Initially, I didn’t even notice her picture, but once I saw it I couldn’t get her off my mind. Who was she?
I knew her name. It was written right below her picture, but that didn’t explain why she was here, like this. Forgotten.
Let me back up a little.
I travel a lot for work. Well, my work is actually travel. As a flight attendant I’ve traveled all over the world. Sometimes I go to exotic and cool locations but mostly it’s routine, everyday places. Regardless of the location, the one thing every place has in common is people. And people have stories. It’s those stories that make life so interesting!
Some people live exciting lives of great success, adventure, and luxury. Others live rather sedate, mundane lives. While others find themselves experiencing tragedy. No matter what the specifics, each person has a story, and each story is interesting. At least I think so.
I like to find those stories on my layovers. Sometimes I’ll go to a museum, or pick up a local newspaper but more often than not, I’ll just walk and observe. That’s how I found her.
It was an unusually cold morning for the end of March in Newark, NJ but with a scheduled 12pm shuttle ride to the airport, I found myself with 6 hours of nothing to do. Later in the day I would be stuck inside a metal tube for 11 hours, breathing recycled air, so if I wanted any fresh air and freedom today, it had to be now. I mapped out a route to Dunkin Donuts, 1.2 miles away and began walking.
After only a few minutes, I noticed a pair of faded, black, iron gates, supported by two crumbling red brick columns. The gates were slightly opened, as if inviting me in. I was curious, but this place felt private, and I didn’t want to intrude, nor did I want to trespass. However, judging by the state of neglect, I was pretty sure no one would mind, or even notice.
On each of the brick columns there was a large plaque with a long list of names of the Gate Committee and an even longer list of members and family names. At the bottom it read: “GATE ERECTED SEPT. 8, 1940.” At one point in time, there was a sense of pride and ownership here. Those days were long gone. To say this place was neglected would be an understatement. The overgrown grass, fallen monuments, and amount of trash strewn about, along with the dilapidated condition of the gates, highlighted the fact that no one had cared for this place in a long time. I didn’t go in.
I kept walking but my curiosity kept churning and I decided, if I had time, I would take a look on my way back. As I approached the gate for the second time, I just wondered, why? Why was it in this condition? What happened? How could this plot of land, that sits right behind an internationally known brand name hotel, a stones throw away from an international airport and across the river from the city that never sleeps, be alone and forgotten? All alone in a crowd of people.
I cautiously walked through the gate. The amount of debris on the ground made it difficult to even know what I was stepping on. I didn’t want to hurt myself and I definitely did not want to break anything, not that anyone would notice, but I wanted to keep exploring. I was running out of time. I needed to get back to the hotel.
As I was turning around, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, over by the back left hand corner, near the fence line. It looked like a photograph. I made my way towards it…and there she was. I stared. She stared back, but she had been staring for a long time. Her name was Ray. Ray Werner. She had a warm smile, and for a moment, I pretended she was smiling at me, as if we were old friends and she was happy I had come to visit. But no one had visited her in a long time, and she was just a curiosity to me. Ray Werner, Beloved daughter and mother. Died May 31, 1949. Age 21 yrs. …forgotten.
Later that day, I could not get her off of my mind. Although Newark had never been a favorite trip before, lucky for me this time, this trip had a double Newark layover. I could not wait to get back to the hotel. However, we’d be getting back late and we had an early departure in the morning.
I went back to see her the next morning, not knowing when, or if, I would ever come through here again. I found her the first time by happenstance and chances are that life would take me in another direction. I wanted to say goodbye. I also wanted to say I was sorry, not because I did anything wrong, I didn’t know her. I’m sorry that this is where she was. I’m sorry that this is how it all ended. I’m sorry she was all alone. I’m sorry that no one seemed to care.
I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t stay. As I walked away, I turned back one last time and whispered a final goodbye.