In Eve’s Garden

Chapel Hill News logoApril 25, 2010

I almost walked right past it — the Eve Marie Carson Memorial Garden behind the UNC Campus Y.

I guess I had envisioned a shady, quiet space you entered into, not a memorial in the midst of a busy pedestrian area.

It was the long marble bench that caught my eye, the quote by Eve engraved on it. “Learn from every single being, experience, and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.”

A U-shaped stone bench faced the inscribed marble, and beyond it, a semi-circular bed of daffodils and ferns had been planted. I sat on the curving bench. The strong afternoon sun heated the stone and threatened to scorch the plantings. I was glad I’d brought my baseball cap and couldn’t help but gaze longingly at the grassy area farther behind the Campus Y. Part of me wished (though I scolded myself for having a negative thought) that the memorial garden were over there, in the cool calm under the sylvan trees, not here next to a parking lot.

Behind me a car idled and beyond it a truck beeped as it backed up to a loading dock. A young woman sat on one of the benches, sunbathing and talking into the air. “I told them I’d babysit again any time,” she said in that extra-loud cellphone voice we all use. “She was just so cute.”

I got up and walked around the space. At one end of the curved bench is a plaque that reads, “The Eve Marie Carson Garden is dedicated to those students who passed away while enrolled at UNC Chapel Hill. In honor of their lives, the garden is a place for reflection and celebration.”

When I first heard about this Memorial Garden – the dedication was last month – I knew I wanted to spend some time here. I haven’t been able to shake a haunting sense of loss and grief since Eve’s murder two years ago. I didn’t know Eve, but I work with mothers who have lost children and I’ve lost one myself, a son in infancy. I also have two blond daughters who did graduate from UNC; one was a junior when Eve died.

The plaque reminded me of the freshman, Lillian Chason, who died from swine flu last winter at UNC Hospitals. She was from Rhode Island, where our son was born and where we spent many grim weeks in hospitals.

I sat down again and read Eve’s quote a few more times. I was reaching for my journal when my phone rang. It was my friend Liza. “I was just thinking of you,” I told her. Liza lives in Rhode Island and is friends with Lillian’s mom.

I told her where I was. “I have to see that garden,” Liza said. “Can we go?” She is coming to visit this weekend. “Of course,” I said.

A cluster of female students stopped in front of the long marble bench to greet some other girls. All were wearing shorts, flip flops, and sweatshirts.

A beefy athletic guy sat down, pulled out a notebook and his phone. The driver of the idling car honked. A young woman with a large Carolina blue backpack waved and walked towards the car. Two tanned female students sat down on the curving bench, chatting and laughing as they sipped soft drinks from straws and shared a bag of Doritos.

Watching this animated conversation, I realized one of these girls could have been Eve. Eve Carson was so active, so deeply engaged with everybody and everything, it seemed. It’s unexpectedly appropriate that this memorial is not a secluded shrine, not the quiet meditative sanctuary I had imagined – and, I admit, longed for. This place is exactly what Eve Carson would have wanted, a bright gathering spot in the traffic of campus life. I took off my cap and turned my face to the sun.