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Space and Immortality MAG
It was clear and bright that day, as it was the day I met Sarah. It was three years ago when I first saw her, sitting on a flat black rock under a tree reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I had never read but recognized as a weighty kind of book. I had gotten excited by that, the juxtaposition of that weight against her lightness – two aspects that so rarely go together and when they do imply some kind of missing information, some buried piece of the puzzle that thumps and beeps from its grave, crying to be unearthed.
Today I watched the sky from inside St. Michael’s church, where the high school graduation ceremony was trickling along at an impossibly slow rate. I had anticipated this day for weeks, years, imagining the release from guilt that an official confirmation of commitment’s completion would provide – free, finally, free! I’d assumed that the ceremony itself would take no time at all – that it would be instant, a Las Vegas-marriage kind of event, with diplomas packed tightly into a massive piñata that would be assaulted by desperate students scattering its contents, a mound of squabbling kids kicking and grabbing – it’s yours if you can catch it!
The ceremony was the first and least important in a list of three key events that I had planned for today. Each event was exponentially more important than the one preceding it so that every minute of every hour would be building up to something bigger, something greater, with the spectacular finish always in sight, a perfectly timed apogee of freedom.
The ceremony was delayed by a graduation tradition, a custom that the school insisted on continuing. Every member of the graduating class walked up to the podium and delivered a brief statement that they had prepared. The intention was to provide students a brief chance to address their class one last time, a way to verbally and emotionally conclude the four years they spent together.
Thoroughly discussing the event with my best friend, Max, mapping out the pros and cons and comparing the opportunity loss with the embryonic potential, the future, we came to the conclusion that the idea was ambitious and destined for failure. At a magnet school of 1,500 kids, there was no way it could work.
“There’s no way it’ll work,” Max had said. “You’ll see.” He said that a lot. “You’ll see, Will.” His chin tilted up in my direction, mouth stretched unnaturally thin. It was his way of assuring me that he knew more than I did.
As a matter of fact, he was right. Students had been reading their two- or three-sentence inventions for hours now. Had it been hours? Even the principal, whose job it was to preside over the ceremony, was yawning, looking at his watch, rolling his eyes, showing signs of agony. There is no way it hadn’t been hours. Each student read their phrase in slow motion, vowels arching on for minutes at a time, with words becoming useless vacuums of meaning, exercises in self-gratification. Why do we still communicate with speech? It is not conducive to communication; it is negative thought! We should have mind conversation by now. How can we not have mind conversation? I stared at the back of a girl’s head, trying to slingshot a thought from my brain to hers.
Nothing. We have failed. I was trying to do something spectacular and she was not cooperating. It was time for drastic measures.
You will die at sunset!
Max approached the podium, interrupting my thoughtversation. He was one of the last in the long string of students, and walked up to the podium with a limp. He did not have a limp. What was he doing? The speaker before Max had been sweating profusely and Max was sweat-less and boyish in comparison, his pressed white oxford shirt a perfect complement to the rumpled blond hair that, when at full capacity, only built him up to a shameful 5Ɖ". He looked now as if he had just emerged from a shower, fully clothed. He sparkled. His glasses winked.
“Commitment is often difficult, but rewarding when you lose yourself completely into another person. It is a very beautiful thing, marriage is.” This was the commencement speech that he had prepared, and Max spoke the words as a kindly dictator speaks to his people: “I have total and complete knowledge of every aspect of your lives, but do not worry, I will protect you.” He pattered back to his seat.
My friend the wind slapped me on the back as I approached Sarah after the ceremony, which had ended inconclusively as such things always seem to do. This did not concern me. I was off to bigger and better things. Part One of my plan had ended smoothly, though with some delay, and Part Two was beginning to unfold.
I had asked Sarah to meet me here, under the white columns and the bright sky on the porch of St. Michael’s, after the ceremony. She arrived before me and was leaning against the white swirls of the column with her mouth slightly open and the wind hitting her face from the northwest, increasing her blinking and causing her to place one foot slightly behind the other, for balance. All was going as planned.
“Listen, Sarah,” I started. I could already tell this was going to be good. “We’ve had some good times, you and I. We’ve seen some great things. For a while the world rested flat in our hands and we used it as a Frisbee ….”
I was not finished.
“I am not finished.”
My plan was faltering; I could see it in her rapidly blinking eyes and crooked stare. Had her nose always been that crooked? I began anew.
“I think that it’s time for us to go our separate ways.”
“I can’t afford distractions. You are too loud, too honest and conspicuous. I am destined for greatness, and you are stagnation. Look into my eyes and see my pupils, see how they extend into worlds you could never hope to know, blacks and blues and freezing winds, shivering winds. Max is my ally! You are another loose end.” I was excited. I was getting carried away. “I thought that you were special, but I was wrong.”
“Why do you do this?”
“Everything I learned about breaking hearts, I learned from you.” That last part surprised me and I had no idea what I meant by it. I hadn’t intended to say that back when I had first planned this confrontation at the beginning of the school year, now so long ago, when Max and I had started plotting self-discovery, our hiatus into alternate and truthful existence, but when I still awaited the right moment for final detonation. I vaguely recognized the phrase I had just used as an overdramatic tag line from a song I heard in the car on the way to the church. I had always dismissed the tune as ridiculous, but there was always a little man in my head who respected the lyrics, listened to them and bopped his head to them and pretended that they were written especially for him. The little man had been bopping and waiting for the opportunity to suppress opposing members of his community and to have his way. The little man was not to be underestimated – he worked the switches. And now I was glad that I had said it. I hoped that Sarah would recognize the line later, as she replayed the scene in her confused and limited brain, that she would trace it back to its origins and analyze the hidden meanings and the subtext of the song, tracing it back always to our relationship and to how she had failed me.
She looked at me now, distraught. She did not understand. I conversed with her mentally.
– Why do you fight me?
– You have no reason for this.
– I have many.
– You do not.
– I have been planning this, the timing, the conversation, the wind, everything. I am responsible for all of it. The universe answers to me.
– Will …
– Do you not see how beautiful this is? I am doing this for you, planned it this way, held out my action so I could do this on the day we graduate, the day when everything must symbolically end and the past is locked up with a key and the key thrown into the past with everything else. This is the only way! We can choose our memories! We can paint in the colors and the winds and the details of our shoes and eyelashes. Everything can be remembered, if timed appropriately! Twenty years from now, you will look back and remember the minutia of this moment, every word and glance, not because it means anything but because it happened at this juncture in our lives, this day, this time. Is this true? Have I broken your heart yet?
I walked away feeling satisfied and confident in my superiority. Max was waiting for me on a bench across the street. The bench was white marble and coated in a forest of green vines, broken in patches where passerby had vigorously sat and where Max sat now, rhythmically tapping his right foot on the leg of the bench, knocking it persistently, a relentless salesman at the door. He stood up when he saw me, excited.
“We are free.” He had watched my encounter with Sarah and knew what was what.
“Yes, we are,” I agreed.
Max and I walked down the street, east of the church, toward our prearranged destination. Part Three. We had walked these streets so many times over the past four years, since that first day our freshman year when we bumped into each other on the sidewalk. I, lost outside a new high school; he, an after-school skater on a mission to orbit the neighborhood. Since then we continued meeting in that spot daily, there on the sidewalk, Max skating and spinning on roller blades and I walking beside him, a power duo. We each brought something to this friendship. Max benefitted extraordinarily from my sage wisdom, my stability, my good looks, and I from his quick thinking and his math skills. Had we chosen to pursue gambling careers, I would be the person enchanting the dealer with my charm while he counted the cards.
But Max was jauntier than usual today; the swish-swish of his pants took on a frantic tone.
“I didn’t think we were going to make it.”
“Yesterday we had obligations. We had specific tasks that had to be done, and the quality of our days was measured by the size and time and difficulty of those tasks. We lived for paper, for alarm clocks and phone calls, for appointments kept and paper clips fastened, and for paper, always for paper.”
I let him continue because I knew he enjoyed it.
“Yesterday we thought that paper could save us, that every sheet carried potential for salvation, every wrinkle and line a fated plot turn for our blindly murderous lives.”
“Now we are done with yesterday.”
His logic was sound. A gust of belligerent wind hit us as a collection of cars flurried past, all of them white, a fleet of mechanical doves. I wondered briefly what would happen to the roads if someone were to erase the white lines delineating each lane. Would cars continue to speed past unphased, conditioned as they were to constant alignment, or would they escape from their pasts and rocket uncontrollably for a few glorious moments before igniting like stars into the sky?
“When I die, I want to be shot into space. I want my body to be loaded into a single-passenger rocket, anonymously, in the middle of farmland or the ocean, and I want to be launched to the farthest coordinate possible. I want to be frozen eternally in an uncharted and uncelebrated quadrant of space. I don’t want to be remembered, I don’t want to be thought of, I want to be alone and cold and frozen and unthinking and away from all of this. What?”
“I just, uh-”
“It’s just, what is this about? Because you’re talking about space and death and I think you’re really talking about something else. If you don’t want to do this anymore, that’s fine, I just think ….”
“I am talking about astronomy.”
“Are you sure? Because I really think-”
“Drop it, Max.”
We moved in silence, swish swish, swish swish, cars speeding by beside us as birds blasted by unmolested overhead. The world is slowing. This is not life, this is not fast-paced and breathtaking. We were not moving fast enough. We needed to pick up the pace. What is happening? I had been exhilarated, I had been in control, I had steered the wind and manned the universe. And it was all wrong now; it was the same, nothing had changed, but I was no longer buoyant.
My steps were slow and sluggish. Max looked ridiculous, the underbelly of cool, all glasses and rollerblades and inflated hair and munchkin stature. But what about Part Three? Part Three! The culmination! The apogee! This is all wrong. No, it was destiny! It was the path that Max and I had been planning and it was right.
Hadn’t we sat in the field every day during our lunch periods, when we could finally escape from the meaningless stories and the chatter of active mouths? Hadn’t we planned our exodus? We were going to be travelers, mapmakers, pilgrims. We were going to see more than the road we walked on daily, rollerblading and orbiting – this road, this place, we were going to be better than all of it. We were better than all of it. And hadn’t we planned every last detail, the bus tickets, the hotel arrangements, the missionary work, the martyrdom, everything? We were going to drop all previous commitments and begin anew, snip away all attachments like plastic tag-holders. We were going to be free.
Sarah looked up as I approached, holding her book, so large, so wide for her small hands. She was illuminated by the sun, her skin the color of an apple’s meat. She sat in the grass, and I could tell that she didn’t need me and I wanted her to need me. I wanted to open jars for her, to put boxes in high places for her and then to lower them down again at her behest.
– This is right.
– Do you really think so?
– Yes. I know it. It is destiny.
– Can I trust you?
– I will never break your heart.
Max was pirouetting on the front two wheels of his rollerblades as we approached the bus station, tickets in hand. The sign hanging above the station was in Spanish and leaning to the side, a double offense. This was apparently a construction worker hangout, judging from the men of exceeding upper body strength with cracked yellow helmets loitering around the building, purposeless without heavy tools and building material. They stared at Max as we approached. Max sashayed.
This is wrong. It is right! We walked into the crowd of construction workers preparing to board the bus, the one that would take us from Michigan to California to begin our adventure. Part Three. This bus. My forward steps and this bus. The top of Max’s head bobbing and this bus and the woman bus driver with blond hair that looked so much like Sarah’s but with none of the brilliance, a tangled independence that spoke of drunk husbands and sticky children and not of epic novels and trees. No, no, this is wrong.
“Max. I can’t.”
Max now sat on the curb, beneath the open and threatening glass doors of the bus, removing his rollerblades. He squinted, then shrugged. He knew.
And Sarah looked at me, eyes glimmering in that first clear blue day, freckles frolicking on her apple skin like living connect-the-dots trying to find unity, strength in numbers. She smiled as she noticed me. I was a puppet, a victim of its universe. I did not want to die in space. I did not want to be with the stars, cold, frozen and unwelcoming, alone, unknown. I did not want to die at all, ever. I just wanted to be here, with Sarah, with Max smiling approvingly in the distance, not too close, only close enough to appreciate and to understand, and I wanted to make a home with her under the tree and to live like Hercules in the garden of Hesperides and to never sleep but to stare up at stars that smoldered in the sky, where they belonged and where I did not, and I am taking her hand in mine and no one can stop me from doing this, no one can stop me from taking her hand and spinning the ring on her finger around with my thumb, you cannot take this from me because I am free, I am free, I am free!