When I Became a Tree

by Eric Scholz

I felt nothing the morning they committed my body to the earth though the sun shined brightly, warming deeply, all who gathered. My mother cried and my fiancée chewed her hair. My grandmother prayed and my grandfather thought he was at his niece’s christening. My father never showed. And it made sense—I hadn’t seen him in nearly two decades. My best friend delivered a beautiful speech that would have moved me to tears given a different set of circumstances. A priest recited some words about faith and fulfilling our greater purpose that made my fiancée roll her eyes—the way she so often did when she knew someone was feeding her bullshit. And finally, the groundskeeper covered my coffin with a thin layer of soil and everyone went home.

The first year was nice. My mother and fiancée visited weekly, sometimes together, sometimes separately. I enjoyed our time together but I felt guilty. Sometimes they told me stories. I liked that. Other times they would ask me how I was doing. I wished they wouldn’t do that. It’s not that things were bad for me—I really felt that life was finally going my way—it was the fact that I couldn’t answer. I wanted them to know that decomposition felt nice, like a back scratch over my entire body. I wanted to tell them about the various fungi I had cultivated and of the joy I had found in solitude.

In the beginning, the groundskeeper would walk along each row of graves whistling old Elvis tunes. He would come by every day without fail, until one day he developed a cough. He walked around with that cough for weeks. Then he stopped coming by and a few weeks later, they buried him—just two rows over from me, actually. Nobody came to his burial, and he never entertained visitors.

Management had some trouble finding a new groundskeeper, cycling through three over the course of six months before finally settling on one. This new guy rarely left the the security hut, and when he did, he left behind a trail of cigarette butts. He let the grass grow tall enough that it rubbed against the visitors’ legs. And when he mowed, he left large swatches untouched around the bases of our stones.

That’s when Mother’s visits began to dwindle. Now she only came by monthly or when she had news, like when Grandpa died and then Grandma four months later.

And then, my fiancée’s visits stopped. “It’s time for me to move on with my life,” she had said. “Time for me to get back out there. Get back in the world.”

Then those little hunchback beetles invaded my coffin. At first there was only one. It burrowed down from the surface and then chewed its way through and landed on my left hand. Its jaws pinched my skin, but I couldn’t move. It disappeared and then reappeared on my neck where it bit away a large chunk of flesh. It laid eggs that soon hatched, and then more of them came down through that first tunnel and made my body their home. My peaceful cove erupted in anarchy and my fungus garden withered away.

Months passed and nobody came to visit. Generations of hunchbacks had lived and died, feeding, mating, and defecating on my corpse. I begged God for help but it never came. The only thing that came was my fiancée, accompanied by a new set of feet. She wore a cross around her neck that day, which she spun between her thumb and middle finger.

“This is where he’s buried,” she said.

They stood in silence, and the man turned to my headstone. He bowed his head. If I still had skin it would have been crawling.

“I’m sorry that we’ve had to meet under these conditions. From what I’ve been told, you were a very kind and gentle man. It’s just such a shame that you couldn’t see yourself in God’s plan.”

Why was he talking to me? I wanted to shake him and yell “hello, I’m dead.” And my god, his words sounded rehearsed, but still, they made her smile.

“I very much would like to marry this woman and we’ve come here today to ask for your blessing.”

They waited. She put her hand to face and cried. The wind blew through the trees and she smiled.

“Thank you,” she said. “And goodbye.”

As if I had any control over the wind.

I laid there for years, alone and forgotten. I lost track of time. My mother must have died by then, and probably my fiancé too, and I was certain by that point that there was nobody left to remember my name. The new groundskeeper stopped showing up and the grass grew tall. Some nights, teenagers would come by, ouija boards and bottles in tow. I always liked them.

Finally, there were bushes, which overtook the grass, and then there were trees, which overtook the bushes. They had all sent roots deep down into the soil, deep down into my narrow house, massaging my dried muscles, my bones. My cells began to multiply and I felt myself rise and grow tall and strong, like my old life had never even mattered. Those cares just fell away, and I felt the sunlight shining on my face for the very first time.

Eric Joseph Scholz is a writer and musician currently living in the suburbs of northern New Jersey. He holds a BA in creative writing from William Paterson University and plays bass in a band called A Film In Color. His work has been featured in Eunoia Review, The Mix, and Left Hand of the Father.

Photo credit: praline3001 via Flickr, All Creative Commons

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