Buried Alive (23)

I’ve always been a little claustrophobic. I want a window cracked when I drive. I remember fighting with Kay when I drove her to work. She wanted the window closed. I never had a good enough reason for insisting it stay open, only the vague sense of not being able to breathe. During the mountain fire last summer, I was driven inside for a week, windows closed against the choking smoke. My claustrophobia mounted as the week progressed, ash like thick gray snow coating the trailer, the courtyard, my sense of not being able to breathe pulsing through my days and nights. Then it came to me, the source of my claustrophobia. When I began sitting zazen in the early 1990s, I dreamed a past life. It’s the only time it was ever more than snatches, this one whole cloth. I was a priestess, or maybe royalty. I was expected to sacrifice myself for the good of my people. They were preparing to bury me alive. I had long brown hair, maybe seven feet of it or more. I lay down in the open grave, the dark, moist earth warm breath beside me. There were helpers who handled my hair. They gathered and folded it with care, laid it with gentle hands in a long narrow box above my head. Then they began to cover me with dirt. I remember being afraid, not of dying but of shaming myself by resisting, of struggling against them at the last moment. The earth got heavier and heavier, and somehow I was able to hold still. I remember my relief when I realized I was going to just lose consciousness from my lack of air, just drift off, not humiliate myself or my family. In my stifling hot tin can this summer when I felt like I was suffocating, I remembered my dream. “Of course I’m claustrophobic,” I mutter. No wonder. I laugh at myself for not putting it together earlier. “Duh,” I say. I roll my eyes. Being buried alive just might do that to you.

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