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Taking Me Away From Him This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I didn’t realize they were moving me until it was too late.

My head was tilted against the clear plastic wall behind me, angling my face away from the clean light that pierced every corner and every shadow. My hands had nowhere to be; they clasped and unclasped in my lap, behind my hair, on the thin blanket across my legs. Breathing slowly, I kept my eyes closed but my ears open. I was always listening for him.

The hiss of the air off to the side made me jump a little, and I straightened up to hide my exhaustion from the experts who were advancing towards me. I could see their photos pinned to their crisp uniforms, and I knew that I had no reason to fear their entrance. These were not the doctors I needed to watch for.

This time, there were two of them. I couldn’t put names to their faces, but that was generally the idea. They all had the same nondescript dark hair, and their faces were all clean shaven. There were never women walking these halls – I was an anomaly, an exception.

To my surprise, these weren’t the orderlies that had admitted me to this tomb they called a hospital room. These two were different. They had the characteristic crinkles around their eyes that marked them as a kind of nurse – the men walking towards me were used to being surrounded with these kinds of situations. But what surprised me the most was the younger one. He didn’t seem old enough to be holding such a high position in the Society, and besides that, his hair was a strikingly pale color that stood out amongst the sea of blacks.

He noticed my stare, but he must have been used to it. The older man tore my attention away from this strange boy, telling me that they had come to update me on his condition. He didn’t bother to lower his voice – everyone in the room was either awake or sleeping eternally.

When they told me there had been no change, I felt the grief threatening to overcome me, rising hot, high in my throat. I tried to look away, but all I saw were the dark eyes of the boy trying to mask his emotions. He felt this heartbreak, too. I doubled over to try and contain this poison inside me, but I fell to my knees, letting it cough out of me, barely making it into the nearby trashcan. I heaved and retched and sobbed with the weight of this pain, this pain that had been lying under my skin this whole time, just waiting to force its way out.

I tried to apologize through my tears, but they had seen it all. The younger one handed me a napkin. Taking it gratefully, I wiped my mouth with it and dropped in into the trashcan beneath my head, letting it cover up my shame as best as I could. My dignity was gone – but wasn’t everyone’s in this place?

My strength had gone, but I was not alone. I was never alone here. The orderlies wrapped reassuring arms around my back to lift me off of my knees and to place me gently on my feet. The gentle pressure was comforting in a way; it helped me feel grounded in a place that made me feel restless and lost in space. The throbbing behind my eyes was getting worse; after two days of seeing nothing but blinding light, the ache that followed me everywhere was rearing its ugly head.

This was how they broke you – you never knew if it was day or night; if there could be hope in this hall of sickness and death; if there was anything in the world besides the red white red white of your room.

I tried to focus – first on the long white pants the men wore, then on the filmy blue scrubs covering their feet – but I couldn’t keep my eyes open for long. The darkness rushed from the corners of my vision, and my head was suddenly too heavy to hold up.

I let my head fall as I pushed my hands against my eyes, feeling the tired sadness nudging against me from the inside again. Leaning on their arms, I took a deep, broken breath. It was a relief to have someone to support me – these long hours of staring through the endless, bright whiteness in this sterile room was wearing down my spirits.

“Can I sit down for a minute?” I asked softly, and I felt rather than heard their assent. They began to lead me to the other side of the room, where my small plastic visitor’s chair was that they had brought in for me when I first arrived.

It was the rush of the pressurized air that alerted me that we had gone through the quarantine doors.

“No,” I whispered, feeling some strength burning its way through my chest. “No, no, no!” They had caught me in my moment of weakness, and I was going to pay for it. “Stop!” I yelled, and I felt their hands tighten around me. My blood rushed, and suddenly I was burning. I tried to turn to see him, but the orderlies began moving faster.

My eyes wheeled in panic, searching for some way to help him, to get to him. I instinctively went limp, making my body heavy and my feet dragging. The younger man cursed as my weight made him buckle, leaving the other to pick up my slack. I lashed out with everything I had, slamming the older one in the face. He cursed as well, reeling backwards and trying to staunch the blood pouring from his nose. I landed on my knees, straightened up, and took off, sprinting back the way we came to try to get through the door before it was too late.

But it always had been.

The piercing blue quarantine lights flashed above my head, above the door, and I slammed against it just as the air pressure-sealed it. There was no getting in. There was no reaching him.

I pounded my fist against the glass wall between us, trying to bring it down to get to him. “No!” I screamed, frantically searching his face for some kind of life. I could hear the drone of the speakers behind me, summoning more orderlies to subdue me. “No!” was the word tearing from my lips as my hands flew and my hair whipped and my heart seized.

It was as if the anguish had torn all of my words from me, stripped me of my language and my reasoning and my self. It tore at me like me a feral dog, ripping at me from the inside out, gnawing fiercely at my abdomen, my chest, my heart. It left me with “no”, the only word that could sum up my terror and my anger and my desperation.

But I wasn't there for philosophy. I was there for him.

I felt the rough hands of the guards close around my waist and begin wrenching me backwards. There were at least 4 of them that had taken the place of the two medics I had wounded, and now I was defenseless. My fists met with open air, and the stark hospital bed was getting further away.

HE was getting further away.

I knew I couldn’t overcome them, but I still kept trying. I scrambled for purchase against the slick white tile underneath my feet, but the regulation blue quarantine scrubs left me slipping into the hard grasp of the men. They dragged me backwards down the pristine hallway; away from the octagonal room I had spent the last 2 days in; away from my flimsy chair; away from the only person that meant more to me than myself.

As they pulled me away, I jerked my head up and out of their grasp in time to see the clear, angular walls around him begin to become opaque. At the last second, I found my words again and screamed his name. It was lost in the blaring alarms overhead and the gruff orders from the officials, and he hadn’t been awake in days. But I still screamed for him.

I was yanked the last foot through the exit at the end of the hall. I was too far to see his face now, too far to see his vitals monitors, but I would never stop fighting. Not for him.

As the door slid down from above to shut me away from the hospital wing forever, I saw a flash above his bed. The red white red white of his walls had changed now, and it was this flash of red to green that gave me hope again.

Red means deteriorating.
Yellow means stable in critical condition.
Green means he is coming back to me.

The door slammed between us, shutting him away.




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