Donor lab. Day two. Day two and here I am, shaking and sweating in the cold room. I am surrounded by stark steel tables and the shrouded husks of human beings. I can see their outlines, the shape of their heads and feet. I am afraid. I was told that I would personalize. That I would see my grandmother or my grandfather, but instead I see myself. The quickly unraveling spool of time.
We begin to unwrap them, to unwrap this final gift they have given us. The gift of themselves. I touch his head through the gauzy shroud and tell him thank you. I want to comfort him. His face is still covered, his skin cold, his flaccid penis naked and uncovered for anyone to see. I want to rub some warmth into his shoulders. His life is mapped out on his bare, sagging torso, the story of him in wrinkles and freckled skin. His arms that maybe once held a dear child in the dark night. His hands that perhaps once reached across a balmy evening to grasp and clasp the hands of his lover. His mouth that once spoke of plans and hopes before it was wrapped in white. His face that once showed anger and laughter and sadness and was surely loved. I want to comfort this man. Maybe I want to comfort myself.
Who were you, who were you? Who loved you? Who did you love?
And here is Professor. And here is my hand inside the embalming incision in your thigh, beneath the layer of subcutaneous fat, pinching your femoral artery. You don't seem in bad shape, being dead aside. Professor says, feel that arteriosclerosis? Day two and my fingers are inside your leg and I promise myself I won't eat another cheeseburger. Fuck, maybe I will start running.
Who were you, who were you? Why did you sign up for this? Why did you do this?
Laryngeal prominence, Professor says. And suddenly he is unwrapping your face and, oh God, your face. The face makes you more. Who touched it? Who loved it? Who misses it? And Professor. Professor looks crushed. I don't understand. I stupidly flutter my paper at him, willing him to get back on track, back to where we were before your face cut away the few defenses I have remaining. I'm having a moment, Professor says, gently covering your face. I knew him, Professor says, shaken.
And here is the key to who you are. To who loved you. To who you loved. To why. But I can't ask my questions. I can't dishonor the way Professor has rested his hand softly on your shroud. I can't lessen the way he responds that he is trying to do what you would want and he'll stay with you, when someone smarter and more compassionate than I am asks if he wants to move to another donor.
I know who you are from this. I will never know your name, but I will remember you and this moment. I will come back to you next week and the week after and the week after. I will know that you were so much that you gave this to us. I will know the kind of person you were and the kind of person Professor is. The gift that you have given into the hands of this teacher who knew you and who honors it and unwraps it and gives it to others so that they can step out into the world in the hopes of making it a better place. I stroke your cold, still head again and I thank you.
This is day two.