After Z

20160423OrangeRibbonDown at the bend, in the bubble and beyond, hundreds turned a corner amid a pivotal scramble. I now refer to events as BZ (before Zafer) or AZ. Before Z, Arlo had a brother, Tami and Lyle a thriving firstborn son. After Z we have yet to see.

There are endless slices of this bittersweet pie. One hefty wedge is tart with pain and loss. The news from Tami’s father, Ed was unfathomable. “OD’d?” I said into the phone, “As in Dead?!” I ran next door and took hold of Haruka and Jason’s hands, then up the hill and across the dam to Tami and Lyle’s. The story came into focus. An officer knocked on their door at midnight. Luke heard a howl rip through the woods. It was accidental, recreational.

Another piece is sweet with the power of community. We put our shoulders to a wheel that rolled forward until it stopped at a clay grave in the woods. Time sharpened to a point and we focused all our energies on that point. A hundred hands reached out with food, lodging, transportation, music and offers of “anything at all.” An avalanche of goodwill that Angelina remarked “speaks to the beauty of our village.” Many hovered, hugged and fielded information. I became a dispatch operator, juggling calls, texts, emails and facebook offers. We used a nine-tab spreadsheet to stay on track.

The challenges of a DIY burial lent additional flavor to the pie. We’d been planning a neighborhood cemetery for some time – nobody thought our first service would be for a nineteen-year-old.

20160421PrayerFlagsLyle walked down his driveway with his brother Glen and marked out a trail with Bob and Joe. Trip brought his bobcat and got to work. David hauled a load of pine straw and Joe installed stone pillars on each end. Bob dubbed it the Farewell Trail after tying a strand of prayer flags between two pines. Chris arrived in his wheelchair for a look. Barring another unforeseen death, his grave will be next. Arlo and Uncle Michael used the Monarch to dig the hole. Joe, Leavitt and others finished the grave by hand. We spread the pine needles to cover the bobcat scars, making it look like any other dappled path through the woods.

I pictured myself at rest beneath the trees along the Farewell Trail and tasted peace, unexpected and nourishing. I haven’t thought much about my own burial, just as I don’t think about the hotel bed when planning a vacation. Yet, no matter how excited I am to be somewhere new, I prefer to first check into the hotel, put down my bags and glance at the bed. My adventures taste sweeter once I know where I’m going to sleep.

We had the service at The Plant and people poured in. Cars were parked on both sides of the road all the way to highway 64 three quarters of a mile away, filling the Credit Union and Allstate parking lots. Two hundred were seated with twice as many standing.

After eulogies and music Zafer took his last ride in the Pup, the little red pickup Arlo inherited when Z left for his first year at the University of Colorado. Arlo took the wheel, his big brother behind him in a pristine pine casket with a big Z on the lid.

20160423GravesideThe burial was intimate, touching, heart breaking and real. No Astroturf. Just a pile of yellow clay and some borrowed shovels. Tami sat on the edge of the hole, throwing in handfuls until Joe gently took her arm. Men, women and children took turns until the job was finished, a mound of earth atop Zafer’s casket.

The next day I didn’t put on makeup before going out. It was over. I didn’t have to be anyone but myself now. Shelley and I went for our Sunday morning walk. I swung by The Plant to find everything had been picked up and put away. I considered touching up my eyes before giving Audrey a ride to the airport but decided to plunge forward au naturale.

The next day I hesitated in front of my mirror before heading off to work. After all that had happened, eyeliner and mascara seemed disingenuous. It’s time I started looking my age, I thought, trying to picture Jane Goodall drawing on eyeliner.

I’m different now, touched by death but unafraid. What a nice way to step into the After Z, as my unenhanced self. This is my tribute, my testament. When you see me for what I am, know that I’ve been touched by Zafer.

Links to Lyle’s eloquent series of posts:
Goodbye Z
Grave Digging Time
Writing the Bulletin
Z Comes Home
Guilt 101
Shakori Disquises
Functioning Again
Damaged Goods
The Spiritual Life of Kids
Burying Time Again
Weird Dream

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

3 replies on “After Z”

Beautiful Camille, just beautiful. Tears, hugs and prayers continue.

Thank you <3!

I gave Tami, Lyle, and Arlo a wooden heart with wings to hang by the grave.
My hope is that others will contribute outside art for this special area.
(Maybe a bench for quiet reflection.)
AZ we all see the world different.

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