The next thing I knew, Holly was standing in front of us with a smile on her face. She and I hugged briefly and she invited us in.
With only Jim there, the two of us were able to catch up on each other’s comings and goings over the past few years. Holly worked part time as a waitress in a small coffee shop. She was majoring in social work at school, and after she graduated she hoped to eventually work with family services helping to keep families together. Her mother’s alcoholism had largely pulled her family apart and Holly wanted to make sure others did not suffer a similar fate.
Holly’s mother was an alcoholic who was often relapsing and binging, which made home life unpredictable. A binge drinker can convince themselves that they are fine and normal for days or weeks at a time, then suddenly go on a bender and be a complete monster. Often the alcoholic will not remember the episode later, or black out, and seem surprised at the hurt or angry behavior of their family afterward. The reason is that during the binge the binger can be violent and aggressive to the people around them but have no recollection of the altercations later. Her family will, however, remember those things and be emotionally scarred when the binge is over. Thus for a sense of stability Holly lived away from home and only visited her mother when she was sure a binge was not in progress. Holly wanted to help people and had found an avenue where her life’s experiences could be an aid to making that happen. I’m not really sure what I expected, but we were able to connect more effectively this time. On this visit, she also seemed more interested in what I was doing. Perhaps she saw parallels with her career plans in social work and my plans to help people via a career in sports medicine.
“So you work with all the jocks in the university?” she asked.
“I was in the University Recreation Center and rode up the elevator with two huge guys who must have been on the football team. They seemed scary to me. Do they scare you? What do you do with them?” she asked.
“No, they don’t scare me—sometimes I am their best friend. I take care of their injuries, strap their ankles or knees if they need it, and try to make sure they can keep playing if not play better.”
“Strap their ankles? Ha Ha, you’re a ‘jock strapper’” she laughed.
Jim thoroughly enjoyed that. Joe the Jock Strapper quickly became the theme of the conversation. It is actually a friendly nickname that my closest friends and colleagues use to this day. I briefed Holly on the anatomy class I’d just finished. Her days as a nursing student gave her a clinical insight, so she was not grossed out by the concept of cutting up a body, but interested in hearing more about it. Something we couldn’t do when her roommate Jane was there. Both Jim and Holly were quiet and attentive as I explained how we would cut into the skin and expose the muscles and nerves. I told them how complicated the anatomy of the head and neck was, and how much time it took to dissect the face, eyes and skull.
“Was it hard to cut up someone’s face?” she asked.
“Well, that was done after we had some experience doing dissection, and by that time we’d gotten used to working on the cadaver. But it did end up having a dehumanizing effect, because she no longer resembled a human when we were done. She really looked alien after that.” I said.
Jim and Holly nodded, seeming to understand the ramifications. For me it was truly a learning experience and even somewhat visceral to cut into the face, mouth and eyes of Clare the Cadaver. We had discovered that Clare had no teeth and a cleft palate in the process of our dissection. She likely was missing several teeth from birth, and lost all her teeth long before she became a cadaver. Despite her advanced age, her lips and her face looked relatively well formed. But the roof of her mouth was largely absent. Modern medicine will often fix the roof of the mouth when repairing a case of cleft palate, but when Clare was younger the goal was probably just to have her face look relatively normal, which was a success because she was a normal-looking 90-year-old cadaver, with gray, pasty skin and shrunken muscles from years of sedate living. Again, the lessons I learned from Clare during that one class taught me just as much if not more than any college professor ever could. All medical personnel are deeply indebted to those who in life donate their bodies to research and teaching so that they can benefit society even in death.
The three of us talked for hours. The subject of food eventually came up, and who was hungry and what was there to eat? Holly didn’t want to go out to dinner, not only because it was expensive, but since she worked in a restaurant like place she didn’t really enjoy eating out. She suggested rummaging through the kitchen to see what we could find. My mother would often mix miscellaneous salvaged leftovers into a soup she called garbage soup. Hopefully we could come up with something better-sounding than that. Holly’s kitchen was well equipped and well stocked with fresh and dried foods, all sensible and healthy choices.
There were lots of choices, but based on personal preferences and supplies on hand, we settled on chili con carne. All three of us knew how to cook and we worked well as a team. Jim and I had both learned how to cook from Mom and I had worked for a while after school in high school at a catering deli. So I felt comfortable cooking. Our jobs seemed to assign themselves; I took to chopping the onions and green and chili peppers while Holly started pan-frying the ground beef. Jim opened cans of tomato sauce, got that cooking in an aluminum pot, and then started spicing it up. Between Holly and her roommates they had a great selection of spices and Jim had fun mixing flavors. With three of us working together we were able to get a nice pot of chili done in less than an hour. We served it over some instant rice, with steamed carrots on the side.
While I was chopping up the fresh chili peppers Holly had, I found a small one that I put in the mix intact. This was a little trick I’d learned in college and we called it “bingo chili” because if you were lucky enough to get the whole chili, you got to wash the dishes. I wasn’t sure if the rules would apply here because it was Holly’s home.
Dinner was a pleasant repast with good food and even better conversation. Jim doesn’t drink but I had a couple of beers, which Jim and I had brought along for the long trip home. Holly had some of her favorite red wine that came in a box she kept in the refrigerator. She liked chilled red wine.
Holly won at bingo chili. She absentmindedly commented on an unchopped chili she found in her bowl and I yelled, “Bingo, you win.”
Holly was nonplussed and Jim disinterested as I explained the rules of bingo chili. Holly said she didn’t mind doing the dishes but would accept help. Jim immediately volunteered and said the easiest way to do dishes was in the toilet because the flush is the ultimate rinse! Jim didn’t do the dishes; Holly and I did.