Just because I’m married to an Italian-American does not mean I know how to properly dispose of a body.
But clearly I must seem like someone who can “take care of business” when there is “a situation” because I was the first person my next-door neighbor called the other day when her big ol’ dog suddenly up and died.
And since I just don’t get out much and am always looking for anything to distract me from actually completing a chore (pick a chore, any chore), I jumped at the chance to add “grave digger” to my ever-so-limited list of accomplishments.
It was a pretty typical day here in Suburban Hell, and I was just achin’ for something interesting to take my mind off the latest “behavioral challenges” my little 5 year old, Klepto, had inflicted on her classmates the day before at school. So as soon as I got Bucket Head down for a nap, I threw on my overalls and work boots, slipped a bottle opener in one pocket and a cordless baby monitor in the other, grabbed a six pack of Newcastle Brown Ale and a giant shovel, and walked next door.
My neighbor had already chosen a shady spot in the corner of her yard and was starting to hack away at the hard-packed red Georgia clay when I arrived. She was taking the dog’s untimely death pretty hard and I didn’t have the heart to point out that she was digging awfully close to my property line, so I just joined in and dug with her in silence. Not an easy task… one of my super powers is making people laugh in awkward situations. But it’s pretty hard to get someone to pull your finger when they’re holding a shovel in one hand and a beer in the other.
We spent a solid hour digging and drinking. I couldn’t help but recall that scene from The Shawshank Redemption where the cons are tarring the prison roof. Andy (Tim Robbins) bravely offers to do some tax accounting for the head guard and says: “I’ll [do it]… nearly free of charge… I’d only ask three beers apiece for my co-workers, if that seems fair. I think a man working outdoors feels more like a man if he can have a bottle of suds. That’s only my opinion.”
Amen, brother. There really is something magical about drinking a beer at 1:00 in the afternoon, on a school day no less, while digging a shallow grave in the fresh air. I’m not really sure why my parents always tried to dissuade me from being a ditch digger; that afternoon it sure felt like a nice change of pace from wiping shitty little asses and pre-treating stains. For a minute there, I did feel like more than a just a suburban hostage, waiting for the kids to get off the bus so I could get to the next item on my unyielding To-Do list that day. I felt like I was helping somebody… making a difference… comforting a friend. I was loving my neighbor – which is something I don’t choose to do all that often. And you know what? It felt really good. I think Jesus was onto something there.
Having never buried a body before, I could only rely on my extensive pop-culture knowledge base for support. I knew we needed to go pretty deep (“Six Feet Under”) and I remembered from watching Goodfellas at least 92 times that we needed some lime.
“Limes?” my neighbor asked. “For our beer?”
“No honey. Lime, not limes. It’s some kind of chemical we put in the hole with the body. It helps it, um, decompose, or not stink so bad, or something. I’m not really sure. I just know they use it in the movies. But I don’t have any, and clearly you don’t either.” I said.
So we didn’t use any lime. In retrospect, big mistake.
We got the hole about 4 feet round and 2 feet deep before we just couldn’t get the shovels in any deeper. We live in Georgia. There has been a record breaking drought here lately and the ground is like cement. But 2 feet deep is just not good enough when you’re trying to bury an 70 pound Basset Hound whose been dead for 8 hours and is already stiff as a board. Another mistake.
My neighbor didn’t want to put the dog in the ground before the kids came home. She wanted them to be able to say goodbye. So we covered him with an inverted plastic baby pool from my backyard to keep the critters away and she steeled herself to break the news to the kids. She thanked me for my help and for the beer and said she was going to do the rest after the kids went to bed. I could hear Bucket Head over the baby monitor starting to stir and I needed to get home anyway to tend to my own messes and critters.
Fast forward a few days. Oh, you can just feel it coming, can’t you? You know this isn’t gonna end well.
A few days later, my husband took the two big kids on an overnight camp out with the Cub Scouts (see Cornhole). I didn’t want to sleep on the ground in an icy-cold tent with 19 month old Bucket Head, so he and I just went for the day and came home to sleep. I put Bucket Head to bed, and since I couldn’t leave the baby home alone to walk my dog, I decided I’d just let him run buck wild. It was late, it was dark, all my neighbors were probably asleep, and he usually comes back after about 30 minutes, nice and tired and ready for bed. What choice did I have? The dog needed to poop. So, I let him out. I’ve done it a million times before without incident. No big whoop. And since I had about 30 minutes of freedom ahead of me, I drew a nice hot bath, poured a big glass of wine, and hopped in the tub. Mistakes # 3 and 4.
A few minutes later, from deep within the relaxing waters of my lavender scented bath, I heard howling coming from the back yard: like the soundtrack from Werewolves Gone Wild. Oh FUCK! Then I heard what could only be frantic digging. DOUBLE FUCK.
DAMN DOG! I hopped out of the tub, wrapped my wet naked body in my husband’s robe, ran down the stairs, into the kitchen and onto the deck to see what the hell my devil dog was doing back there. My bath was getting cold, I was pissed, and when I burst onto the deck and slammed the door, it locked behind me, like a bad sitcom. And there I was, in a thin, wet cotton robe, locked out of my house at 11:00 on a Saturday night, catchin’ a chill on my deck, and watching my canine companion attempt to exhume the neighbor’s big old dead hound dog. Not my idea of a fun Saturday night.
My dog is a Black Lab, well mostly Lab. We got him at the pound, so God only knows. But I tell you what, that boy can dig. By the time I had run my shoe-less wet ass over to the new pet cemetery, my dog had already made quite a dent in that fresh grave. I didn’t have his leash, so I had to just grab him by the collar and forcibly drag his dirty ass home like a pissed off mama who just caught her naughty child desecrating a monument (uh, just guessing). Luckily, our garage has a keyless remote and it was working that day. Praise Jesus! Can you imagine? For all my bitching and moaning, at least we know that my life is never lacking adventure.
I went over early the next morning to erase our tracks and make sure there wasn’t a big old Basset paw sticking out of the ground, just waiting to freak out the kiddies. Fortunately, I got my dog out of there just in the nick of time. But damn. With everything else I have to remember and take responsibility for, now I have to make sure my dog isn’t unearthing a partially decayed corpse and bringing home a big ol’ femur bone in his mouth. Great. Why on earth they didn’t just cremate that big fucker is beyond me. I guess maybe it is time to bite the bullet and get one of those invisible fences. And remind me to stock up on some lime for the next time I find myself having to play the role of neighborhood grave digger. That’s lime, not limes.
“And that’s how it came to pass that on the second-to-last day of the job, the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of forty-nine wound up sitting in a row at ten o’clock in the morning drinking icy cold, Bohemia-style beer, courtesy of the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison. The colossal prick even managed to sound magnanimous. We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders, and felt like free men. We could’a been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the Lords of all Creation.”
-Red (Morgan Freeman), The Shawshank Redemption.