I dissected my first cadaver when I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. It belonged to a twenty-eight year old convict, and when the body had been wrought with his mind, he'd used it to rape his daughter. I found myself staring at his dick as I emptied his chest cavity and made note of the abnormalities in his heart and liver. He'd been a drinker, but I knew that before I scribbled cirrhosisin the margin of my paper. I could it tell it by looking at his face: a sloping brow, weak jaw, sickly stubble, and yellowed teeth.
In a delirious second, I witnessed a resemblance to Nehemiah. Not in figure, not in features, but even in death, I could sense their shared desperation, a willingness to do anything to hide their evil from the man who judged them the hardest. I closed my eyes and thought of Nehemiah. How many years had it been since I'd seen him? Was he alive? "He's human."
My classmate looked up at me, and I knew she was confused but also alarmed. She picked at her nails as not to meet my eyes. "This is humanity?" She gestured at the open corpse and organs we'd set aside, as if misdeeds were written in blue dye and formaldehyde. "He was a sick fuck. No offense, but I don't think it's time to get philosophical, especially not over this guy. Just do your work."
"I guess. But y'know, I don't think there's anything more human that."
She nodded and took her notes. She didn't like to argue with me, and I never learned her name because it was inconsequential to our relationship. I cleaned the scalpel and thought of Nehemiah. Would he look so pale, strewn apart for study? Would my cells still linger in his fingerprints? Would someone call him a monster in so many words? Would I stop loving him?
[Nehemiah grabbed my arms and told me he was a pedophile. He'd molested me and two other children, other boys I knew from the neighborhood. I was his brother who adored him, and he only regretted hurting me. The other two? He could not remember their names but they both had brown eyes like mine.] I wrote my notes, looking at hers, and left class early because I couldn't breathe. Someone said I looked feverish.
At home, in my bright kitchen that reeked of pine cleaner, I made myself tea. I turned on the television for some cacophony and remembered when I moved in with him. I left home at seventeen, and Nehemiah offered me a place to stay because we hadn't spoken since Mother kicked him out for unnamed reasons. I hardly remembered the times he bathed me, so many years had passed.
The first night we spent together, I let him fuck me, calling him stranger. The second he avoided me, and the third he confessed, and the fourth we pretended we had never known each other, and the fifth I thought I was in love, calling himMiahlike when I was a child. I moved in with a friend a year later, and Nehemiah stopped calling in June. I wasn't coming back.
["You do live with ugliness," Nehemiah told me, vivid against the background of my fading memory. He had a glass of water in his hand or maybe it was vodka, "You know that, right? You live with ugliness. That's why she made me leave. Ugliness."
"You're not ugly," I said because I used to think he was handsome. "I don't have anywhere else to be. Stop crying."
I have been elbow deep in a man, and they all look the same. [His sheets were cold, and he said my name beneath his breath. He said it again and again.]