That’s Not Me
When I regained consciousness, I couldn’t move. I don’t mean I was paralyzed, I mean I appeared to be trapped in some sort of box. I was laying on my back. My feet were touching the box below me and it felt like I was wearing dress shoes. My legs and arms could feel the box as well to either side of me. And extending my arms forward confirmed that the box was closed above me. It was pitch black and I heard what sounded like the pattering of rain against the box outside.
But then the rain stopped. Conserve your air. Relax. The rain started again briefly and then stopped again. Stay calm. Take shallow breaths. It was clear that my eyes were not going to adjust to the darkness to allow me to see anything at all about my situation. There was absolutely no light for that to happen. What the hell is going on?! No, relax. Relax. More rain. Then none. As I felt around my new surroundings, I could feel some fabric lining the inside of the box. What is that, silk? Another noise from outside, but this time it was more muffled, muted. It was a little more like a soft thud than a sprinkling rain. That’s odd. But I’ll figure that one out later. Little did I know, that sound outside was just as important as the box I was in.
I decided to take a quick self-inventory. I moved my feet and wiggled my toes. I already knew I was wearing dress shoes. I moved my legs up and down and side to side as best I could in my confined space. Pants. I’m wearing pants when I should be wearing a hospital gown. I should be in a damn hospital bed. Relax. Breathe. I moved my arms, wiggled my fingers, rotated my wrists, bent my elbows, hunched my shoulders. I felt my stomach and my chest with my hands. A suit. I’m in a suit? I tilted my head from left to right. Well, nothing appears to be broken. I should at least be a little sore from my operation. It was only a tonsillectomy, but still I expected some soreness.
There was no watch on my wrist. A couple of my watches have that indiglo illumination feature. I could have used that to get a look at my box. I didn’t have a cell phone on me. I’ve heard of a trend of burying loved ones with their cell phones. Sometimes, those attending the funeral will call the phone of the deceased as they are being lowered into the ground, as a sort of taps being played. That could really be an embarrassing way to go depending on your ringtone at the time. Though it could certainly lighten the mood to hear “Baby shark do do da do, baby shark” coming from the casket. Wait a minute! Have I been buried? Is this a casket?
In a raspy, barely audible voice, I tried to yell, “Help! I’m in here.”
I guess they did the tonsillectomy after all. And no cell phone to call anyone. Of course, knowing my provider, I probably wouldn’t even get any service down here. Focus, Johnny. Focus. I figured out that the rain I had heard earlier was actually dirt being thrown down on me. I tried to think of how this could happen. Who could have done this to me and why. I didn’t have any enemies that I could think of. But that would have to wait. As I lay there, confined, contemplating my options, I heard my box begin to creak. The weight of the dirt above me was starting to break the box I was in. I couldn’t bring myself to actually call it a coffin. I don’t know, that just seemed too final, too intentional. I was determined to get out of this and was hoping it was all a mistake. Coffin took away both of those options.
First things first: I needed to break out of the box. I tore away the silk lining above me to expose the wood behind it. I felt around and found where the box was beginning to bow. I undid my belt and began to use the metal buckle to start scraping at the box’s weak point right around my chest.
“Your snoring is killing me,” she says. “It’s nothing. Just get your tonsils out,” she says. Nothing? Well look at me now! Breathe. Relax.
I could hear more creaking from the box above me as I scraped away with my belt and the weight of the dirt continued to add pressure. Then I realized the dirt above me was going to come pouring in once I broke through. I paused my work to remove my suit jacket. That was no easy task in the box. I opted to not remove my dress shirt and to conserve my energy. Around my waist, I grabbed both my dress shirt and my t-shirt and began to pull them up. It took a while, but I wriggled my arms free of the sleeves and kept the shirts wrapped around my head and neck. I figured that would keep me from inhaling dirt once I broke through.
I went back to work scraping at the wood. I could hear more creaking and felt the wood bowing more heavily. It was about to break. I put aside the belt and began to push against the flexing wood. I would push up and let go and hear the wood cracking. A few drops of dirt began to penetrate the box. A few more pushes and the avalanche began. As best I could, I pushed the dirt down towards my feet and along the sides of the box. The dirt was freshly tossed, so it was still loose and flowed freely.
Now I had to make the hole big enough for me to fit through. The weight of the dirt did a lot of the work for me. I was lucky that whoever put me in here didn’t spring for a more durable quality box. With a combination of my belt buckle, my bare hands, and sheer determination, I pried and scraped and pushed and pulled until the hole was large enough for me to fit through. I couldn’t sit up yet though. The hole was above my chest and stomach. I had to get my head down the box. You can do this, Johnny. Relax. Breathe. Through the dirt, I raised my arms above my head positioning my hands against the wooden panel above me and pushed. My knees bent down as I adjusted myself into position. I pushed my hands up through the hole in the box, through the dirt and grabbed the sides of the opening I had created. With all my might, I pulled with my arms and raised my head and torso until I was seated upright. The dirt filled in the box where my head lay just a second ago.
Next, I adjusted the grip on the sides of the hole in the box and pushed down as hard as I could. I lifted my butt up out of the box and sat there, my legs still inside. But now I could use the bottom of the box as leverage and push up with my legs. You know how they say to lift with your legs and not with your back? Well, that safety tip was going to get me out of this. I raised my arms above my head and placed my hands together like a swimmer about to dive into the water. I planted my feet firmly against the box below me and began to stand. Is that air? My hands broke through the dirt above me. I could feel the soil falling down my arms, down my torso, filling the box as I vacated it. As the dirt filled the box, I could feel the gentle breeze on my forearms up to my elbows.
I dug frantically at the dirt but got nowhere. Think, Johnny. Think. You’re almost there. I needed to get my head out and breathe. I was just shy of the surface and running out of air quickly. I lifted my legs out of the box one at a time and used the lid as the final bit of leverage I needed. With one final push, my head emerged. I was free down to my shoulders. I ripped the shirts off of my head and took in a huge gulp of fresh air.
I looked around. Sure enough, I was in a cemetery. The first thing I saw was a headstone. It had my name on it. Jonathan Rivers. But I knew something was off as I read further. Beloved husband, father, grandfather? Nope. None of those. 1934 to 2020? I’m not 86 years old. What the hell is going on? I looked around still sucking in every bit of air I could and still only a quarter emerged from my hole in the ground.
About fifty yards off, a group dressed in black was walking down the drive to their cars. I couldn’t yell out to them. I had no voice. I heard noises behind me and tried to turn my head to see but the noises were coming from directly behind me. I didn’t have the strength yet to pull myself out further, there was no way to pivot around in the dirt, and I still couldn’t yell.
I grabbed a handful of dirt and tossed it over my head behind me. It gently sprinkled on the grass barely making a sound. I grabbed another handful and tossed as hard as I could.
“What the hell?” a confused voice called out behind me. “What the hell?!” The first was for the dirt hitting him. The second exclamation was when the old groundskeeper turned around and saw me emerging from the grave he had just filled. He quickly rushed over to the grave and helped me to fully escape from the ground.
Both of us had questions. Neither of us had answers. We both quickly got into his little groundskeeping vehicle and raced towards the group of mourners as they reached their cars. After the old man explained what he saw, the group looked me up and down, shirtless and covered in dirt. A man in his 50’s with salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard stated the obvious: “You’re not Grandpa John.”
“I know that. I’m Johnny Rivers,” I barely squeaked out.
A woman in her 20’s who was holding the bearded man’s arm looked at me and then at who I presumed was her father and said, “That’s not grandpa.”
Meanwhile, back at Kaiser Hospital, my girlfriend was having a similar conversation with a doctor as they stood over an old and deceased Jonathan Rivers.
That night, I slept better than I ever had in my entire life. And no, I didn’t snore.