I just wanted to go to college. That’s not too far out there right?
I’m not going to give you the whole rundown of why I had to resort to what I did. All you need to know is that I didn’t want to end up in debt for the next thirty plus years and I needed to get out of my parent’s house as soon as possible.
I looked up a bunch of ways to make cash quickly. I didn’t want to hurt anyone else to do it, of course. I’m not a psycho. But it took a little less digging and a little more dumb luck. This was about three years ago. I was applying for jobs at a coffee shop when I saw a black van pull out in front of the place.
Three girls exited the van, I barely recognized one of them as a former classmate named Kayla, she was so pale and unsteady on her feet. But she was beaming. She strode inside and she ordered something up front, but I couldn’t hear exactly what she said.
I was more distracted by the row of black stitches going up her side.
She was wearing a crop top so they were out in plain sight. I wasn’t able to stop staring. She didn’t seem like she was in pain, but I had no idea how.
I guess it was on me that she noticed me staring, but she was hardly bothered. She just smiled, grabbed her cup of tea, and headed right for my table. She took her seat and gestured to the scar.
“Hey, it’s ugly, but it’s ten thousand in the bank.”
I sputtered for a moment but the dollar signs had already flashed in front of my eyes. “What did you do?” I asked, my curiosity peaked.
Kayla sipped her tea slowly. “Mmm, donated a kidney. I could’ve made a lot more from something a teenee bit more vital, but it’ll help put the down payment on a new car!” She said in a manner so casual she could’ve been talking about the weather.
I nearly laughed because I thought she was joking. But then I glanced at those stitches again. “… Are you kidding me?”
“What, like you haven’t heard of it?” Kayla laughed. “I think most of our classmates have donated something. There’s not exactly much to do for cash in this dying town, and we all need to get out before we drown with it.”
Ten thousand dollars. That would be amazing. “… How do you do it?”
Kayla winked before she took a card out of her pocket. “I thought you might ask. Here, if I invite someone to donate, I basically get commission. Go to the address on the card. Next week, ten PM. Be there on time or you’ll miss your chance.” With that, she threw away her tea and walked out of there.
It’s stupid how easily I went along with it. But I mean, God gives you two kidneys, you don’t really need both. And ten thousand freaking dollars. I’d have to work my ass off for so long to get anywhere close to that, and that wasn’t even considering how odds are my dad would steal my savings again if I left it be long enough.
So I was there, right on time, at the Red Corner bar with a few other people around my age. Kayla was there, it was clear she’d recruited at least three people to come with her if you include me. The rest had clearly done this before, they were showing off their various scars and talking about how much of a cake walk it was. Just go to sleep and wake up with a wad of cash.
The black van pulled up in front of the bar and the window rolled down to reveal a middle aged woman with silver strands in her otherwise black hair. Her white coat was neatly pressed and she was wearing a pink scrub shirt underneath. She just looked like your average doctor you’d go to for a well check.
“All right, it’ll be a busy night if all seven of you are going, so let’s not waste any time. You all ready? Don’t feel bad if you have to back out, there’s no shame in it.”
I glanced around to see if anyone looked hesitant. The other two newbies did look scared, but the confidence was just oozing off of the people who’d done this before. I wondered what else they could donate since they’d already likely parted with an organ. At the time, I assumed blood or maybe skin.
“Well, all right. Hop on in, I have water ready but snacks will wait until the operation is over.”
We all clambered into the van, which had no seats so we all just had to sit on the floor. The woman handed us all water bottles. “For all you first timers, I’m Dr. Harris. I’ll likely be operating on one or two of you tonight, my associates will handle the rest. It’s all right to be a little nervous, but I promise there’s no risk in this,” She said before she pulled into the street and began driving us someplace else.
I cleared my throat after taking a long drink. “Isn’t there always some risk with donating an organ?” I asked.
Dr. Harris laughed and glanced back at me. “Not the way I do it. You’ll wake up tomorrow morning feeling like nothing is wrong, you’ll immediately be able to go back to your daily activities. Kayla, dear, the forms are tucked in the box back there. Hand those out so we know what we’ll be taking tonight,” She said.
Kayla popped up two thumbs before she started digging through a cardboard box and threw papers at all of us, along with a couple pens. It was a pain in the ass to read the whole thing, since the van was dark and I’d only get the occasional glimpse of light from passing street lamps. Still, I got just enough to be able to check off my ‘l. kidney’ on the list of organs I wanted to donate.
I expected to be taken to some shady warehouse full of sinister people armed with scalpels. Instead, the van pulled up to a rather comfortable looking home in your average suburbia. Dr. Harris escorted us to the backyard, where we entered a walk in basement that had been transformed into an operating theater. Everyone else down there looked just as professional as Dr. Harris, surgeons slipping on masks and gloves or washing their hands.
“All right, let’s get the newbies out of the way first.” Dr. Harris rested her hand on my shoulder. “I think I’ll be operating on you. Come on, let’s get you ready.”
I was let into a side bathroom where I dressed into a surgical gown. I’d never been operated on before then, I didn’t know what to expect.
I did get an inkling something wasn’t quite normal when I was sat down on the table and given a red liquid to drink by a man I assume was like a nurse. It had no taste, I might as well have been drinking air. I laid down on the table as I was hooked up to all the machines and a mask was placed on my face.
Strangely I felt no fear as I was told to count backwards from ten. I didn’t even make it to six before I was out for the count.
Since I’m writing this, I’m sure you guessed I woke up the next morning. Along with all the other operatees, we’d been put in a guest bedroom on the main floor. Nothing felt out of place, I felt no pain. I removed my gown to check out if I’d even really been operated on.
But there was that line of stitches up my side, and although I felt fine, I scared myself half to death when I looked in the mirror and saw how pale I was.
Dr. Harris treated us to breakfast, casually asking how we felt and if we liked blueberries in our pancakes as she shoveled bacon and eggs onto our plates. She was an amazing cook. After we had our fill, we got taken back to the cafe and told if we ever wanted to donate again to be at the Red Corner at the same time and day of the week.
And that was that… or it was going to be anyway.
Luckily for me Dr. Harris was more than understanding and put the money on a gift card so my parents couldn’t once again get into my bank account and empty it out. A few days passed before I bumped into Kayla once more at the coffee shop. She ordered me something and we got to talking. We’d not really been friends in highschool but after our little organ donor experience we’d had gotten a bit of a connection. And she is a really nice person, a bit bubbly and superficial but nice.
We got around to talking about the donation and I asked what she’d donated.
“Oh, a kidney.”
I frowned. “I meant this time, not the first time,” I said.
Kayla laughed and her casual smile sent chills down my spine. “I donated my left kidney the first time, and I donated my right kidney last time,” She said, sounding oh so proud of herself.
I suddenly felt cold. Like I said, it’d already been a few days since we donated. She looked fine, her skin even got a little color back into it, but both kidneys gone?
“You’re full of shit. You can’t live without your kidneys,” my chest went tight and I found myself reaching for my cellphone, “You need a hospital-”
A blur of motion and Kayla had grabbed my wrist, squeezing it so tight that I thought she was about to break it. Her sunshiney expression had been immediately exchanged for something hostile. “Don’t be stupid,” She said in a low voice, glaring and giving my wrist another squeeze before letting go and going back to being that happy go lucky Kayla. “I promise. I’m fine. Dr. Harris is an amazing doctor, after all.”
I felt sick as I rubbed my sore wrist.
That night I went to Dr. Harris’ house. She hadn’t exactly hidden her street or address from us, no bags over our heads or blindfolds as she drove us there, but she wasn’t surprised in the least to see me at her front door. Before I could say anything she just gestured me inside.
There she fixed me a cup of tea and let me sit on her couch while she told me her story.
“You know, I was once a real doctor. One of the finest surgeons in the country,” She sighed as she enjoyed her own cup of tea. “I knew if a patient was on my table, they’d make it out. I wouldn’t let them die. My fellow doctors put that up to the typical surgeon ego. We are not exactly known for being humble, but why be humble when we’re honest? And it wasn’t my pride speaking either. I just knew no one would die on my table if I was the one holding the scalpel.”
I turned my cup around and around in my hands. “You took both of Kayla’s kidneys,” I finally said. “She’s a dead woman walking.”
Dr. Harris slammed her cup down on the side table, causing me to nearly jump out of my skin. “She is not going to die!” She took a deep breath calm herself before she glanced at her cup, which had massive cracks going up both sides. “… Damn, I really need to control my temper. It’s my temper that’s really always gotten me into trouble you know.”
She pulled her chair closer. “It was about eight years ago when I had a patient that seemed just as determined to die as I was to save her life. A fifteen year old girl who’d been in a car accident, her body mangled and full of more glass than blood. Even when the surgery was over, my fellow doctors told me there was no guarantee she’d live. But damn it, I wasn’t going to let my patient die!” Her voice shook and a tear went down her cheek. “She was just a child. So I went with an… unorthodox method. And I saved that girl’s life.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
Dr. Harris sighed. “I will not share all the details. Just know that it was, in the eyes of the hospital board, an act of malpractice and had nothing to do with her miraculous recovery. I lost my medical license, I was blacklisted from all hospitals in the country. I was called everything from a lunatic to a satanic sociopath. But Satan had and still has nothing to do with my work. How I managed to get the human body to work without the pieces inside is all me. With more practice on small animals, I found that it works out much better if the person whose parts are replaced is in relative good health, so I figured out my new path. Take organs from the healthy, give them to the not so fortunate, those who likely wouldn’t survive my new operative technique. I’m saving lives, and I’ll never let one be taken.”
I swallowed. This sounded like the words of a crazy person, but she sounded so devoted to it, so sure of herself, I found myself believing her.
So my next question is one maybe you’ve already guessed.
“How many organs can you take?”
Dr. Harris’ smile was filled with glee.
“Any one you’re willing to give.”
My other kidney was next, which was foolish but I wanted to know for sure that I wouldn’t die. I waited four months to prove Dr. Harris’ words- that no matter what she took from me, I wouldn’t die.
I did both of my lungs in one go, and although I find myself short of breath more often than before, I have no real problem with it. My pancreas was next, followed by all my intestines. I have less of an appetite, but that’s not a problem. I can save money on the food bill. I did cry when I woke up after my cornea donation and found I could still see, although I can no longer shed tears and my eyes do look a bit strange if you stare at them for too long, how glassy and fake they look and how black the veins are.
The final operation was the only one I think Dr. Harris was truly hesitant about. No one had actually checked that box before. I had enough money to begin my life, but I wanted to be comfortable for years to come.
So I went under that knife and let Dr. Harris take the last thing I could give.
There’s a strange emptiness inside of me now. I don’t cry, I don’t mourn, my exes all call me stonehearted. I’m not hurt by that.
But there’s an odd peace to not really caring at all.
And in this new apartment, in this new life… I’m finally free.
It only cost me my heart.