We had previously heard stories about dismemberment.
In the news, there have always been tales of deaths with split limbs and joints broken in ways that remove all appearance of identity.
From forensic descriptions, we had formed images in our minds of what this might look like, and up until that morning, we thought we had a grasp of the starkness of it.
As we walked towards the scene but before we saw it, we imagined that body parts unzipped from each other would probably leave behind trails of glimmering liquid.
The pieces might be stacked either haphazardly or neatly. The skin would be unnatural in color, and there would be gaps and gashes in strange places.
Although we had prepared our minds for it, we were still surprised.
She was already mostly in pieces in front of us.
Her body, once so large and elegant, was now an uncomfortable mass about half as tall as she had been.
What could be salvaged and sold for scrap was waiting like harvested logs. What could not be was piled like toothpicks.
Parts of her were still standing.
We admired her resilience, even though it was fruitless. There was so much beauty and respect for us, her community, in her struggle for life.
With each snap, break, and tear, we could sense the release of decades of memories that she had contained and preserved for us.
They left, unseen, in the air, and we knew that many would never be remembered.
When it was done, her body contained hints of her life. We saw familiar marks and scars rearranged as the limbs crisscrossed in the dirt. Aspects of her beauty mingled with reminders of her death in singed beams and splintered window frames. We smelled smoke both then as we stared as they used big machines to carry her away and for years to come whenever we thought of her as she had once stood, tall and iconic on that corner lot.
The space remained empty for months, and wild plants grew in her place.