Out in Chesapeake Bay sunk somewhere between the states of Maryland and Virginia is a parade of corpses, weighed down so as not to float to the surface. The bodies have been placed there by the FBI and are used to study the effect of decomposition and degradation over time on a human body that has been submerged.
In this way, by rough comparison, the FBI hopes to offer local law enforcement the ability to better gauge the time of death of people who have been dumped or have otherwise ended up in a body of water.
The area is cordoned off and a klaxon sounds when the bodies are raised. This happens once a year; and the corpses are subsequently photographed, catalogued and archived for use by request. It is a type of forensic Dulux Colour Chart.
It isn’t enough that the people died for often quite pedestrian reasons – heart attacks, bad livers, the contraindicated use of diclofenac on dengue sufferers: a gamut of increasingly boring ways to go – but the bodies are all subjected to further affronts. They are shot, stabbed, strangled, they are crushed, tortured, squeezed, and all to replicate not only the effect of time on a dead body, but the effect of time on a dead murdered body.
The idea is horrifying, but not because of how the bodies are debased, but because of why. We leave enough forensic clues of our having existed in our lives. Drawers at all the places we have worked are full of junk that we never had time to clean out, junk that can still identify us, that will still evoke memories; our signatures are at banks, at government agencies, on birthday cards, cards of condolence and of congratulation; there are photographs of us trying to avoid being photographed: these are online, in friends’ houses, maybe even in wallets.
All traces of our having been should be erased: it was an outrage that we ever were. Lord Jesus, let there be nothing left of my unremarkable life but the clicking of insect jaws.
Written on Monday, 11 June 2012