The hole in the ground looked much smaller than his dad was tall. He wondered if they squish the body inside the coffin to make them smaller, so the grave hole doesn’t have to be so big and the cemetery saves space and they can fit more graves. But the hole did seem deep.
It was Sunday and Ned didn’t know how he, his brother and his mother got from Friday to Sunday. Most of it was a blur. He always knew when he was intently, single-mindedly focused on something, that an amazing amount of work could get done. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was.
The people were assembled around the grave, the immediate family was sitting on a row of chairs along one side of the grave. The dirt was sandy and gritty with lots of little pebbles in it. It was dry, there was no shade. After the few prayers, those who wanted to, got to put in a shovel-full of dirt. But the catch is, they are supposed to turn the shovel upside-down, so the back of the shovel has some dirt balanced on it.
Put too much and it slides off. This shows reluctance, that it is difficult to let this person go, that although it must be done, loved ones do not want it to be. Judaism is full of metaphors. Like the black ribbon the Rabbi placed on the immediate family members at the grave. It was pinned on their left arm or chest, near their heart, and worn for thirty days to show that the fabric of their life, their heart, has suffered a tear, a wound, a fresh wound. Others should see this and show a little tenderness. The Rabbi tore their ribbons one after another. Ned felt something starting to slip inside. Then it was time.
Ned wanted to do it all himself. After the Rabbi, it was his turn. This was his dad. His dad. His. No one else’s. Not even his brother’s. He resented other people being around and sharing in it. He was mixed up. He wanted company and didn’t want to be alone. Yet, he did want to be alone. Alone, not alone. Confused. No one else could comfort him. No one else could say anything to soothe his emptiness inside; this monster seemed to be growing as the initial numbness and disbelief of the last two days barely started to settle in and long before it would wear off. It was a ball of fire, and it kept feeling hotter.
No one had the power to plug the hole he felt burning in his center and couldn’t put into words. His hands balled up into fists until he felt the nails digging into his palms. The sick feeling in his stomach that his strongest love in the world was suddenly pulled away from him forever, made him want to vomit. No one else knew how to comfort him. No one else knew how he felt. One cousin said, and Ned overheard, “Oh, he doesn’t really understand.” Ned wanted to smash him. Hard, repeatedly. Until he couldn’t speak.
Once he started shoveling the dirt, he didn’t want to stop. He could have done more if he didn’t have on that tight suit that he had to be wearing with uncomfortable dress shoes which squeezed his feet and a tie that squeezed around his neck. The jacket limited his arms and shoulders. He couldn’t break free.
If he had his garden clothes on, if he had his shorts on, and some garden gloves, he knew he could have done more. He could have done it all. He still would if they would let him. He didn’t want to stop. He liked the feeling of the shovel in his hand. At least he was doing something, moving, not sitting. His left hand on the wood shaft and his right hand on the metal handle felt in synch. He liked the weight of it in his hand, and the balance of it.
He liked the sound of the shovel hitting into the dirt, the pebbles in the sand grinding on the metal shovel telling him he had a new load of dirt on there even though it was upside-down. He thought he saw a spark coming off the shovel as he slammed it into the sand and pebbles. He liked the momentum of movement when he swung it over the hole and he liked the sound of the dirt as it slid and scraped off the metal end of the shovel and dropped onto the wood casket with a showering sound below.
The dirt sounded too hollow at first as it hit the casket, but as dirt accumulated on the casket it didn’t sound so loud and empty and lonely. He felt the sweat starting to collect on his forehead and drip into his eyes and down his nose. He felt his t-shirt starting to get damp on his back and stick to his skin.
He didn’t want to stop when his brother touched him on the back the first time and gently said his name. He said, “Ned,” but Ned didn’t hear him at first and he continued with the shovel. “Ned, you did enough, let me have the shovel. Let the others have a turn,” and Jared gently put his hand on Ned’s back as Ned reluctantly, very reluctantly loosened his grip on the shovel just enough so Jared could pry the shovel from his grip, he looked at his brother’s eyes and said, “I didn’t do enough, I can’t…,” and he couldn’t speak, his throat was too tight. He felt he didn’t do enough. He could have done more. He felt uncontrollable welling of his eyes, mixing with the sweat, streaming down his cheeks as he buried his head in his brother’s chest and could hear others responding with sobs. It was the first time he let go. His whole body was on fire.
He could have done more. Maybe he could have saved his dad’s life if he wasn’t so frozen and unable initially to move his feet from where he stood at the doorway to their bedroom, unable to move forward or back as his mom finally called the fire department half hysterical after trying to wake his dad. Maybe there was something he could have done.
They said there was nothing anyone could have done after they tried to revive him anyway, for a half-hour, before taking him. God damn IT. That fucking thing that took him. Ned didn’t know if he could ever forgive IT for taking a piece of himself. He just knew he lost his only friend. He was alone in a row boat without oars. In the ocean. In a storm. At night. In a dream that he couldn’t wake up from.