Last night as I was squeezing her small, dextrous hands in my larger calloused ones, it took me just a little too long to think of the right words. All I could think to say was, “It will be alright.” But that would’ve been a lie: it wasn’t alright and nothing would ever make it alright, and I wasn’t going to lie to her. I took too long to speak, so she spoke again. She was looking at my hands and her tear fell onto my skin and in my mind I could see the bars on the caskets I have carried into the Earth. The casket she might have been imagining will be a closed one.
Her hands will one day keep people out of the ground for a while longer, or, despite her best efforts, constitute the last human touch they’ll ever feel. She will blink away sweat and tears, just as she did last night, and guide sterile steel through numbed sinew and organ. I knew she was reconstructing the violence in her mind, naming off to herself the various structures that had given way to the bullet, perhaps even imagining just which processes stopped first. I said some words, and as inadequate as they were, she said with a voice as stable as her future scalpels, “Ok. Let’s go.”