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t.s. ozula sioux

Lately, she has become acutely aware that she fears getting shot. More precisely, she fears being a random target at a mass shooting on the university campus where she will one day teach. To be clear, it is not so much the actual getting shot of it that she fears; she has been through and survived things of greater magnitude, though to look at her, you would never know. Those closest to her don’t even know. Besides, she has shoes on her feet, a roof over her head that does not leak, and safe water to drink and fill her belly when hunger comes too soon. And she is in school slowly, slowly making her way toward a double-masters in the two disciplines she loves the most: math and literature. She would describe herself as ridiculously, overwhelmingly, blessed and happy. She would say, “I’m so charmed it’s wrong, man,” and feel a rush of humility swell within her.

No, it is not the act of getting shot, nor is it the high probability that she will die soon after that has been troubling her these days. It is the thought that when it happens—when the shit comes screaming its terrified way toward the merciless, unforgiving fan—no one will come for her. That when she wakes in some hospital bed somewhere in some college town lucid and so fully, so completely aware of what just went down, she will not be met with familiar eyes. No one will know she is there.

She has revealed this fear to two people alone. She knows with certainty they will not be there; knows they will be unaffected and out of harm’s way. She tells them so that when it happens, they will know the depth and breadth of her love for them. So that when it happens, they will know how much they meant to her.

Her fear is not irrational or imaginary. It is not unfounded. Her fear is absolute.

Not long from now, this is how it will happen: She will be standing in front of a college lecture hall, teaching. Differential equations and the divine rebellion of Hafiz and Milarepa, in the same breath. Mid-sentence, she will smile with a slight blush and quietly shake her head as she thinks of how her friend and mentor back at her small northeastern college would laugh at what she’s become, laugh at the monster he created. You started it, she will hear him say. She will recompose herself seamlessly and without missing a beat, move on to a detailed explanation of separable differentials. She will get as far as integrating both sides of the first equation before the tremor stops her cold. She will feel it in her body first—in her liver, in the lower lobe of her left lung, in the retreat of her white blood cell count—and she will recognize it immediately. She will turn on a dime away from the board, face her students, and tell them to hit the ground. Now. Some will. Many won’t. The hall doors will open with a force that is almost beautiful in its defiance of natural law and an odd silence will descend before the first of many, many rounds are fired. Her eyes will meet those of the shooter and lock. Click. Time will stretch. She will think, You’re just a boy. She will think, I’m so very sorry, and mean it. She will think, I wish I knew your name, with an earnestness that will startle and pain him, causing him to shudder. Time will stretch. Unafraid, her gaze through him will deepen. Then it will come. Click. She will know exactly what hit her.

This is how it will differ: Someone will be looking for her. Someone will find her. Someone will lay with her on the amphitheater floor, close—body against body—as if by will and by weight, he could stop the outpour of her.

He will laugh for a second as he feels the squeeze of her hand in his and say, “You’re ruining the carpet, douche bag. Stop bleeding.”

She will laugh in return and say, “Bite me, motherfucker. You’re a terriblehusband,” with a tenderness that aches.

“You’re a terrible wife,” he’ll say, running his thumb across the arch of her brow.

This is their love-banter: gratitude and devotion, wonder and adoration embedded affectionately in adolescent insult and gutterpunk one-upmanship designed to impress one another. An esoteric vernacular, strange and divine.

“Knock-knock,” he will say, knowing he must keep her talking.

“Who’s there?”
“Interrupting cow.”
“Interrupting cow wh—.”

She will close her eyes and feel the gentle push of his forehead against hers, feel the warmth of sorrow, want, and grief roll down her cheeks and wonder if it is hers or his or both. He will whisper the punch line, "Moo,” and she will think, Even now, like this, the touch of your breath still renders me stupid.

“I hate you,” she will say.
“I hate you more.”