It was 6:40 AM, May 3rd, 2016, and I was waking up to get ready for school after a long night of slumbery somnolence. In my sleepy haze, I let things slip past me, including important things like making sure Nutrition entered my system that morning. I did not put any edible material into my oral cavity, I did not commence mastication, I did not transport any nutritious mush down my throat through peristalsis into the lower reaches of my digestive system to be broken down into fuel for my body, and I certainly did not pass go and collect $200. I managed to brush my teeth, though, which was good, and I got my mom to wash my hair in the kitchen sink, a long-standing mother-daughter bonding thing between the two of us. It was a wonderfully comforting feeling to know that I didn’t need to make the hurried trek down to my bus stop, since I could just get a ride from my brother as he practiced driving to school.
I walked nervously into my first period classroom, hoping my AP Literature teacher wouldn’t ask about the essay I had accidentally forgotten to bring that day, but, to my relief, she only informed me that, due to the EOCT testing schedule, we were starting our day with an hour in second period, and I was in the wrong place. So, I hustled over to Anatomy, hustled over to my Math classroom to retrieve the phone I’d left there the previous day when I’d taken my Series and Sequences test and had to rush away right after to get to my AP Psychology exam, and then hustled back to Anatomy. The smell of formaldehyde was gathering in the air. I saw the bag of partially dissected cats rolled in paper towels sitting at the front of the room, and soon enough people were mulling over to the box of lab glasses and aprons and pulling white, teal, and clear gloves from boxes off to the side. Scalpels and surgical scissors stood sinisterly and playfully in cups behind the boxes of gloves. They clinked as people picked through them and slid out the cutting instruments they found the most desirable.
I tried to keep my mind down. It seemed easier than it had been before; I just focused on my desire to learn and the fascinating structure and anatomy of cats. Even when I stared directly into the sad face of Gabby, the cat my group had nicknamed and started skinning, I felt barely a quarter of the emotional distress and overload I’d felt the last time my group had her out on the table. The change surprised me. Maybe it had just been my weird menstrual hormones tugging on my heartstrings after all, I pondered to myself. I kept my mind on the actions we took and the coolness of seeing the preserved dead cat’s body laid open with such morbid vulnerability. The pale nose and toes stayed calmly in the corners of my vision. I saw the moonstone-like foggy eyes of the small cat the group to our right was dissecting as they held his stiff, rigid body under the faucet to wash his dead insides, and I barely twinged. I borrowed some VaporRub from them before the chemical smell could get to me and smeared the herby gel under my nose. It was a surprisingly nice smell; very sweet and minty. I tried not to notice the slight intrusion of the thickening formaldehyde.
Mrs. Helms carried jars of fetal cat specimens that she’d gathered over the years out to the tables, and immediately a curious crowd formed. Girls held two small, gray, wrinkly, scrunched up baby cats in the palms of their hands, gawking and cooing. They’d just been found in someone’s dissection cat the day before, so they were new. Dead for a while, and now newly born from their mother’s guts, carried delicately out into the open, chemically air. Grey and lightly fuzzy, with wide, closed eyes and flat, alien-like faces. When I held one, it felt like a lump of clay in my hand, solid but slightly squishy, with its little features and wrinkles and folded paws appearing like they were carved and molded out of itself. It was adorable, yet still very much dead. The kit’s young face looked serene and at peace; quite a contrast to the distressedly curled, lolling tongues, crinkled noses, and wide open mouths of the adults. Something made me think of ferrets. I resisted the urge to cradle the tiny creature in the center of my palm, and instead gently ran my fingers over its body. There, there, little one.
A little bit later, all the groups were mobilizing together to continue the dissection. First, I carried the formaldehyde soaked paper towels that were underneath Gabby and dumped them in the trash. Then, I watched as my other group members peeled away the skin and muscles on Gabby’s underside, lengthened the incision right up to the cat’s chin, and pulled apart the ribs. The long, thin bones looked so delicate, yet they didn’t yield to our curious invasions without a small hassle; the cavity still stubbornly wanted to close. I looked at the cat’s toes and internally debated whether to play with them, thinking of how I’d often walk up to my cat and tickle her toes, and tried to keep my gaze away from the small crack between her eyelids. They were all guilty, reluctant curiosities. All the movements in the room seemed to grow progressively slower, as if the weight of time were dragging on them. I swore my heart beat more slowly and heavily than usual.
I squished my gloved finger against the cat’s spongelike lungs, then drew my hand back and stood and watched. My lab partners squished them too, staring with awe at the tissue’s ability to inflate and deflate. As time passed on, it seemed to become irrelevant, and I swore it was passing more slowly. I read the chemical stained daily paper under Gabby, seeing headlines about international politics and Donald Trump. Then, I felt my face getting hot. Sounds seemed to get a little quieter.
Suddenly, from its quiet beginnings as a flash of heat and dampened noise, it started to aggressively slide over me. I saw dark grey clouds creeping over my vision, fizzling with some kind of static. My heartbeat climbed from my chest to the inside of my head, and its throbbing made me feel like a living speaker with the way that low pounding vibrated through my body. A dull tin filled my ears. It was like being submerged in water; sound slipped away into indistinct acoustic blurs. Some kind of waves rocked me back and forth on my feet, and I swayed to the rhythm, feeling unconsciousness slipping over my senses.
Oh fuck, I almost said out loud to myself.
I backed away from Gabby and the counter and tried to balance myself. I have no memory of it at all, but apparently I brushed against someone, because my teacher said that was the case later and right now I heard someone speaking to me in a concerned tone, asking if I was okay. I felt sick. I was tossing and squirming over an ocean of sensory decay. My vision went dark gray, but I could see a small bit of what was around me. Then, I remember my teacher steadying me and taking me to a chair, where she put cool, wet paper towels on my neck and leaned me over onto my thighs to let the blood flow back into my head. She said I was really pale. I vaguely noticed people staring worriedly over to where I was, but self-consciousness didn’t quite occur to me at that moment. Mrs. Helms helped me peel off my gloves and undo the tie of my apron, then took the safety glasses off my face. She told someone to bring a chair out into the hall, then escorted me to the cool, clean air outside the classroom.
Excuse my vulgarity, I said internally to myself.
I sat, with my head still swimming, sipping water from a small plastic cup, staring at the men’s and women’s restroom across the hall. My vision cleared up. I wanted to gulp down cup upon cup of cold water, but Mrs. Helms had me drink slowly, so I wouldn’t overload my stomach with water and make myself nauseous. My body felt light and limp.
Carter, who had not been in the room for a while the last I knew, cooly strolled out of the men’s room in his pale yellow shirt. He slowed and looked at me curiously, probably noticing the pallor of my face. I wondered if my face was as pale as Gabby’s skin under her fur.
“Guess what….” I murmured dizzily, wishing my hearing were less muted. “I think I almost fainted….”
I can’t really remember what he said next, but I made sure to tell him I was okay.
After taking care of some things in the room and checking on everyone else, Mrs. Helms checked on me again, and with her holding my arm, I ended up wobbling over to the science office, which I never knew existed before that day. It was a cute, cozy little room. I reclined on a long couch with a dainty floral pattern, trying to wait out the faintheadedness. There was a weird twitchiness in my muscles, and my head ached softly. I tried to stand up once, and I felt that familiar hotness in my face and fuzz in my head.
My teacher said I was flushing and I should lie back down.
Around fifteen minutes passed, and, though I was getting better, I wasn’t better better. I thought of my cat’s soft white fur, glimmering in warm summer sunlight. I breathed. Everything seemed so incredibly still. I felt so comfy, hidden away in a room I’d never thought of until that day, alone, recuperating, sitting quietly like a zombie hiding in a morgue.
Then, Mr. Ruggiero, whose role at the school I wasn’t quite sure of, came in with a wheelchair, asked me and Mrs. Helms some questions, then, along with Mrs. Helms, helped sit me down in the rolling contraption. Mrs. Helms got a girl named Kayla to carry my backpack and phone to the clinic. As Mr. Ruggiero rolled me out of the science office, I felt like a ghost gliding through the halls, or an ice cube sliding around on a hotplate. All of a sudden, I felt so giddy. I almost giggled, but I hid my smiles with the back of my hand, sloppily pretending to rub my face. I felt like I was flying. I’d never been in a wheelchair before.
Once at the clinic, I rested in a little cot. I had my knees up at the request of the nurse—probably for circulatory reasons, to get blood back in my head—and my backpack was at my feet. The nurse asked some questions.
I got out my lunchbox and ate some slices of kiwi and two whole Oreos to hopefully help me and my blood sugar. I ate the kiwi first, letting it sweetly tingle on my taste buds and chewing slowly and delicately. The Oreos came next; I crunched them inside my mouth, my body visibly quivering with each clench of my jaws. The first I savored, but the second I pulverized passionately and swallowed within twenty seconds. With a sigh, I relaxed and settled my head down on the pillow. On the wall at my right was a curious poster. Its edges were a little curled, and I could see the tape underneath that held it to the wall. It was a picture of a cat lying blissfully on its back. The four legs were spread out as if the creature were waiting to undergo surgery. In fact, it was in the same position as the dissection cats—except this kitty glowed with life... Kind of. I stared morbidly. It amused me more than it disturbed me.
“I’m fine. Really.” Read the text accompanying its smiling orange face.