Nothing More Than Human
Thump! The sound of first shovelful of dirt landing on the coffin abruptly jolts me out of the thoughts. I had been so successful in blocking out the wails of the other mourners and the terrible drone of the priest that it came as a surprise when I was yanked out of the safe haven of my mind. The sounds of sorrow surround me, but having cried for hours upon hours and days upon days, I feel no inclination to let my own tears out. Lethargically, I look around only to meet my mother’s gaze. I quickly pull away, unwilling to bear the pain of seeing the agony reflected in her eyes, far stronger than mine could ever be. After all the woman in that coffin is her mother, not mine.
My father is not here. He is in the hospital with an IV keeping him company. He is still recovering from the car accident which took one of my beloved grandmother’s lives and almost succeeded in taking the other’s life as well. The other is still in her hospital bed, lost in hazy fog of drugs and brain injuries. My father is suffering from nothing more than a shattered arm. I hate him for it. Until I remember his shattered heart. The guilt etched upon his haggard face. Then my anger flees and heartache sets in.
The thumps of earth continue. Echoing unnaturally in the stillness that is occasionally punctuated by a soft whimper or a strangled sob. My mind trudges slowly through my memories of my grandmother as if unwilling to let me once again subject it to this torture of dredging up these now-distressing remembrances. My mind wanders. What were her last words? Nobody knows but the wind knows. They were lost among the screams and sirens. What were my last words to her? I cannot remember. It had been days since we last spoke.
My brother’s desperate grip fills me with anguish. I almost cry out from the agony but bite my lip to suffocate my scream. A protest rises to my lips but I choke on the words and mercilessly forced them down my throat, aborting them before they could ever be born. Through the haze of sharp pain, a clear thought emerges. My brother and I are never more in tune than we are in silence. His eyes express what his lips cannot and my trembling hand betrays more than my tears ever could. Then the thumps stop. So does my counting.
It took 361 shovelfuls of earth to bury my grandmother and I remember each one. One by one, they became nails that were driven into my heart. It took 361 loads of packed dirt to make her hallowed home in this ground which will hold her forevermore. I recall every shovelful, every moment. Now it is finished.
My brother’s grip tightens further and my breath hitches, but whether it is from the pain of it or the pain of seeing my grandmother packed away in a box and blacked with dirt, I am not sure. A little of both, I think. I can sense my brother’s impending breakdown and knowing he does not wish to have witnesses to his tears, I lead him away. We half-stumble, half-wobble towards a nearby car, far enough to be unseen and close enough to see. The moment we are behind it, he slumps against the side and slides down till he hits the floor. I kneel next to him, ignoring the rough gravel biting into my bare knees and the stinging pinpricks of glass that embed themselves into my defenseless legs and stretch out my hand. When I lay it gently upon his shoulder, it seems to trigger his outburst as he begins to weeps and bury in face into his callused hands. “Boys don’t cry.” he half-wails, half-weeps. Biting my lip, I futilely try to contain my own tears as they threaten to escape and tilt my brother’s face up to gaze into his eyes. “No,” I whisper, “but men do.”