Anne Valente

A Brief History of Crime Scene Investigation

Flashbulb memory: a fixed location, a moment stilled in time.

Where we were when x happened. Solve for x. Capture. Click.

Erase your familiarity. Erase what you knew. Erase this as a place you first learned the particulars of locker combinations, flirtatious glances, seven minutes of passing time between classes. Erase your heart. Shut down its valves. Think of this only as crime scene, as investigation. As a site of evidence, nothing more.

Synapse: the brain’s bridge where nerve cells touch.

Neurotransmitter: an electric impulse, a firing of new data between cells.

Survey the scene. Make sketches. Take photographs. Map and measure everything. Record and document where physical evidence was discarded. Search for fingerprints, for left-behind weapons. Analyze ballistics, evidence of range. Identify the residue of gunshots, trace evidence of hair, of fibers and dust. Identify accelerants, faulty wiring, flammable liquids, burn patterns. Allow first responders to take notes, allow the coroner to take over, allow crime scene investigators to arrive. Record the time. Leave everything as found. Barricade the perimeter with yellow tape.

Dendrite: feathered tip. A waving of cilia at the ends of cells that connect, that jump synapses and transport fact. Sight and taste. Sound, touch. Sensory perception of how the light fell or how a classroom door shot open or how the spine of a book curved, a blast of fire between tendrils catching data like an outstretched hand.

Note the weather conditions. A wash of blue sky.

Restrain the arrival of news reporters.

Fear: the amygdala. Cortisone release. A stress response to threats, the animal brain. A quickening of heart rate and blood pressure. An intake of breath and air. A flooding of neural synapses to remember fear and to self-protect, to create connections that rewire the brain entirely.

The mind a malleable thing, a mold of plasticity. A collection of 100 trillion synapses that rearrange and transpose. A critical mass of impulses that bury trenches, that germinate in the cortex and take root. Overturned chairs. A wall of desks. The sound of popping and screaming. An assembly of pale faces crouched to the floor.

Flashbulb memory: the firing of so many synapses at once, a braid of cells.

A strengthened cord, an indelible image.

Place identification cards beside everyone found. In the hallways, in the library, in the biology lab, in the school cafeteria. Make note of eyeglasses. Earrings. Torn clothing. Skewed shoes. Place belongings in a bag. Mass disaster: contain everything. Steel yourself.

Erase what you were. Begin again.

A seed. A fractal. A road.