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[Fiction] She's Gone

Neil Preston

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I’m working again. I’m at an aid station set up by DVNTS in Botswana, on the Okavango River and just over 50 klicks from Angola and the latest killing fields. It’s late at night and the rain is pouring down. A whole camp full of people here to help those who desperately need it, yet I feel like I’m running away. I’m running away from home/Rio, from her, and from my transgressions. I’ve become just like the one person I swore I would never become. I’ve become my father.

A landmine has ripped this boy’s leg off. I get a solid grip on the table and give him his leg back. I take comfort in my martyrdom, as my leg shreds and I feel the hot fragments, or their phantoms, tearing my legs to pieces. I’m not a pain junkie. I would rather just face the physical pain than the emotional emptiness I’m feeling right now. Anything is better than this … anguish.

You are never there.

That’s right. I was never there. I was always looking for other things to keep me away from working on our relationship. I preferred the fantasy and the not knowing. I liked the belief that we were a happy couple, hopping from hot spot to hot spot, helping out and moving on before things got complicated. I wanted her to be a physician like me. I didn’t think about how she was growing as a person. I didn’t want to know that she could … and would change.

My leg remolds itself and I can stand again. His eyes flutter and he says a word. I don’t know the language, but I’m willing to bet he’s asking for his mother. Certain things are damn near universal. I motion for the two orderlies to take the young man away and for the next case to be brought to me.

I’m too serious.

Of course I’m serious. I’m keeping people from dying day in and day out … just like Dad. Boy, have I totally fucked this up or what?

I can joke around with elites and Endeavor, with patients I hardly know, and family I’ve known my entire life, but I couldn’t do it with her. Why?

Hell, I don’t know. Maybe I had so much invested in my own life and the way I wanted to live it that I didn’t want to give her a chance to get inside. I wish I knew.

They put down another patient and I get a tiny respite from my self-loathing and pity party for one. If I’m lucky, it’s going to be a long night.

Dawn bring a respite from the flow of wounded, but not from my deep-seated sense of betrayal. I betrayed her. She trusted me and I let her down. She moved to another country for me, traveled to all kinds of places which were new to her, but comfortable to me. She met with my friends and I don’t think we spent more than an hour in her home town. Did I even think about what I was doing?

Was I trying to control the relationship, or was I willingly blind?

I am going to head home. The crisis is over, but I want to leave. One of the perks of being a volunteer, I suppose. I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to talk to her, or with her, or anything like that. I don’t know what I would say. I just don’t want to be here anymore. In a way, I know I need to stop running. I need to get back to the man I know I can be. I’ve lost her. She’s gone, but my life will go on. The best I can do now is not making the same mistakes again. Maybe I will even find the courage to tell her I’m sorry.

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