The last thing I can remember was lying in that bed. The light of the room was blinding and slowly shapes swirled my vision from either side. My husband was a blur of red and my mother was an orb of blue. They moved around me like spots of blurry bokeh. Then suddenly my world went dark.
The thing I remember before that moment in the hospital, was driving at night. Cars passed beyond my windshield, going left and right. The lights that hung over the road on their side were green. I could see them from my periphery. Then yellow. Then they turned red. My light changed and I slowly pressed the pedal to start across the intersection.
I remember the sudden lurch. I remember my head slamming into the window. I remember the shards of broken glass and the sound of metal rending and bening all around me. They say that when this happens to you, time slows; that you have a moment when everything is fine and suddenly time begins to crawl. They say your life flashes before your eyes. This did not happen to me.
The way I recall, when the crash happened things began to speed up. Time became full of gaps. Holes like swiss-cheese. One moment I was crossing the intersection. I didn’t see the driver that came from my left. The driver who should have stopped for the red. The next moment the car was crumpled in a heap and I was still inside. Then I was in an ambulance as it screamed through the sleeping city. Hands were all around. The next moment I was lying in that bed — but after that is when the memories fade. I try to remember what happens next but there’s nothing left. Just the dark after the fading shapes of my family glowed like distant lights. Then they fade away.
I couldn’t remember how I got here. I only remember the moment where I closed my eyes and the moment that I found them open again.
Everything was still black.
At first, I thought that I must still be in that hospital bed, recovering. The room appeared so dark — the blackness around me so absolute that my eyes wouldn’t adjust. Not a single sound stirred in this quiet place of night more impenetrable than any dark I’d ever known.
I tried to sit up at first, slamming my head into something hard. I felt my nose crunch with a sickening resound on the ceiling. Moving my hands around me, I found the walls of this hospital room had grown too close. Too close and made of silk.
I realized very quickly that this was not the last place that I remembered being. This new place was confining. The air tasted stale and damp and every inhale reeked of petrichor and the cloying scent of decay. Every movement I made, be it arm, leg or neck was met with something solid and close. The motion made limited because the world around me had become something hard, soft upholstered, and impenetrable. This place felt more confining and claustrophobic than any place I’d ever been.
My fingers traced the buttons of my shirt. It was pressed and felt stiff with starch to the touch. I was wearing a suit I thought I knew quite well. The black one I’d bought and worn once. I could tell even lacking sight in this dark place by the feel of the sateen lapel. Why was I in this suit? I hated this suit. I’d spent a fortune on it and wore it once, burying it in the back of my closet after my father’s funeral. It reminded me so much of grief, I’d been unable to put it on again after.
It did not take long to realize what this was.
Trapped in a box and dressed in my best black suit – my only black suit.
The only logical explanation that came to follow was that was what Daniel had picked to bury me in and the hospital was gone, along with the rest of the world, replaced by the confines of this box, just barely large enough to fit inside. A casket buried underground, devoid of light and sight and sound.
I opened my mouth to scream and stopped before the sound escaped my lungs.
They say that if you find that you’ve been buried alive, the most important thing you should avoid is panic. That’s easier said than done. They tell you to keep calm and conserve your breath. They say to keep them light. They say to keep them shallow. There isn’t much breathable air inside once the lid is sealed. These things have gaskets to keep the air inside and keep the stink as you rot in too. If you breathe in too deeply, or lose control before you know it you’ll be gasping in the throes of hyperventilation. Hyperventilation leads to stolen air. Stolen air leads to death. The amount trapped inside the coffin with you is finite and if you don’t retain a level head, they say you’ll waste it quickly. If the first advice they give is to avoid panic, it’s pretty safe to say they’ve never woken up this way. They’ve not ever opened their eyes to find they’ve been buried alive. They are operating on theory alone, whoever they are.
Intuition told me it was too late to scream or shake the walls. How long I’d been here I couldn’t say, but it seemed pretty clear by the stillness around me the interment of my supposed corpse was already complete. The deed was done.
Some people believe when you die the world just stops. It stops for you anyway, and all that happens next is black. I never believed that myself. I always thought that death would be a state to find true rest and I’d find myself in a place to reflect, and I’d have all the time I could need in order to do that.
But I wasn’t dead.
I could feel the silk. I could taste the stagnant air. I shuddered in the dark with dry, uneasy breath…
I was alive.
I didn’t have unending time to work my way out of this. This was crunch time and I’ve always been a quick thinker on a deadline.
Daniel and I never had much in the way of savings. He’d certainly have emptied that account to buy this thing, but in the end the casket would still be cheap. Maybe the weight of the dirt above could work to my advantage? It would be heavy, pressing down while I kicked at the lid; destroying its integrity from either side. If the dirt hadn’t had time to settle, if it was freshly turned, that would make the going easier.
My shoulder was injured when I was young. Pumping my legs on that swingset to reach the fullest height I could, I’d jumped. They heard me screaming and they came running. They swore it was broken but the doctor assured my parents it was just a dislocation. It never healed quite right. I squirmed my way out of the coat. It was no easy feat, but ramming my right side against the box until my arm was violently free of its socket made the trick of removing the article in such small space less difficult. The worst part of it was setting the joint back. It was groaning agony but somehow I’m managed with my left hand and bracing my mass against the casket sides to ram it back once the coat was free. Wincing at the pain, I draped the soft lining over my face and tied the soft arms of the once-worn formalwear behind my head.
The first kick accomplished nothing. Neither did a second, third, or fourth. I could feel that scream inside me again as it rose up from somewhere deep. It might have broken free from my lips and surely would have gone unheard, but I heard the wood begin to splinter at the impact of the fifth kick landed against the lid. The only scream I heard was the sound of a slow crack that rose in crescendo until everywhere above me the wood was wailing. Then I felt the fall of dirt as it fell and pressed down on me.
It was hard to pull the pieces away amid that never ending rain of soil, and though it pressed me flat against the bottom of the casket, I knew I must sit up. If I let it cover me fully there, I’d die in my own grave. Oh, the irony.
Digging yourself out of a grave with your own hands is a lot like digging a normal hole. Only not at all. For starters, you’re going the other direction and if you don’t dig, you’re going to die. This panic and urgency was made worse by the jacket tied around my face. I felt as though I was suffocating but at least I wasn’t swallowing mouthfuls of dirt in the process.
The progress was slow going and the earth that I pressed up through was rain-logged and heavy. It seemed as though I would never breach the surface. My heart was pounding hard, pumping acid-hot adrenaline through me as I forced myself to continue up and up and up.
A thought occurred to me then: *Was I sure that up was up? What if, in these moments of disorientation, with my head wrapped in cloth and my body wrapped in ground, I’d spun the wrong way around? What if I was digging further down?* The thought came unbidden. What if I was moving further from the freedom I so desperately clawed to seek? An existential dread melded with the actual dread of the dirt pressing hard against my chest and the coat that kept the dirt from filling my lungs. I couldn’t breathe.
I began to choke hard on the gasps I made then, feeling my lungs burn within. There was no oxygen left and in moments I’d be dead. My fingers clawed and pulled as I went and though I could see nothing through the lining of the coat and the layers of mud beyond, I could feel my vision waver in the dark and a dizzying feeling sent my conscious spiraling down to someplace else. With my arms at their extent above my head, I could feel my resolve to live falter as a cool breeze grazed my fingertips.
A breeze? The surface!
The surface was in reach! I managed to pull my head out through the hole above, and to rip the garment away just as what remained of cognizance began to fade.
When I woke again it was to gasp cold night air as gentle rain grazed my face. Everything from my neck down was still somewhere in my grave, but I found that I was able to breathe deep and ragged breaths in the dark. Above, the night sky churned with dark clouds and I managed to wrench myself free.
When you stand and stare at a headstone etched with your epitaph, the feeling is surreal.
Bᴇʟᴏᴠᴇᴅ Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ, Bʀᴏᴛʜᴇʀ & Dᴇᴠᴏᴛᴇᴅ Sᴏɴ. Sᴀᴅʟʏ Mɪssᴇᴅ ᴀs ʜᴇ Sᴡᴇᴇᴛʟʏ Sʟᴇᴇᴘs
Who in the name of God had chosen that? I felt my eyes roll hard as I stared at it in the dark. The gentle rain continued and the dirt I tried to brush away from my shirt quickly smeared to mud.
It’s a strange feeling to witness the impact you’ve left on others — to see the words they’d chosen to remember you by. I had no doubt that Daniel had chosen what the carving would say. I felt trepidation as I left my grave. I felt insecurity bombard me as I walked. How would Daniel react when I returned home alive and well? How would he manage the panic? A hundred thoughts bombarded me as I left those hallowed grounds through the open gates. Would seeing me alive and well send him into shock? How would he react when I reappeared again — very much not dead at our home?
The cemetery was not far from our house. I could make the walk in less than an hour if I kept moving. As I walked, I didn’t pass many people. I figured it must be very late as I slowly made my way through the historic district of our town. A few bars were closing up for the night. I saw a young woman in her twenties eye me warily and cross the street in order to keep herself from my path. I didn’t blame her. I must have looked like something from a fevered dream. I knew that by the dirt that smeared my best suit that I must appear as something otherworldly and dangerous. A demon slowly making his way through downtown. I could feel hers and the eyes of several others on me as I walked the sidewalks in my ‘Sunday Best.’ Dirt smeared and disheveled as I was. The bars were closing up for the night and I figured the time must be around 2:00 am. There were few people on the streets as I went, and they each gave me a wide berth, assuming my disheveled state would lead me to beg them for spare change or whether they’d had a smoke to bum. Even without seeing my reflection, I had no illusions about how I must appear to everyone who made the choice to avoid me on the street.
It did not take long to make it home. The house was dark. I wasn’t buried with a set of keys, so for a time I knocked. I rang the bell as well, but no one ever answered. I guessed the time to be about 3am and though the house was quiet, I found myself surprised that even our dog Max hadn’t roused to my relentless pounding outside. Giving up on the door, I remembered how often Daniel left the bedroom windows open on cool nights like this. He seldom locked them even when they were closed. It might be a way inside…
I jumped the fence with some difficulty and made my way around to our bedroom. I was surprised, knowing his habits, to find it locked against me. The backdoor of the kitchen was nearby and though I knew that would surely be locked too, it had a window I could break for easy access. This was our house after all. It wasn’t breaking and entering. I lived here too.
I made short work of the kitchen window with a rock from the garden. I reached through and unlocked the door from outside. The alarm was blaring its warning at my entry, giving me 60 seconds to disarm it. Easy doing. 0409 was the code. Our anniversary.
I moved around our place in the dark. I was surprised that Max, normally steadfast in his guard, had not awoken at my forced entry. It was very much unlike him, even in his advanced age. Imagine their collective shock: husband and dog when I stood there at the foot of the bed, waking them both, not at all dead like either of them had thought.
I made my way to the bedroom to find the bed perfectly tucked and made. Daniel wasn’t home.
He was close to his sister. Maybe he’d taken Max there so they wouldn’t be in our home alone? He thought I was dead, after all. Fresh wounds were the worst. He would run to her for comfort. Maybe stay with Jane for weeks while he healed.
I wanted to call him. To tell him I was okay, but my phone wasn’t anywhere, and why would it be? He thought I was dead. I had no idea how long I’d been buried. It very well could have been one of the first reminders of me he’d banished in his grief. The phone was surely gone.
But I could send him a message another way. Through Facebook. I headed to the office and booted the computer up.
I felt depression sink in as I scrolled through his Facebook page.
I saw him happy and tan on the beach with another man. He’d moved on, and so quickly. The image was from the day before. The location read Cancun, Mexico.
The caption made my heart sink lower than it had been when I was buried.
“2 year anniversary with this guy!”
Next to him on the beach was someone new. Someone who looked a bit like me, but not quite. They both smiled happily, raising a pair of Corona’s by the neck with limes drowning inside.
I scrolled through his history.
He posted that Max was dead, not quite six months ago. In the image that was shared, he was more grizzled and gray than I remembered him being. I recognized our dog. We’d raised from a puppy, but this image was strange. He’d changed. This was not the dog I knew. To make matters worse, he was gone. I hadn’t been there.
I felt my heart sink lower. Six feet under wasn’t quite far enough. I let it fall to seven, eight and nine. I felt the distance as it fell. Ten, eleven…twelve.
I Googled my own name then.
The obituary read:
”Bᴇʟᴏᴠᴇᴅ Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ, Bʀᴏᴛʜᴇʀ & Dᴇᴠᴏᴛᴇᴅ Sᴏɴ. Hᴇ ɪs ᴘʀᴇᴄᴇᴅᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ ʙʏ ʜɪs Fᴀᴛʜᴇʀ Sᴛᴇᴘʜᴇɴ Sᴀᴠɪɴᴏ. Hᴇ ɪs sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴇᴅ ʙʏ ʜɪs Hᴜsʙᴀɴᴅ Dᴀɴɪᴇʟ Cʟᴀʀᴋᴇ ᴀɴᴅ Tʜᴇɪʀ Dᴏɢ Mᴀx, ʜɪs ᴍᴏᴛʜᴇʀ Aɴᴛᴏɴɪᴀ Sᴀᴠɪɴᴏ ᴀɴᴅ ʜɪs sɪsᴛᴇʀs Jᴜʟɪᴀ Sᴀᴠɪɴᴏ ᴀɴᴅ Bᴇᴛʜ Sʜᴀʀᴘᴇ. Iɴ ʟɪᴇᴜ ᴏғ ғʟᴏᴡᴇʀs, ᴛʜᴇ ғᴀᴍɪʟʏ ʀᴇǫᴜᴇsᴛs ᴅᴏɴᴀᴛɪᴏɴs ᴛᴏ ᴛʜᴇ HRC, ᴀ ᴄᴀᴜsᴇ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴡᴀs ᴅᴇᴀʀ ᴛᴏ ʜɪᴍ ɪɴ ʟɪғᴇ. Hᴇ ɪs Sᴀᴅʟʏ Mɪssᴇᴅ ᴀs ʜᴇ Sᴡᴇᴇᴛʟʏ Sʟᴇᴇᴘs ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ Bʀᴀᴅᴇɴᴠɪʟʟᴇ Cᴇᴍᴇᴛᴇʀʏ. 09-19-85 ᴛᴏ 03-31-2015.
I groaned then in the dark of our office. I couldn’t be here when he came home. I had no idea how much had changed. I had no idea how long I’d been gone. I shambled out of our home, determining that his happiness was more important and I was better left forgotten.
I died, but apparently even that lacks permanence. I’m very much alive but I’ve been gone for so long. I have no idea how I’ll make it out here on my own, but if Daniel has moved on without me after facing the world on his own for this long, I don’t want to burden him with my return.
I don’t know where I’ll go, but I can’t have him come home to find me here. I want him to be happy, as he seems to be in these pictures… he’s moved on. I was gone. I was gone so long…perhaps he’s better off without me.