The Life of an Astronaut
The countdown started “T-minus 30 seconds, 29, 28…” The background of the bright blue sky was an excellent backdrop for the moments of my life that provided me with nostalgia before the rocket’s take-off. All the stories that were ever worth telling, the personal stories I kept secret, and even the tiny, beautiful moments I enjoyed that were too commonplace to disturb anyone with… all these things flashed before my eyes, as if I was about to die. I relived every moment worthy of the double-take: the time my brother saved me from drowning when I was 6 years old, the time I witnessed my 18-month old nephew steal the dance floor despite his uncoordinated, young legs, the time I saw my favorite band when a friend offered me tickets the night before their show, the first time I ever went skiing where memories of me being on the ground predominate, the time I ripped my pants in the 3rd grade when all my worries were literally behind me, the day I graduated from high school, the day I graduated from college, the day I found out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and all the days that I changed my mind. Then the montage of my life faded, the music waned as the unwelcoming alarm of the timer was brought back to my attention. I became aware of the take-off again. All the notable parts of my life, conglomerated into a thin photo album, thumbed through by my mind’s hands. I reached the end of the book summarizing my life up to this point, and I still had 18 seconds of the countdown left. In freshman biology I learned that the most important unit of life was a cell, through my personal experiences I learned the most important unit of life was a moment.
The moments I spent lamenting before I left Earth were some of the loneliest though they were the moments I was last closest to everything and everyone I ever longed for. I’ll remember earth as the dot of an exclamation mark, the trail my rocket made spiraling away from earth, stretched about the canvas of the cosmos was the tail of the same exclamation mark. Was the journey a cry of excitement or of fear? Well those feelings go so well together sometimes, especially in the moments I felt that I bit more than I could chew. I stared again at what I had left; I wondered where my favorite place on Earth would be if I knew the world. I wondered why I took so many shortcuts especially when I was unsure if I even wanted to reach my destination.
A few months passed while aboard the ship, I maintained the necessary upkeep of the equipment as was needed, took the measurements and marked them, and did lots of other things as an auto-pilot. I spent the days and nights—wait, what did night and day even mean for me now?—Anyway, I spent them looking, after all, I had the most unadulterated view of the universe. And I looked in every which way. Backwards, forwards, up, down, around, right and left. But those descriptive terms changed every time I moved. Wandering was so easy without gravity and without a sense of direction. Without a frame of reference my physical existence was in the same limbo where my forgotten thoughts resided, wherever that was. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish the stars from my long lost friends, they were both all so far away no matter where and when I was in the space-time continuum, for even when I was on earth I was separated from my friends by the mountain of worries I had had for the future even though I was still so young and couldn’t realize it. Life was ahead of me and all around me, but I had the lingering feeling that the most memorable moments of my life had already been made. I tried my best not to think of that any more than I already had.
The dimensions fused together, the more I studied the more I deconstructed and reconstructed reality. By now, I’ve done everything for this ship for what anyone else would say is an inhuman perseverance. The stories of my daydreams kept me company, and with so much time to think, I had existential arguments and crises for fun, everything else seemed a bit too mundane. Science was too boring, everything had an explanation. Nothing was surprising anymore, so I turned my mind to the abstract. I stumbled away from my beliefs of god inadvertently as I followed a philosophical conversation I had with myself which began with a “What if…” A star stood out to me; it was extraordinary in its ordinariness, and a memory came to my consciousness of a religious friend saying to me that “life is a test,” what they didn’t know was that I went home and prayed that it could be something else. And now there I was in space and time with things making sense less and less no matter how frantically I stressed to bring the pieces of the puzzle together. All my lifetimes spent reading only helped me come to the conclusion that I knew nothing. And I prayed in case there was a god in the biblical sense that he’d forgive me for being curious enough to not only entertain disbelief, but to now identify myself with it. If there was a god, he’d understand, right? Why did I have to lose my faith when I felt so lonely already?
I realized I hadn’t spoken a word out loud in so long, the thoughts in my head were already loud enough, I suppose. The artificial atmosphere of the ship could carry my vocalizations just as well as they would have been carried on earth, but constantly hearing my inner monologue ramble on and on distracted me from saying anything aloud. All for the better anyway. Even though there was no one there to hear me, it still felt safer for me to think these thoughts than to speak them.
It’s become so long ago that I first left the earth, and I’ve covered so much distance that the numbers I’ve been recording have grown impersonal. They’re so great that I don’t even know what they mean anymore. Sometimes I wonder how I survived it all. Fortunately there was no one here to compete with, but did I even have to worry if someone else could better fit the sad niche I created in this station? Natural selection would choose, and did choose me.
Even more time has passed, and now it is near the end of my journey. Now I feel more described by the label “extraterrestrial” than of “human,” but wouldn’t it be stranger for it to be any other way? I found the notebooks I had been keeping with me all these years. I kept them to reflect, to solidify my daydreams and build the illusion of company; the catalogs of thoughts and experiences I kept were people I could converse with. Sometime in June during my third year aboard this ship, I found these words written: “I think I’m in the middle of the process that makes people crazy.” There wasn’t any context, those were the only words written for that entry. I kept reading, curious to see how my persona had changed over time, especially after reading those words. I recollected the weeks and months and years that followed that entry, but still, I was unable to decipher why I had written those words at that time in my life and my journey. Then I came across another entry, it read “I think I’m in the middle of the process that makes people crazy…” the same exact words I had written years before. That sentence appeared in my catalogs twice, I had written it down twice in my life while in space, but I wondered how many times I thought it. I was strewn about the universe, but the universe was exploding out from my head too, I couldn’t fathom my physical or mental realities. I took my pen and wrote the words “is it bad to be a drifter?” but I didn’t think about it because I was afraid I’d figure out what the answer was.
The stories I remembered so vividly of my times spent back on earth, of when I played a character in a novel of my community’s collective adolescence… I hope my role was one worth remembering for others. I was involved in so many stories, but how sound were my connections, could I have been easily forgotten? Most of my life I was worried I wouldn’t leave an impression, being self-conscious of my life compared to others’, maybe it was because I felt so alone and wanted to be with someone. Whatever the reason, I hoped that no one else felt the same way. And as desperate as I was to find someone I could relate to, I prayed that there was no one in the universe that could identify themselves with the troubles I had.