dead or alive

All around me are cadavers wrapped in wrinkled white bags. Reclined on slick metal tables and labeled with abrasive black sharpie Male NS 3, N245 Hold. The squeaky tan floor, slightly textured with black specks like petrified sand, reflects the harsh fluorescent lights and looks easy to clean. I’m alone now because the monitor of the Anatomy Lab led me through this room—a shortcut—to the bathrooms so I could change my clothes.

I peer through a glass door into the adjacent room, similar in structure with harsh lights, marbled tan floors, and metal tables (this time not in rows but circled around a smaller table covered in a plain white cloth). Instead of dead bodies, each table holds two blocks of clay and two 14-inch-tall metal skeletal armatures that stand rooted to wooden blocks. Through the glass I can see the first year medical students assembling before the armatures, starting to play with the clay. I leave the cadavers and enter the room, smiling at Iris, the activity facilitator, who is standing in one corner talking to a tired-looking student.

“Great, ready?” She asks me.

I nod and set my things down in an empty chair. There is not a speck of dirt in sight. Iris, petite, Asian, with short hair and glasses, motions for the students to assume their seats, each in front of one of the crude wire figures.

“This is Emma, she’s our anatomy model today.”

I strip down my clothes and follow her to the center table. The white cloth, which looked smooth from afar, is scratchy as I step onto it.

“We’ll start with some observation exercises, okay everyone?” Iris is a fourth year, almost done with Brown’s Alpert Medical School, and ready to begin her next step in anesthesiology research at Stanford next fall. She was commissioned to run the anatomy workshop when the old director didn’t respond to the department emails—some rumor about accidentally leaving his microphone on while taking a restroom break.

I position myself with one leg slightly forwards, the other back holding most of my weight so my hips tilt slightly to one side. I place my hands on my hips, elbows pointing backwards to give the best three-dimensional observance opportunity. As the students start to shout their first impressions of my naked body female, athletic, hair tied back, stuck in motion, pose, hips slanted, muscular tone, I start to notice the rest of the room: a series of boxes with labels like electric saws and hand saws and other tools, limp hanging skeletons, clean metal surfaces, drainage buckets, wipes and hoses every couple feet.

Once their comments subside, Iris asks me to strike another pose. I spread my feet wider, and cross one hand across my stomach, placing the other arm across my opposite shoulder so my elbow covers my face. “Okay everyone, let’s start with the clay. You have twenty minutes to sculpt the model.” I close my eyes and start to deepen my breath, settling into the laborious task of holding still. Iris continues, “Try to differentiate what you actually see from what you think you see.” I absorb this through my meditation. “Come on people,” she says, and I imagine the students’ analytical and science-oriented brains trying to process this artistic exercise. “I can’t think of an occasion when observation isn’t helpful,” she offers.  

With closed eyes the rest of my senses are heightened. I feel goosebumps ripple across my nakedness from the fan whirling over head in this temperature-controlled room ensuring the prime environment for the formaldehyde and preservation of dead bodies. I keep breathing, holding still, feeling my chest rise against my arms, observing my own lungs rise and fall as the students use my living body to learn how to preserves others from death.

notes on your departure

i. I wake up depleted: empty emotionally, physically, mentally. Like the space in the bed next to me now. 

ii. The tangle in my stomach gets more complicated, not enough food, too much food, the deep pit wholly unsatisfied with any substance but you.

iii. The contrast between your presence and your absence, the verve you add to my life juxtaposed with the inevitable truth that without you I feel less, augments in a full feeling of paralyzing numbness.

iv. I feel dull. 

v. The higher the mountain, the deeper the valley. 

vi. What does it mean when my entire body responds to you? Here: I'm lighter, less stressed, more energetic, faster, stronger, kinder, more open. There: I'm slow, lethargic, indecisive, introverted, sunken, unenthused. 

vii. As time wears on, the contrast fades: highlights and lowlights morph towards each other: neutral. 

viii. You stepped on that plane in Boston and off that plane in Denver, crossing time zones, bridging the geographic necessity that spans our distance

ix. Traces of you: eye mask, note, smell, trash, bed, dishes, memory, tastes like spice that linger until fully flushed out. 

x. I take steps "home," placing one foot after another and I'm neither moving towards nor away from you because the magnitude of the chasm separating us render my footprints inconsequential, meaningless, without purpose. 

how to be a daughter

To be daughter means to have at least one parent, alive or dead, active or deficient.

Daughter means connection, means intricate human relationship.

Daughter is responsibility, obligation, question.

Google tells us, “A girl or woman in relation to her parents.” To be a daughter is to be connected. Related. Within daughter lies a collection of swirling DNA strands, floating, dancing in front of the genetic fun-house mirror. Merriam-Webster says, “Originating through division or replication.” Daughter means life or lived.

Daughter means the future.

If my name were Eukaryote, would I be daughter too? As my parent replicates their swirling bacterial genetic material, copying meticulously each note, each twist, they face the mirror, they are the mirror. They divide, producing nearly equal-sized halves. Some booming, echoing voice causes our synchronized dance to loose verve, both of us vibrating haphazardly, contrary. Towards us they say we are both daughter cells. Who is who? Am I daughter? Who was I before?

Urban Dictionary declares daughter is “the child that mom will love until she gets in the way of mom's life, and dad will love no matter what.” A relationship, a connection, a physical manifestation of the future.

To be a daughter is to exist in relation to a connection you have with the past.

pain & pulling a pulley

What does it mean to feel pain? What does it mean to experience something that words fail to justify? Something indescribable to an outsider observer? 


I looked at the climb, cocking my head to one side, following the trail of rock holds from the bottom up to the top. With my hands I mimicked each move, predicting, practicing like a mime so that once I moved myself onto the wall I wouldn’t fall. Looks like a pincher, lock-off to sloper, flag left foot and maybe reach the last jug. I gingerly approached the wall, dipping my hands into my chalk bag and then shaking them out and clapping them together twice. Ready. A shower of white powder settled at my feet. I grabbed the first two holds, both slightly opposite diagonals. Good, pull opposite forces, breathe and hold steady. I pushed my right foot against the gray sandpaper-like stone, not into a hold, it was too smooth, but applied enough pressure so I could still use the friction as traction. Better than nothing. My left tow dug into a small divot, drawing me away from the ground. I released my right hand, cautiously moving it up, searching for the next best hold to latch onto. My fingers found a small, crimpy rail. Bingo. Each finger curled around and locked to hold me tight.

I moved like I was climbing a puzzled ladder, but with creativity, with purpose. Foot after foot after hand after hand. Good hold. No, wait, bad one. Where’s the next move? Dammit, bad feet. Smear. Smear. Don’t let go. The climb was smooth, predictable, each move was relatively routine. I’m feeling good, strong. I locked-off onto a jug and alternated dipping each hand back into the chalk. I looked up: five feet ahead of me was the final move. Inhale. Exhale. I spotted what looked like a good hold out the right. I flagged my left foot out wide for balance, extending my arm, feeling along the cold surface for something to grab hold of. Bingo. Another crimp. I hooked the first pad of each finger along a centimeter wide flat-ish surface and pressed my thumb directly into the wall to leverage more balance. Breathe. My chest rose softly, controlling breath. Inhale. Exhale. Steady. I looked up at the next hold, carefully replacing my left foot and shifting my balance over so I could bring my left hand up above my head and pull on the next feature. Inhale. Exhale. Left hand left the wall, smoothly, deliberately slithering along the rock up to the featu—left foot cuts. Right foot follows. Body drops. A hundred and forty pounds of weight multiplied by the force of surprise and gravity pulls hard onto the four finger pads. Fuck! The ring finger, the pinky are the last to leave.

Fuck! It was only a second before a paper shredder materialized inside my right palm. It bloomed in the left-most corner near the base of my pinky and ring finger, immediately spreading its sharp tenticly teeth up through both the fingers. No reservations. Tearing, shredding, ripping apart the tendons one by one. And snap. I felt the reverberations shiver down my forearm, popping audibly in my inner elbow. Fuck!

All my fingers released. The grip that held me from falling, falling, falling was gone. Without warning the tendons screamed and all along my forearm a trail of fire burned, burned, burned. Fuck! And silence. A solemn quiet descended upon the nerves, reflective, sincere, a delusional quiet that even silenced my racing heart. I hit the ground. Pinky, then ring finger, then middle, pointer, thumb curled into a fist. Immediately the shredder hit again, sending one more electric shock, Fuck! then disintegrating, absorbed into my broken, torn, sad palm, letting the electricity dissipate. The fingers lay limp. Unmoving. Like leftover spaghetti lying on the floor.