The following is an excerpt from a creative writing piece by Grant Wenzlau. I met Grant when speaking at Vanderbilt University. He was a student in the class Death and Dying in America. At the end of my lecture, Grant approached me to continue the discussion. I quickly found him to be one of the brightest and most creative individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting. He asked to interview me for a special assignment and below is an excerpt from his article and the result of our time spent together.
In 1985, John Christian Phifer was seven years old, from a sleepy town in western Tennessee called Camden. He was at home, standing in the small country kitchen, pausing to listen for the faintest echo of footsteps. He held his breath while he listened, his body excited and tense. His hand rested on the handle of the silverware drawer. He heard no sound. Slowly he drew the drawer open, careful not to startle the spoons and forks into clattering noisily against each other. Quickly he snatched a spoon and dashed out the door. He ran through the front yard and across the road, kicking through the green and yellow grass, which grabbed at his legs as he passed. He passed by a small pool of water that reflected the marine steel hue of the sky. As he reached the edge of the forest, he slowed. Out there, it was perfectly quiet. There was not a sound. The branches whispered and the birds chirped but that couldn’t be called noise. That was merely life humming to itself. At the base of a tulip poplar tree, he knelt, a seriousness coming over him. He took out the stolen spoon and began to dig up the dark, moist earth. He dug for a few minutes, mud caking his knees and sneaking under the tips of his fingernails. Then he set the spoon aside and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. In a soft bed of grass beside where he knelt lay a dead grasshopper. John picked him up carefully. He cupped the poor insect in his hands and stared down at it’s stiff, graying body. He set the grasshopper gently onto a fallen poplar leaf, and wrapped it up. He placed it on the floor of the upturned earth. It fit comfortably in the ground. Then John replaced the dirt over the hole and returned home.
Out there, in western Tennessee, in the small town of Camden, on the edge of the forest, in the shade of a tulip poplar tree remains a secret cemetery full of all kinds of deceased and forgotten creatures, who in their passing kindled the fuse that fueled the life of John Christian Phifer.