The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly
For my mother, who has always believed I could do anything.
And for my father, who has worked hard his whole life, to give me -opportunities to try to prove her right.
And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.
—Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men
You think you know people when you grow up with them. When they’ve been beside you your whole life. You know their voices, the curves of their hands, what makes them laugh. You know their hearts.
But it turns out you don’t know their thoughts. Not truly, not in full. All people have their secrets, and not just things they keep from you, but secrets about you. Things they hope you’ll never learn. You can share your home with someone, share all the silly, little details of life, share the soap, the sugar bowl, shoes—and you would never guess.
You think you know someone.
Then one day you find yourself running. Really running, lungs burning, legs churning. Too frightened to stop and look back. It turns out I have been running my whole life. I just never knew it.
Let me tell you what it’s like to run.
Let me tell you a story about fear.
* * *
My name is Caroline Cashion, and I am the unlikely heroine of this story. Given all the violence to come, you were probably expecting someone different. A Lara Croft type. Young and gorgeous, sporting taut biceps and a thigh holster, right? Admit it.
Yes, all right, fine, I am pretty enough. I have long, dark hair and liquid, chocolate eyes and hourglass hips. I see the way men stare. But there’s no holster strapped to these thighs. For starters, I am thirty-seven years old. Not old, not yet, but old enough to know better.
Then there is the matter of how I spend my days. That would be in the library, studying the work of dead white men. I am an academic, a professor on Georgetown University’s Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. My specialty is nineteenth-century France: Balzac, Flaubert, Sten-dhal, Zola. The university is generous enough to fly me to Paris every year or so, but most of the time you’ll find me in the main campus library, glasses sliding down my nose, buried in old books. Every few hours I’ll stir, cross the quad to deliver a lecture, scold a student requesting extra time for an assignment—and then I return to my books. I read with my legs tucked beneath me, in a soft, blue armchair in a sunny corner of my office nook on the fourth floor. Most nights you will also find me there, sipping tea, typing away, grading papers. Are you getting a sense for the rhythm of my days? I lead as stodgy a life as you can imagine.
But it was by doing just this, by following this exact routine, that I came to schedule the medical appointment that changed everything.
For months, my wrist had hurt. It began as an occasional tingling. That changed to a sharp pain that shot down my fingers. The pain got worse and worse until my fingers turned so clumsy, my grip so weak, that I could barely carry my bags. My doctor diagnosed too much typing. Too much hunching over books. To be precise—I like to be -precise—he diagnosed CTS. Carpal tunnel syndrome. He suggested wearing a wrist splint at night and elevating my keyboard. That helped, but not much.
And so it was that I found myself one morning in the waiting room of Washington Radiology Associates. I was scheduled for an MRI, to “rule out arthritis and get to the bottom of what’s going on,” as my doctor put it.
It was the morning of Wednesday, October 9. The morning it all began.
* * *
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2013
The waiting room for Washington Radiology was a strange place. It featured the standard doctor’s-office rack of well-thumbed magazines, the usual box of tissues and oversize pump bottle of Purell. But because of the radiation in use, the door leading to the exam rooms was constructed of solid steel. A large sign read DANGER! RESTRICTED ACCESS—STRONG MAGNETIC FIELD—SERIOUS INJURY MAY RESULT. Just to make sure you got the point, this was accompanied by an illustration of a huge magnet surrounded by sizzling lightning bolts. Sitting there waiting to be called felt a bit like waiting to be escorted into a nuclear power plant.
I leafed through a brochure. The clinic offered mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and something ominously named nuclear medicine. And then there was magnetic resonance imaging. What I was here for.
I stood up.
A young woman in scrubs ushered me past the steel door and into a changing room. “Take everything off,” she instructed. “It ties in front.” She handed me a folded paper gown and bootees, then disappeared.
I began to unpeel my clothes. Layers of cashmere and suede. An old boyfriend once told me I was born to wear winter clothes, that even naked I moved as though I were wearing velvet. He had a point. I dress year-round in shades of plum and tobacco and wine. Rich colors. I don’t do pastels.
The technician reappeared and explained how the procedure would work. I would lie back on a narrow cot, she would slide me inside the giant tube of the scanner, and then I was to stay still for forty minutes. No squirming, no blinking. I was to resist even taking a deep breath. She handed me earplugs and a panic button in case I felt claustrophobic.