My father always told me to look to the stars to find my way home. That was true a long time ago, when he was younger, before the universe started fraying at the edges. The stars haven’t shined brightly in decades. Even if they did, I’m not sure I would know the way home, especially all the way up here. But it’s easy to pretend that I can pinpoint where Earth is out this little window, despite the fact that there is nothing but blackness and the occasional moon or bulbous orange planet that doesn’t remind me of our galaxy at all. We’re far from where we started.
It’s hard to imagine ever finding a new home when we’re so busy floating in nothing and I’m spinning a globe that sits on my tin desk. The sphere is beautiful but useless: testament to a bygone era. Everything here is so sterile, so white, so soulless. The little blue sphere is the only thing that lends interest to the casual onlooker—if such a thing as a casual onlooker exists anymore. And beyond that window? Nothing but endless night.
Within are the remains of a place I used to know: my mother’s jacket, a blanket my grandmother knitted, a globe, and a picture of my father I pick up often. If you were told that you had to leave the only place you had ever called home and that you could only bring five things, what would they be? How do you boil down your life into a collection that wouldn’t fill a suitcase? Others brought dictionaries, lab equipment, microscopes, an old crank record player, Wagner to help them think. They must think I’m a sentimentalist.
In some ways I am.
Sentiment doesn’t stop me from measuring shifts in solar rays and gravity incretion in pockets of moonless wonder.
But right now? Right now I am trapped up in this flying coffin of humanity, trying to convince myself that the abandonment of my family, my species, my planet was worth isolation. Why save myself when I will have no one I care about to share even a glimmer of success with someday? I struggle with the question often, especially when I shovel protein rich goop into my mouth that is meant to sustain my muscles, my stubborn heart. That and this room that I occupy means nothing more than a component in an equation. And yet, I’m sometimes so filled with rage and longing for grass that I want to throw something; but the only things I want to destroy are bolted to the walls and floor.
It’s easy to fall apart in silence. Sometimes I laugh when I think: “If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?” Do trees still exist?
I suppose what keeps me bound together are my father’s final words of: “I am with you. Always.” While it is sometimes hard to recall my mother’s perfume or what day it is, I do remember our final embrace before I stepped onboard a ship that would float me into the starless sky. I haven’t been that warm in years, not even when we flew too close to that dying sun. Our quest for knowledge leaves little room for empathy. Any comfort in our house, which is certainly not a home, is incidental. The people who share this space with me are only known by letters and numbers, not names. It’s all for the sake of efficiency. Much like lab rats. Then again, I don’t remember mine either. I am LH-4361.
But here, in my room, I struggle to remember who I am, who I was, who I will be. Petting the picture frame, I close my eyes and think about the way the road in front of our house sounded when cars sped back and forth; bees buzzing around the azaleas; the smell of oak trees; my father’s voice. What do you do when you can’t feel anchored, spinning aimlessly?
“I can’t believe I’m doing this. I can’t believe I’m leaving you here. How can I leave you?” My voice is choked, guilt crashing over me yet again. We’ve had this talk a few times since my acceptance onto the Galileo Initiative, but this time it’s different. This time I realize that I will not return to see him grow old. He ages fifty years in seconds.
“Did you know—” his voice is slow as he puts an arm around my shoulders, “—that the earth is just over 70% water?”
I look at him, confused. “Of course I do.”
“Did you also know that when babies are born, they are almost 75% water?”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means—” he holds me closer and presses a warm kiss to my temple, “—that when you were born, you were your own little planet. It means, no matter how far you are away from me, you are home.”
It’s easier now to breathe the regulated oxygen. I open my eyes. This place is transitory, a representation of things to come, beyond the edge. It does not matter to me, but the possibility of tomorrow does. While we float around in nothingness, I remember that I am a scientific miracle. Going to the desk, I spin my globe and watch it rotate without a sun.