You give up a lot of things when you move to the city, for example, digging holes. Digging holes is a cathartic activity because it offers a period of time for self-reflection and the ability to leave your troubles behind.
Gardening is the perfect bonding activity for an at-risk gay teenage boy and his flawed superhero of a mother. Each February we would sit at our kitchen table and dig through the piles of unopened bills, takeout receipts, and other detritus of a lower middle class household in search of the Burpee Seed catalog.
Flipping through the pages and marking items to order was a welcome distraction from our dueling seasonal depression. Mom leaned towards the plants that grew wild like Clematis. I exercised my inner goth and chose whatever was nearly black in color and had an element of danger, like thorns.
When spring arrived, we began digging up the yard while blasting classic rock on the radio. My OCD was perfect for the precise plotting of the holes while her anger management issues served us best by digging them, violently attacking the hard ground with a rusty shovel. Together we transformed the winter wasteland into a lush, verdant garden. Like The Giving Tree, the garden took care of us by providing a soft landing for her white wine olympics and an ashtray for my collection of Dunhill cigarette butts.
Another reason I found myself digging holes as a teenager was to bury time capsules. I know what you’re thinking right about now, “Didn’t you just describe yourself as an at-risk teenager? Plants and time capsules aren’t exactly the roads that lead to destruction.” True, but at sixteen I was also figuring out my sexuality with the help of strangers twice my age when I wasn’t busy hand-delivering Polaroid photos of myself, naked and caged, to Marilyn Manson. These and other pharmaceutical fueled activities at the time are most likely why I can’t remember what I put in the time capsules.
Like most kids, I had a lot of pets and, at some point, all of them died. Sad, but such is life. Nothing takes your mind off grieving for a dead pet like digging a hole so deep that wild animals can’t dig up and devour the tiny corpse resting at the bottom.
Our backyard slowly turned into a pet cemetery over the years. In it was buried our cat, Ayatollah. My brother and I had just watched the Ayatollah Khomeini’s naked corpse tumble out of its coffin on live TV answering the question, “What are we naming the new cat?” And what pet cemetery would be complete without my brother’s Fred Gwynne impression reminding me that yes, sometimes dead is better.
Other pets we dug holes for include Cranston the snake, Ruffian the cat — named after the racehorse — and Bubba the dog who was three-quarters wolf, part Husky and part Malamute. If we were prescient, we might have named him Lawsuit Magnet. Keeping wild animals as pets rarely offers that kind of foresight.
Of course the most rewarding reason to dig a hole is to bury a body. Not that I’ve ever killed anyone for revenge and dug a hole to hide their remains. Murder is illegal and people might think of me as sketchy. It’s the same reason I would never write up a complete list of the missing who scorned me — including helpful details like names, locations, hole depth — and post it on the Internet.
It’s much more cathartic to kill them in my head each night, digging hole after hole as I smile and drift off to sleep. Plus, the smell of a rotting body totally turns my stomach.