Rhea | Summer Haddad

Floating Astronaut

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Standing upon the precipice of eternity, I pause, considering what I am leaving behind. For all the beauty the Earth possesses, there isn’t much left for me. As the decades passed, its endless sunrises and sunsets began to feel like unfulfilled promises by a merciless universe. Behind me, the crew pleads desperately. Come back. Don’t do this. It’s not worth it.

These people barely know me. We’ve been crew mates for only a few days and are all from different backgrounds. Yet here they are, pleading for my life.

They are cosmonaut explorers of space. But they are only 34 years old. Inner peace is found within the eternal; these people have only lived through a small cycle of human history.

They can’t get any closer to me without leaving the protection of their Kevlar and titanium cocoon. In any case, a creature as impossibly young and naive as humans cannot understand. When did I stop considering myself to be one of them? Was it when you left me? These thoughts are useless to me now; I can ponder them in due time.

I step to the edge of the airlock. Placing my hands on the top of the metal ring, I look out into the inky blackness of space. I press the button.

SWOOSH! The door swings open. Their screams became bewildered, like a baby crying. People often revert to children in fear, longing for the assurance of their loved ones.

Space feels more weightless than I had imagined. In my mind, the final frontier comes with a refreshing breeze wafting through my hair. My eyes are squeezed shut. I jump. The darkness engulfs me.

I imagine I heard one final yelp from the crew; hands held out as if they could reach me. Of
course, there is nothing there.

I realize that this is the beginning of the end. That I am close to seeing you again.

0 lightyears from Earth:

Which way am I floating? Up, down, left, right? Those are all relative to one’s surroundings, yet it’s hard to shake that constant human urge to categorize and rationalize.

Right now, I’m probably the buzz of the planet. A cosmonaut leaping out of the space station, the first intentional death in space. As far as Earth is concerned, I am dead. Or should be. Of course, the idea of a person surviving a leap into space is absurd. They will remember me. They have to.

I have become planktonic, unable to control my movement. At the mercy of the cosmos. What would it have been like to live a life like yours? One where you age and die. After the incident, the idea of immortality excited me. I would be the most important figure ever to live. One omnipresent throughout history since my day of birth. But in the end, it meant nothing. I would trade centuries of experience to have died holding your hand. Toward the end, you were excited for me. I remember so clearly your giddiness at the story of the incident. When I realized I was immortal.

“Tell it again, Athanasia.” you would say it with enthusiasm when we were young. As we, or rather as you grew older, jealousy crept into your voice. Never cruelly; you were far too kind for that, just jealousy that only one of us was eternal. It should have been you. You would have done such incredible things with this gift. And I wouldn’t have had to live without you.

My dearest, please forgive me for everything I’ve done.

100 lightyears from Earth:

The stars are so beautiful. How did I never notice it on Earth? I suppose I was too preoccupied with daily life. Fretting about unimportant things. How trivial it seems now for an immortal to worry about their taxes. I’d live past the formation of states and the dissolution of any prison the IRS tried to put me in.

They say when you apply the concept of infinity to the universe, anything and everything has to exist. Otherwise, it isn’t infinite. How funny then that the stars surrounding me have looked like a rosary for some time. It made me think of elementary school. I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood with you. How we met, the things we did. I remember it all so clearly despite how long ago it was now.

Blessed Sacrament School for Girls. Your Mom wanted you to be a G-d-fearing Catholic like her. To spend your adulthood chainsmoking at the pew. Praying that her husband would change and that her daughter would be better than she was. My mom was never religious, but the school had the speech program I needed. Remember when I had a lisp? Kathy Peters would make me do tongue twisters until I stuttered and cried. It hits me now and then that she’s long gone. Like you. Perhaps her children carry on her memory; maybe they remember her as a great scientist, artist, or kind friend. Or maybe she stayed the same. Like me.

I saw you on the rainbow-colored carpet playing with blocks. Nervously, I approached you and handed you one of the cookies I’d insisted I bring to make friends. You gave me a rehearsed speech about your celiac disease. I didn’t understand then, but I sat beside you anyway and munched the cookie. How did you ever put up with me?

I didn’t tell you then, even though it had been a year since the incident. I didn’t quite understand it yet, and when I came to understand, I was too afraid to tell you. I’ve always wondered if you resented me for not telling you till I had to. But that’s not what these memories are about, and I refuse to taint them with such thoughts.

School with you was a wonderful blur. From elementary school to seniors in high school, we were inseparable. We played Barbies together, and you got upset when I was too mean to one of your dolls. We pretended to be secret twins of nastily divorced parents throughout fourth grade, and Mrs. Thompson almost believed it!

You helped me do my makeup in middle school when I wanted to be a goth. Even when you were 30, you never let me live that phase down. The white foundation smeared around the bathroom, looking like a surprised ghost. I was nowhere near the elegance of the girls I tried to be like. I held your hand as you sobbed after you tried your first cigarette and liked it. You didn’t want to be like your mom. I told you never would be like her.

In high school, we talked about boys we liked. To some degree, we both sensed that the other was exaggerating.

You held my hair as I puked at my first party, clearly a lightweight. I would have teased you if it was your head over the toilet, but you didn’t laugh once. You had such a lightness, an ease with the world I never had. I wish so badly I had your kindness with me now. At the end of our senior year, we sat on my bed, stripped of sheets. I was packing for college, an entire childhood of memories put into neat little boxes. We drank together, not something we did often, but it felt appropriate for the end of a chapter. We ended up closer and closer until we kissed for the first time. You cried. So much it scared me. I knew what you were crying about, so I took you into my arms, my hands running through your hair in my empty room. Your head pressed against my chest. I laid my hand against your cheek like a mother soothing a scared child.

“She’ll still love you. She says she won’t, but I swear to you she will.” You cried harder. Your Mom disowned you when we got engaged.

Five hundred lightyears from Earth:

My arms and legs no longer seem to work. I suppose I have little use for them now. In the distance, a hand is pointed upwards as if holding the universe in its palm. Is this the hand of creation? In moments like these, I wonder if there is something greater than us. The idea seems too cruel to me. That something put all of this into motion. That someone deliberately made our lives turn out like this.

We decided to move in together after college. You had finished nursing school, and I had a master’s in astrophysics. Our life in that house was pure, one only for us. We awoke together, cooked together, laughed, and cried together. For the first time, I was entirely at peace. You became increasingly aware of my lack of aging. I had stopped growing at around 23, and at almost 30, the lack of change became noticeable, especially to you.

The day I told you, a storm raged outside. My hands shook, and I stumbled over my words. I told you the story of the incident.

We grew up around the Rocky Mountains with many little cliffs to fall down. As a 7-year-old child who knew no better, I explored my backyard. I wandered off too far and came across a ledge. At that moment, I was not a child but an acrobat! Walking the tightrope across the edge, I ran, jumped, and pretended to do tricks.

The rock crumbled beneath me. All I remember was the rush of falling almost 200 feet. Fear rushed through my veins, and in a split second, I knew I would die.

But I woke up. Nearly two days later, I had a throbbing headache but no physical damage. Sluggishly, I dragged myself back home to the arms of my almost hysterical mother. I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t understand it myself. But I would never die. We moved shortly after.

You stared at me wide-eyed, mouth agape. Thoughts rushed through my mind; you were either afraid of me or thought I was insane. You scooped me into your arms. I sobbed. Like I said, people revert back to children when they’re scared.

You told me you thought I was marvelous. That I’ve been given a gift from the universe.

“Make sure you do something great, Athanasia; we’re both remembered that way.”

That night, we danced. In our living room sat an old record player you had found at a garage sale. You were a collector at heart, my raven. You placed an old record into the player and set the needle down. Sweet guitar tones flooded the room, easing my heart—Goodnight Irene by the Weavers. You were also an old woman at heart. You held my hands and kissed them. I warped my arms around your waist. I prayed this would never end, like your mother in the pew, desperate for a response.

??? lightyears from Earth:

The end is near. The universe has been spacing out for some time; there have been no stars for what must be millennia. I am afraid to die, like any living, breathing organism. However, the peace offered by endless silence feels alluring. Is this how you felt at the end?

We married at 30 and stuck by one another every day since. At 40, you could no longer keep up with me like you used to. At 50, I accompanied you to your retirement party. They thought I was your daughter. You had saved hundreds as a nurse. At 60, I escorted you to your doctor’s appointments. At 70, I helped you down the stairs. At 80, I laid beside you every morning, praying you would awaken. I never stopped loving you, even for a moment.

The world around us had changed. Our families were gone, and most of our friends had followed them. I suppose the world felt as empty as the universe does to me now. Dreading the day you passed, I stayed awake by your side most nights. At 86, you were put on hospice. Your heart had deteriorated so significantly that they thought you had a week left. For the first time, I felt anger at my condition. What kind of deity would allow me to live without you? For the first time in years, I drank while you slept. Then I began to cry. An angry sob, a powerless one.

I can’t live without you. I thought it over and over again like a prophecy. I knew I would have to. I smashed a bottle against the wall and yelled. I yelled until my voice was hoarse, and I was doubled over.
I’m unsure when you arrived, but you took my hands. I looked into your eyes. Aged and saddened, you have lived through so much. It was unfair that you should be the one to pass. It still is. You walked over to our record player. After decades of use, it skipped and stammered, but you adored it. Soon, sweet tones of guitar flooded the room, easing my heart. You opened the front window, and moonlight poured in. I stood still, unable to speak. You took my hands, and we danced to Goodnight Irene—your favorite song. I cried as we swayed side to side. Your body is too weak to do much else. We stood for hours until you were too tired to go on. I took you to bed and tucked the blanket around you. You leaned over to me.
“I love you. Please don’t forget me”.

“I could never forget you, not even if I lived forever.”

You smiled softly at me and closed your eyes. You died that night.

How long did I sit in that house, years or decades? Trying to escape the emptiness of living without you. Pretending you were still there. One day, looking through old photos, I realized. I had betrayed you like a god ignoring a prayer. I had done nothing with my life thus far. Neither of us would be remembered. It was then that I forced myself out of the house. Crawling out of the rubble of loss, I reentered astrophysics
with my plan always in mind.

And now I float here having completed it. We will always be remembered. While the Earth may be long gone, we have made our mark on the universe. And I will see you again soon. The end is truly near; I feel myself bracing for it. The universe feels frantic and desperate as if something is about to happen.

And it will.

And it does.

A blinding light, the big bang in reverse. It may happen all over again. Maybe it was all for nothing. But regardless of whether I go to heaven, if the universe resets, or if I simply stop existing. Regardless Regardless, Regardless.

I finally get to see you again, my dearest Rhea.


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