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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

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There are two shoes in the grass, cracked and worn. No one is eyeballing them, or trying them on. Two shoes that could tell a story about how they got there, but no way to understand them. Even the stray dogs lope past them without a curious sniff.

There is a long, tight ring of soldiers and militia around the shopping center, guns at the ready against shoulders. They stare into the doors, as if someone dangerous may appear at any minute. People are thrashing past them on their way home from work, or out for the night. The hundreds of men in black uniforms, faces practiced and stoic are ignored the same as those shoes. I wonder what reason they have for being organized this way, what threat is inside all of that steel and glass. 

I will never know.


E is sick with a stomach virus, and I am up at all hours holding her hand as she vomits, pulling hair back from her face, speaking in a low voice. She is scared, on wobbly legs that carry her from the bed to the bathroom. There is a complete weakness in her voice when the first doctor comes to visit, checking the back of her throat, the tenderness of her stomach, listening with a stethoscope. The woman is old, waddling around the living room speaking in hushed reassuring tones. One of her arms is gigantic, as if it is inflated with air. It is like the limb of an elephant grafted onto her body. E cannot stop looking at it. The woman is self-conscious, trying to pull the white sleeve of her lab coat across it, then hiding it behind her clipboard.

E will be home for more than a few days, until she is allowed back to school.

She stares at me after the doctor has gone, after she takes some medicine. She wants to know how bad it will be, and when it will be over. She starts to cry, sitting motionless on the edge of her bed. I carry her around the house for a while, her chin resting on my shoulder, that familiar slump of her body against my arms with all of her weight on them.

"I need a tissue." She announces at one point.




On the next day, a different doctor visits. She is young and very official. E looks up at her blonde hair and blue eyes, looking for good news. She has been vomiting since five in the morning and cannot even keep water down. I pace the room, waiting for the doctor's advice. She tells us E is going to be fine, that she just needs to rest and take tiny sips of water. She fills out an entire paper with various additional medicines and remedies that N studies. She will go and buy them in a few minutes.

While N is out at the shopping center, the door buzzes. It is a team of paramedics. I make them wait in the hall, and talk to N on my phone. They are here by mistake. E is sitting up in bed, terrified she will be taken to the hospital by them. They offer to come in, to give her a quick check anyways. One is a woman with dark hair, sporting a specialized GPS phone, swaggering into the hallway. The second is a tall gangly man, sweating, carrying a giant utility kit.

She prods E's stomach, ruling out appendicitis. It seems she is more qualified than anyone else, and I am glad to know it is just a sort of flu she has and nothing more. The man sits, filling out forms, his glasses sliding down his sweaty nose. I see E shifting from fear to a sense of relief. The woman asks for my phone three more times, calling N who is walking back from the pharmacy now, in the pouring rain.

The paramedics gone, the room feels immensely quiet.
I get E a fresh glass of water to sip and she is already sleeping.

N's key turns in the lock, and she tiptoes in.
We drink tea in the kitchen, our voices almost a whisper.


Comments

liv said…
What a complex system of medical care! Seems so strange in a place where generally people seem ignored and marginalized.

Hope E gets much better very soon. And a good thought is offered that neither you nor N get sick yourselves.

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