“I don’t scare easily.”
This is something I love to tell people.
It’s not true.
I scare just as easily as the next person, but I try to power through the fear anyway. It’s important to do things that scare you, or at the very least, things outside of your comfort zone.
So, there I was.
Melinda had drowned. We didn’t know how long she’d been in the water, or how old she was. We knew very little about her. What we did know, was that the coroner’s office needed her to be cremated.
I’d never seen a waterlogged body before, and if I ever saw one again, it would be too soon.
Her face had no skin on it. Well, that isn’t exactly true. There was skin, it’s just that it was almost completely scrunched up on one side of her face. Looking at her reminded me of those slouchy socks that girls used to wear in middle school, large rolls huddled together.
We grabbed the paperwork associated with her case, loaded her up, and took her back to the mortuary.
On the day Melinda was scheduled to be cremated, I went to identify her one last time with my favorite surly mortician, Mr. Jones.
As I leaned in to check Melinda’s toe tag, I could see she was no longer alone in the body bag.
“Gahhh!” I shrieked and jumped back.
“What’s your problem, little girl?”Mr. Jones asked.
Normally, being called ‘little girl’ ,would annoy me. This time, all I could do was point into the bag.
Maggots. Hundreds of them. Squiriming around Melinda as if they were trying to snuggle in for the night.
I suppressed the urge to vomit and backed away.
“Uhh, where do you think you’re going?” Mr. Jones asked, audibly irritated.
“I can’t. It’s too gross.”
“Put on your big girl panties and grab the kerosene. I’m not training no punk!”
I sighed. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I went into the supply closet, grabbed the kerosene and went to hand it to Mr. Jones.
“What you givin’ that to me for? You know what to do with it.”
I took a deep breath and poured the kerosene over Melinda until I was sure all of the maggots were soaked, and their movement slowed until there was none at all.
I capped the kerosene and prepped the washing station to clean Melinda.
“I’m sure she was once a pretty girl.” I told Mr. Jones.
“If you look past the gore, you can see still the beauty. This girl has taken up space, eaten food, breathed in air, and left a mess, and now it’s her turn to feed something else. It really is a circle, and at some point, this will be all of us.”
Again, he was right.
I looked at her again—really looked at her, and realized, that she was beautiful. There can be beauty in decay, as the body returns to the earth, feeding the life that is left behind.
In decay, we are offered an opportunity to contribute to life continuing around us.