Touched, by Tanasha Martin
One More Day. A thin stream of water travels up my nose and to the back of my throat. I struggle with quick gasps. My wedding? No, that’s tomorrow.
Cold spatters my face preventing my eyes from opening. Shower? I love warm water streaming down my skin. It is a sensation I long for daily, since skin to skin contact is prohibited between people. Claire, that is not what this is.
I suck small snatches of air like sips through a stirring straw. The rain is a waterfall into my lungs. My ears ring. Panic, my new best friend, holds my hand and shouts, “No worries! You won’t feel a thing! You’ll be dead soon!” This can’t be reality. If it were, we’d be forbidden to hold one another’s hand. Not my students. Not to comfort the dying. Not even my Adam.
Every aching limb is heavy. Sirens fade in and out. Thank God help is here. Splashes sound around me. Where is my garment bag? Please don’t let my dress get wet, I bought it with my first four paychecks.
“Wait!” I hear someone far off shout.
“ – you hear me?” Another voice asks, rushed. He’s almost frantic.
Through tiny cracks between my lids, I spy raven hair plastered to a forehead and a blue shirt with a patch on the pocket, against an angry, dark sky.
A deep, velvety voice lowers to a comforting tone. “You’ve been in an accident–a car hit you. Try to take smaller breaths. My partner will be here with my protective gear momentarily.”
Wait? Help me now! Isn’t my life more valuable than violating the law? Dying has got to be worse than being Touched. I would risk living addicted, insane or even imprisoned rather than let someone die.
My chest is a vise. All that it allows to escape are the gasps that echo through my head. I shift. My neck and left side scream. Wet legs stir on rough concrete, but numbness encompasses my toes.
I command my arms to move, but only my right complies. My fingertips contact an elbow. Tiny sparks find passage along exposed skin. He inhales sharply and pulls away. I tighten my grip. I pull myself toward him. Pain travels everywhere. My eyes open in slits. I choke, “Please. S’okay.”
Losing my battle with consciousness, strength drains from me like a sieve. He cradles my neck and my head finds solid ground. Warmth covers my mouth. Blessed breath seeps into my lungs like fragile lifelines in a blackened sea.
Day One. My countdown is over, but this is not the new beginning I’d longed for.
There are workers breaking up concrete in the cavern around my thoughts. Desperate voices hover above them drilling without equipment. It isn’t constant. Conversation? I purse my lips to utter a “Shhh!”, but my tongue won’t cooperate. My vision shifts from dark to white. Movement to my right side alerts my brain that I’m awake. The scent of antiseptic and wildflowers is overpowering.The nurse’s fingers are ghosts on my wrist–even through the gloves. She disappears from view. A soft click follows her.
A familiar voice growls. “I don’t care if policies are different in emergency medical services. I need to know that paramedic’s receiving more than just ‘treatment’ and a fine.” A pause.
The growl becomes a roar. “He violated my fiancee!” A pause.
I try “Shhh” again. A faint whistle emanates from my lips.
“Gave consent? I don’t care — . I gotta go.” Adam leans from the left and shifts into my line of sight, his hair ruffled where there is typically not one out of place. His face softens into a smile and he coos, “Hey, beautiful. Welcome back. Ten fingers, ten toes. I checked.”
Responding is a herculean effort. I can think words, not form them. My body has the impression of dental work. All over. My heart rocks my chest.
Adam registers the fear in my face. He adds, “Hey, no need to panic. You’re still recovering from the accident and they’ve induced Touched treatment.” He chuckles, “You literally shouldn’t be able to feel a thing.”
I observe my own movement except for where the straps secure my arms. I’m numb. My nerves can’t sense the blankets, my toes on my own leg or Adam’s breath on my face. He reassures me, “…don’t freak out…it’s just a precaution…you were exposed…numb for a few months…withdrawals…no need for rehab if it works…first days are the hardest…catch it before it spreads…bastard should fry for what he did…”
The pit in my stomach expands.
Week Six. Adam stares down the hurtful whispers that invade my recovery room despite the previous opinions I’ve heard him state on those who have found themselves in my condition. Very few visitors return.
There’s a reason they call this condition ‘Touched’. But they’ve misunderstood. I’d wager that the treatment makes you a lunatic, not the contact. I grieve the loss and crave the restoration. I test my body constantly, assessing every prickle — the second each of my nerve endings come back to life.
Three Months. Treatment only makes me cling to memories of sensations. They’re like photographs. Can you animate a photograph? The less I eat, the more Adam wastes away. Tears give no relief when you are unaware when and if they well or fall.
Six Months. Restraints are removed. Adam, beaming behind full protective gear, is allowed to care for me at home. Group counseling sessions begin.
One Year. Sessions are completed. I’m cleared. Adam receives permission from Medical to remove his protective gear. We set a new wedding date.
I reach out, grasping a stunned Adam by the elbow. Ripples of warmth and tingles of electricity pass between us. He swallows. I whisper. “Please, it’s okay.”
Day One. He doesn’t pull away.
Copyright © 2016 by Tanasha Martin
Image is in the public domain.
Tanasha is a Member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.