Gross Anatomy Lab
By Elizabeth Glass
I’m going to a gross anatomy lab next month when a friend takes her Death and Grieving class. I imagine I won’t be the same after seeing dead bodies whose parts come off in strange and interesting ways. What I consider most is the fear of seeing my partner there, cut apart, heart showing if the sternum is lifted. I fear that his mom donated his body. That the ashes tucked into a coin bank shaped like a hippo in my living room like he wanted aren’t his. That he faked his own death. That my mom is lying and didn’t see him dead. That she’s complicit in his lie and he didn’t take his life eight years ago.
I see him alive in cars, parking lots, and stores. It’s only when I look for a second time that it isn’t him. I imagine his hair has grayed, but there he is living. It’s the same strange sense that makes me wonder if his body is preserved in that lab, if his mom wanted to hold on so badly she’d let his body be cut apart and be studied by students. Is she so different from me, who still pines for him? Who wonders each time he visits in dreams if he isn’t really dead? I see him in red convertibles with thin blondes who have long straight hair, so different than my thick body and short, curly, dark hair. Would I have let him go if the choice had been mine? Or would I have put him in the gross anatomy lab, where I could visit him whenever I chose?
Elizabeth Glass is a PhD student in Comparative Humanities at the University of Louisville. She has received an Emerging Artist Award in Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council and a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Redivider, River Teeth's "Beautiful Things" series, and Appalachian Heritage. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
After I have a dream that he’s in or when I think I see him at Kroger, I wonder if I’d wish him alive with someone else, both my mom and he having conspired, his body not in the pine box I couldn’t look in at the funeral home. The coffin was ill-fitted with cracks gaping—unfinished wood so it would burn better later. I would wish him life. In my dreams and when I see him at stoplights next to me I tell him to come back, to leave me instead of life, as if that’s even why he died when I know it isn’t.
He doesn’t visit my dreams as frequently anymore, but I see him out more often since learning of my trip to the lab. I glimpse his hairline—receding, cut short with hopes no one would notice. I see his crooked smile—snaggly teeth with which he bit my shoulder. His lopsided glasses are on a face that’s his, then isn’t. My mind has been writing Guy into life for years.
I miss the dreams most, though. In the last one, we are in Montana, hiking by glacial pools with all six of our dogs, who are again alive. He carries Slimy down the trails because he’s worn himself out as usual. Hopple has good hips and keeps up. He calls “roo roo” and hops up and down with his front legs. Guy says, “He’s crazy for you,” and then laughs, throwing back his head.
We are on a roller coaster then, going through the trails but too fast. He is going to have to leave too soon, and I want to go back to walking. “But you don’t get around so well anymore,” he says, and we are walking again. I can’t keep up with him, though, trying to move fast while using my cane. He gets farther and farther away. He is just movement. He walks flat, shoulders and hips barely moving, only his legs propelling him forward.
I wake up. He is leaving again and I can’t bear to watch.
I imagine his hair has grayed, but there he is living. It’s the same strange sense that makes me wonder if his body is preserved in that lab, if his mom wanted to hold on so badly she’d let his body be cut apart and be studied by students. Is she so different from me, who still pines for him?