

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