I wonder where you were
While you sat watching your hands work away at their terrible task
While you sat, a passive observer
To the things your world required.
It wasn’t easy to get here
You remember the interview
You wanted a career in Chemistry, and this was Neuroscience
“I don’t know if this is the right fit” he had told you
But you convinced him otherwise.
And you were so proud.
But then the thing started
And you were doing what you had not known you would have to do
And these rats became a thing more real to you
Than you had ever imagined they could be.
Someone who had been there a while took you
She guided you into the surgical room and
told you she was going to show you a procedure.
You would have to follow along and learn
You didn’t know what she had in mind
No one had prepared you
As she took her tools and laid them on the table
The table that had holes in it to drain the blood.
Then she took a rat
And she put it in a box, full of anesthesia
Sweet and vaguely fruity
The thing must have known something was wrong
Judging by the way it struggled to escape
Slower and slower and slower
Until it wasn’t moving at all.
Now it could begin
As she pulled the thing out and laid it flat
A cone now provided anesthetic through its nose
As its soft white fur slowly rose and fell
in chemical slumber
“Now watch” she said
As she butchered the thing from neck to navel
Cracking heavily through the ribs as she went,
sending blood pouring out of a heaving chest
that convulsed mechanically
and in vain
That was the moment you realized
it wasn’t going to make it.
Her hands worked deftly
Demonstrating an expertise you would soon share
As she put a needle in the heart
And loosed a stream of ice-cold water to drain out all the blood
While the bright red eyes lost their color.
Then picking up the limp, wet thing in her hands
She removed the head
And cracked through the skull
to pull out the brain, small and pale and yellow.
She tossed aside the rest, and
Gloves bloody put the next, tense rat
in the box
“Now you try” she said
And that was only the beginning.
Your hands didn’t shake anymore
It had been years
Now you sat watching them as they carried it out
That thing which you had lost the strength to do yourself.
You thought about the ones there in the room with you
Twenty today, more tomorrow
Their entry in the Encyclopedia of Life would read as follows:
Born, Pain, Die.
And you raged against the author of that senselessness
The one who you were taught had set all things in motion
And who had said that it was good.
You stewed and turned in your rebellion
As if your fury could wash the blood from your hands.
It wasn’t fair because it wasn’t wrong
Because it was right to seek the cures here
In something just close enough to yourself to be meaningful
And just different enough to be alright.
Terrible and Justified and Terrible and Justified and Terrible.
Your noble cause was treating Alzheimer’s Disease.
You were seeking to evict the demon that crept into men’s minds
Carving out drooling husks
As it stole all their memories.
“It’s okay,” you thought to yourself,
“They can have some of mine.”
But you didn’t want to forget, did you
Because at the center of what was happening here was something
Deeply dark and deeply true.
Because if somebody had to do it
Maybe it was better that it hurt them so much
That it cut them so deeply.
At least then, when it was all over
you could point to those scars
And convince yourself that it was okay
Because you didn’t make it out whole, either.
The anesthesia was safe, mostly
“Careful” he had told you when you started
The one you had convinced to let you do the things you hated
“This stuff won’t hurt you, but it could make you sterile
if you end up inhaling too much.”
He had said it while laughing.
No, you couldn’t forget
But it was so much for you to bear,
So much that each time you slipped the cone onto the nose
Of that softly sleeping thing in front of you
You left a little gap.
And as that sweet, fruity smell drifted up to your nose
It made you feel a little lighter,
It made it hurt a little less
Until you didn’t feel anything at all.
Then preparing yourself
You looked at the rat
And thought down to it
The same thing you thought to yourself
“Breathe deep, friend,
It will all be over soon.”
And you watched yourself
from some unknown distance
As you did those terrible things.
You were somewhere else.
I wonder where you were.
I wonder if you’re ever coming back.