Try acquiring a taste for energy drinks, purchasing highlighters in bulk, then bleeding them dry. Try saying, “Fuck PowerPoint,” in front of your peers to earn their respect. Try selling your self-respect for something more practical, like flashcards.
Meet Marlene, your cadaver. Feel her slick bones in your fingers; strum the sinews like nylon strings. Slip your hand between the halves of her severed skull and tickle the hairs of her nose. Grimace at the slab of metal on which she rests, but do not cringe at her. Do not hold the smell of formaldehyde against her. Stomach it all, the roots growing from her chin, her sunken eyeballs, and her deflated breasts. Thank her for her patience and apologize for your quivering hands.
Return to the gross lab alone, at night. Unzip the body bag. Touch Marlene’s skinless cheek, and look at her achingly, the way you wish a boy would look at you. Unwrap the chest and cradle her charred lungs, soft like the bellies of your stuffed animals. From the black spatter, assume she smoked, that she was gritty, listened to punk, and burned bridges when she knew there was no turning back. Believe she is everything you aren’t, that she didn’t allow her parents to choose her major, that she loved her thighs, and was no one’s chew toy.
Brush her teeth with your finger. They are tiny, rotten, or gone.
Pick up the heart. Hold it carefully, like a hand grenade. Then place inside of it what your own cannot bear to hold. A secret—you dream of becoming an ice skater. You long to let go of the railing, to feel weak in the knees, weightless, and what you haven’t felt since that day on the pond: silly. Then bury it back beneath the lungs, the intercostal muscles, the ribs, and the skin.
At the end of the year, attend the Gross Anatomy Memorial Service. Look Marlene’s husband in the eye, and tell him his wife is beautiful, that his wife will save lives, that you too will devote your body to science, but your heart must be spared. Ask him, “What did Marlene love most?” After he says, “Chocolate,” tell him you have a sweet tooth too.
Now let go.
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