KIRSTEN SUNDBERG LUNSTRUM
My student is protesting biology class today, sitting out the cow heart dissection. She is ethically opposed, she tells me. She is against murder.
“Me, too,” I nod. “Against murder, I mean, not science.” I smile.
She means well, this girl. In her black lipstick and studded dog-collar choker, she means well, and I remember what it is to be a girl. I remember all too clearly what it is to be a girl who means well and who thinks meaning matters to anyone. I remember and so I say, “Why don’t you just sit this one out?”
She is glad to be released. She thanks me. (See? Polite.)
Later, after school, I buy myself dinner out. I am old enough to afford this kind of luxury now. I am old enough not to care that I’m a woman dining alone. I order bourbon and a steak. No—that’s not true. I order wine and a steak salad. (I’m not as carefree as I wish. I’m working on it. I’m a work in progress, as my students would say. YOLO, they’d say. Right, I’d add, but, you know, within reason.)
The restaurant is in the town beside the town where I live. Sometimes I tell people I’m from this town instead, because it’s nicer, more beautiful and more gentrified than where I actually live. I’m not supposed to like this gentrification, but I do. I like the clean sidewalks and the baskets of petunias hanging from the streetlamps. I like the restaurant’s big windows looking out onto the bay, and I like the faux-industrial lighting over my table-for-one. I like the arugula and baby greens salad I’m served. I like the wide-mouthed glass of Malbec that the tidy young waiter serves and that I drink too quickly. And I really like the slim strips of medium rare arranged in a lovely, bloody splay atop my greens.
As I eat, I think of my student. What I should have said to her was this: Someday, daughter, you will be hungrier than you are polite. Someday you’ll see a heart in a tin tray and think, “I knew it. Nothing but a blob of rubber muscle. Bloodless as a stone on a float of formaldehyde.” Someday, darling, you’ll choose the scalpel and won’t think twice.
As I eat my steak, I think Beauty. I think Grass-fed days of August under a bluebell sky and fly buzz at the center-thrum of summer’s warm heart. I think: You only live once, whether bovine or human, so make the living good.
I say to myself: LOVE, GRIEF, MELANCHOLY, DOUBT, naming those four pumping, hungry chambers of my mid-life heart.
When the waiter returns to clear my plate, he asks after my meal. “It was delicious,” I say, smiling, polite. His sleeves are rolled to the elbow, and I notice the trace of veins at his bare wrist, blue as atlas rivers, blue as the bay beyond the window. I think: bluebell, blueblood, true blue, my blue heaven. On the receipt, I write out a generous tip and sign my name.
Outside, after my dinner, the sky is just darkening. The sky is just sinking from one blue into another. Here by the bay, the wind smells like salt, like mud. Mineral and marrow. Breath and blood. I think of the heart and the waiter’s veins. I think: I just want someone to know me like a map.
But, no, that’s not true. I’m just making connections to please myself. I’m just looking for a way to pull it all together. Isn’t everybody?
Really, the night is just like most nights at that time of year. Really, there is a bit of wind, and I pull my sweater closer as I walk back to my car to drive home to the house where I live by myself in the town not as beautiful as this one. Still, I’m not unhappy. Please don’t misinterpret me. I want my meaning to be clear.
What I should have said to my student is this: Who doesn’t love the knife every now and then?
What I should have said is that it can be difficult to tell your principles from your fear, your manners from your uncertainty.
What I should have said was that when I say, I want my meaning to be clear, what I mean is, Can you see me?
What I mean is, Aren’t you at least a little curious about what goes on inside us?