Wednesday, May 10, 2017
My latest non-fiction read:
I've always enjoyed topics that most people find macabre or disturbing or just plain gross.
*If you do not enjoy similar topics, you might not want to continue reading.*
I was talking with one of my friends recently, and we both shared how we came to accept death when we were children. It's inevitable, for every living thing, and maybe that's why it has interested me for so long. It's the great equalizer.
Judy Melinek thought she wanted to be a surgeon, but realized that a life of endless 36 hour shifts would eventually be the death of her, so she began investigating the deaths of others. She's not a death-obsessed ghoul; she simply determines a cause of death and assists the police in deciding the manner of death so that the family and loved ones can begin the healing process.
I was a long-time fan of the show Bones, which centers on a forensic anthropologist who solves crimes with the help of her FBI agent partner/love interest, and I think the process by which these doctors and scientists work in order to solve crimes is fascinating. Although Melinek is quick to point out how unrealistic those shows are, the processes and methods she uses in her work are equally intriguing.
I will admit that reading chapter after chapter about individual deaths and John/Jane Does got a little monotonous, but just as I felt my eyes starting to glaze over, I came to Chapter 10.
Chapter 10 was actually a little difficult for me to read because it recounts her experiences documenting and identifying (or, attempting to identify) people who were killed on 9/11. In our school, the students do projects every fall on 9/11, but these kids weren't even alive in 2001; to them it's just another piece of history. But for so many people, that day is still a blur of nightmarish images. I had never even been to New York City before, but I distinctly remember the eerie feeling I got as crowds of college students gathered around the small TV in the cafeteria. I was in a World History classes, taught by one of my favorite professors, when someone popped his head in and said we'd better turn on the television. So there in a lecture hall that seats 500 people, on the gigantic projector screen, we watched the Twin Towers fall and students' faces froze in horror as we realized what was happening a couple hours away downstate.
I knew then, and I know now, that the events that occurred that day were so large in scale that comprehending them would take years. I know that millions of people live in NYC. I heard the death tolls announced, along with the photos of the missing posters that plastered the city for months. I knew people at college that lived in the city, and I heard them speak about what they saw or heard. I guess I'd always imagined the victim's bodies being pulled from the rubble in tact; my imagination seems to want to award them some dignity since they were killed in such a merciless, inhumane way. But Melinek writes that very few bodies were brought for identification, speaking instead of the trucks that drove to the makeshift labs. She writes :"A tractor trailer can hold alot of body parts."
Melinek concludes her memoir by reaffirming her passion for her work, and when people ask her how she can do such a job, she replies "To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living."