Sloan Thomas--A Lifetime of the Same

I was at a funeral the other day. This last month has been rough on my family. Distant cousins have passed in car crashes and from cancer. Closer ones committed suicide. My uncle was the latest to go. Officially, it was a stroke, but really, he had so much methamphetamine inside his system the pressure just mounted—bursting inside his brain, like carbonation shook hard.

His last words, as he sat down on his son-in-law's couch were, “I can’t get it all straight.”

He never closed his eyes. Everyone shaking him—eyes wide open as we waited for the ambulance.

Here is my confession.

At the cemetery, with my oldest daughter asking what happens when it gets full, I found a story. It was the worst kind of guilt. The awfulness of sorrow mixing with the greed of discovery.

 Capturing details in my head, I cataloged the outfits of my husband, cousins, brothers, and uncles. They dressed in mostly black buttoned-up dress shirts. Some wore slacks, some jeans. All in their work boots. They buried my uncle. The women watched, held our sobbing children, and wiped our tears on tops of their freshly washed heads.

The giant mound of dirt, from the hole dug by hand that morning, was lined by men holding shovels on all sides. They moved as one. The shovels in the back tossing dirt to the front. The men in the front filling the hole. They didn’t talk. It was habit. Instinct. A lifetime of the same motions. They knew to wear their work boots. They knew to bring a hammer. They carried the rhythm of fifteen shovels inside their chests. My uncle’s oldest brother nailed the coffin shut.

I was next to his second wife.  She leaned into my side sobbing.  I took her weight and didn’t budge. I was a rock, holding solid. Whispering, “I have you. I won’t move.”

 But a part of me was lost in the details. How do I write her flooded, thick-rimmed glasses and the broken corner of the marble gravestone next to her feet? Should I mention the weather?

 I was caught in the tale. The rhythm. The sweat from my husband mixing with his tears sliding down his neck. I know exactly how it tastes when I kiss him there. Showers never wash those things off.

Clumps of clay. Rich dirt sticking to everyone’s shoes. What are all the synonyms for soil?  

How do I show, not tell, what it’s like to constantly lay to rest chunks of our hearts?

I tried to ignore it. Leave it at the edge of the cemetery. But it followed, trapped on my shoes, buried beneath the surface and caked with the dirt of us all.

At home, it salted my dinner. Warmed my cold beer. Steamed my bathroom mirror as I stood under the spray of hot water.  Finally, late at night I wrote it down. My husband found me—shoes by my computer, mud on the keyboard.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

 I told him, “Trying to get clean. Showers never really wash the stories off.”


Sloan Thomas has work in Revolution John, Star 82 Review as well as Word Riot and SmokeLong Quarterly under the RS Thomas.

Posted by