There are things in an ideal world, we could go without seeing. The inside of a cat is one. The inside of a human is another.
I dissected a cat in the process of learning how to be what I intended to be. It was both as hard as it might sound and not hard at all. I love cats. I took some pictures which I will not share with you. It was many years ago, and they were in black and white. I developed them myself in the school lab as part of a different project. The prints were sufficiently disturbing to my fellow students who saw them as they came off the dryer.
We like to think of the body intact. I’ve oddly started referring to any incursion on my epidermis as a hull breach. Perhaps because to breach the hull of a boat (below the water line, especially) means certain things. It means stop and deal with whatever the hell is going on, no matter what that entails. I like things intact. I like things that are not intact to be dealt with. As I get older, more and more, I like things intact.
I take things apart that most people don’t, and this doesn’t bother me at all. A donated human skull. Its contents. The brains of other things. It’s my job. For the moment, it’s my job.
I walked into a dissecting room one morning expecting to find eyes, not knowing of what species. To dissect. Upon each lab table, brightly lit, were two cafeteria trays, a large lump on each, covered with a blue cloth. Fine, I thought. Human head. I pulled back the blue drape. Half a human head. Sagittal cut. Okay then.
These things are fine. They might wear on me a bit from time to time. They have worn on me a bit from time to time. The smell of burning flesh as we tried to shock a heart attack victim back to a normal rhythm. Or any heart rhythm. The gut wrenching feeling of a rib cracking as I did chest compressions. Not knowing if it were better or worse that this was normal, this breaking of bone, as I was told. The paramedic saw my eyes and assured me, “It’s normal.” These things. They left some marks, but I was there because I was able to be of service.
These things. Cat gut didn’t necessarily come from cat. Cat gut is the processed intestine of an animal, less common (to my knowledge anyway) than it used to be. It sounds disgusting. Like blood sausage. It was used for stringed instruments. I spent the afternoon listening to Henryk Szeryng’s Bach Sonatas and Partitas for violin. A gift from someone who once loved me. Someone who played these, or other pieces, or whatever he felt, in the morning as the radiator hissed, and the children got ready for school. And then I suppose we probably went back to bed and made love, and the river flowed by outside, and then maybe we made coffee. These are, to my mind, to my soul, some of the most beautiful pieces I know. I suppose they once were played on cat gut. I don’t really know. We don’t always really want to know. We don’t always know even what we think we know, I suppose. But now I digress.
I’d like to wander and meander in places where cat gut was for cellos and violins. Violas. Am I missing any others? Probably. I’d like to wander less in the places where cat gut was for sutures. For putting back together the parts that should not have come asunder. Skill. Talent. Knowledge. Experience. Science. Celebrate these. But not the asundering.
What I don’t want to write about is losing my sister. The reason I don’t want to write about it is not that I don’t want to talk about her, or about what happened. (Leukemia.) I can write about the hull breach when the surgeons inserted a central line, a Hickman Broviac catheter that would serve to deliver chemotherapy and blood draws, and I sat up all night putting my body weight into the pressure dressing to staunch the bleeding. I can write about the hull breach of the bone marrow aspirations. And the spinal taps. I might be able to write about the last day, when she went blind. Her last clear words to me (I love you). These aren’t the reasons I don’t want to write about her. Rather it’s because I don’t want her death to define my life. Or her life. And I don’t think she would want that either, on either count.
But every time I write, anything at all, there it is. There she is.
It might be because any time I AM anything at all, there it is.
Because I am sitting in a quiet corner of the law library at an institution not my own, facing a blank wall, and there are the tears.
Perhaps I am trying too hard to be a kind of normal I can’t be. It wasn’t an option for me.
Annie Dillard wrote “Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time.”
Let’s say that will apply here too. But maybe with a few characters standing with me. (Near me? Against me? Oppositionally or otherwise, I leave it to the reader…)
In hopes that I can one day write other things, perhaps I can invite the people who are missing to meander with me. Characters in my stories, as they have been in my life. I was always one of two, my sister and I. For twenty four years I have been mostly one alone, though often with company. It’s no wonder half my words fall off my pages unheard into tangled oblivion. I don’t make sense on my own, because that’s not how my life was coded. So maybe I will imagine…