Sometimes

by Mallory Ortberg

The human body has two kidneys located in the posterior abdomen, on either side of the spine: one below the liver, one below the diaphragm. Each is roughly the size of a fist. Most people don’t know this, but the average abdomen is slightly asymmetrical, causing the right kidney to sit slightly lower on the torso than the left. This is important, but most people don’t know this.

The kidneys—their upper portions, anyway—are protected by the eleventh and twelfth ribs, as well as two separate layers of fat, the perineal and the pararenal. The kidneys excrete waste, maintain a steady blood pressure, regulate pH levels, and secrete hormones. This is important. Every day the kidneys process approximately two hundred quarts of blood.

Sometimes people develop renal cell carcinomas, or lupus nephritis. Sometimes cancerous cells build hulking nests that strangle the kidneys and slowly calcify them into perfectly preserved photocopies of themselves.

Sometimes people drive to work and they look left when they should look right and then a part of the car is embedded in their sides and their skin pulls open and the right kidney puckers and pops like a balloon.

Sometimes people are born with kidneys that never completely separate but stay fused together in a hard, angry horseshoe resting against the spine. These things happen.

Sometimes other people die, people who marked the boxes on the backs of their driver’s licenses, die from heart attacks and measles and cancer and choking and stabbing, and somebody scoops out their kidneys and weighs and measures and tests them and wraps them in plastic and packages them in ice and gently, gently rushes them to you. Sometimes they open you up and nestle them between your renal veins and arteries and close your flesh back around, a perfect bubblegum-pink fist throbbing inside just above your hips, and you make sure to drive more carefully from now on.

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Mallory Ortberg is a some-holds-barred pop-culture enthusiast living in the Greater (and great) San Jose area.
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