My 8th grade Life Sciences class was taught by the 9th grade Line coach, Coach Tversky. Coach T was short, round, and extremely funny. He called us "mullets" (the fish, not the haircut), and was generally well-prepared to teach the subject. Made it very interesting. During second semester, we hit dissection. Think Springtime in Texas, and carving up dead things.
We started off slowly with earthworms. Can you really dissect an earthworm? Why yes, yes you can.
This didn't bother me at all. I'd been baiting my own hook since I was eight. Kinda cool to see an earthworm's innards. Next up was a frog. A little gooier, but still not a problem. We're making our way up the food chain, one type of bait at a time.
Then we did a fish, at this time we started thinking Coach T was just catching stuff in his backyard and bringing it in for us to cut up and keep us busy. We hit mid-March and Spring Break with the promise of something bigger waiting for us when we got back. I was not prepared.
We could smell it walking down the hall the first Monday after break. Sickly sweet, a combination of Coach T's German sausage lunch and formaldehyde. I can close my eyes and still bring up the memory of formaldehyde. It has a very distinct odor. And it sinks into everything, your clothes, your skin, your hair. You can smell and taste it hours after class, and after a few days, you can't get rid of it. We walked into class and found trays of fetal pigs laying on the lab tables. Unlike the other specimens that were plentiful, we didn't get our own pigs, thank God. We doubled up with a lab partner, two to a pig. My partner was Beth, daughter of a surgeon, ambitions of becoming a doctor herself, scalpel-happy Beth. She was delighted to do the cutting while I did the diagramming and labeling. We made a great team. Monday was a just get to know your pig day; Tuesday we opened the thoracic cavity. She cut and removed organs, I diagrammed and labeled. Wednesday, abdominal cavity, same routine.
Okay, Friday is test day, that means I just have to get through Thursday and I'm home free, right? RIGHT??? So Thursday morning, I'm standing by Petunia (yeah, she was a little girl pig) waiting for Beth. The bell rings, no Beth. Tardy bell, no Beth. This girl is NEVER late, and I'm sweating, Thursday is brain day, and I haven't cut on anything with a brain. Shit.
Coach T ambled over grinning, looked at me over the pig and said the words I dreaded, "Beth is sick, you're up." Double shit. I haven't even touched the thing yet and now I have to untie two of it's little hooves, flip it over, and cut out it's little brain. I'm not sure why the pig bothered me so much. I guess it was cuter than the worm and frog; it was a mammal. Still had it's umbilical cord attached. But it's a little baby pig and now I have to cut out it's little baby pig brain.
So there I was, Vicks Vapo-Rub stuffed up my nostrils, hands shaking and a nauseous sweat rolling down my face. I made the first cut through the derma, tough, pickled with the formaldehyde. and took a deep breath. Wrong move, gag. The second move was supposed to be cutting through the skull by chipping away with a pair of sharp scissors. Note: Do NOT give me anything sharp. I was chipping, chipping, chipping and the brain came into view.
I gagged, I jabbed, I cut the membrane surrounding the brain, the brains started leaking out. According to Coach T, it was just a little bit, but I remember it as a virtual Mt. Vesuvius of gray matter. The cold nauseous sweat turned hot, my ears started buzzing and my eyes started blurring. Then I was out. Cold. Face first in the pig brain.
When I came to, I was on the floor, pig brains and puke (Coach T said he couldn't tell if I puked first or passed out first or if it was simultaneous) was matting my Aqua Net stiffened bangs and Coach T was grinning over me. "Nice swan dive, Chumbley. Go see the nurse, you're done for the day."
I gathered my books and stumbled down the hallway to the nurse's office to get checked out for the day. Back then (actually my folks still live there), I lived across the football field from the junior high. I walked to and from school every day, rain or shine. Boo hoo. But that day, I would have paid anything for a ride home. When I walked in, Poppy was home for lunch and offered to make me a fried SPAM sandwich.
And that's why I didn't eat pork for 20 years.