I miss her; I imagine she misses me worse. It’ll be years until I hear back, and years until she hears me, and I’ll be listening to a recording already years old and the real her will be on Earth alone. I keep myself sane with math; I send her how long she’ll have to wait with each message. You’ll hear from me again in six years. I love her.
When I left we were both twenty-six. It was insane; a lottery win. To a distant moon. She never understood any of it, no matter how many times I showed her charts or graphs or playful drawings of where I was going. This is Butler, I said, and this is Butler’s moon, Lilith. There’s evidence of life there. I explained exact numerical constructs for oxygen, plant growth, bacterial organisms, even before I thought there was a chance I might go.
And she was never really for it. She thought I wouldn’t get picked; she let me sign up because she figured I’d never get in. And I did plan to stick around, with those odds. Stacking boxes in the shop and doing the financial work. The sound of her calling me from the beat-up computer at the front desk—Can you figure this out? Her laugh. You’re the one with the head for numbers. Even when I applied, even when I trained, I never thought I would be the one they’d want to go up. I never thought I’d really go.
If I had a head for numbers, she had a head for ethics. Always knew where everything came from and how much workers were paid and what stances the CEOs held. She made all the purchases, all the marketing, all the thinking; I spent most of my time arranging things. Dreaming. Maybe she thought I didn’t like it—I loved it. A shop and a turtle and a girl with her afro up in a curly brown puff, a scrunchie in her hair to keep it fixed. I didn’t run away. I ran toward.
Space, and space-time. So you’ll be younger than me? she said, and I said, Sort of. And she waited while I explained special relativity, and lines of simultaneity, and here were two charts showing the same thing, and just look at the numbers and don’t think about what it really means. And she sat through it all and said, I don’t get it. And neither did I. I got the numbers and the data and the predictions and all of the expectations, but I didn’t get it. What it would be like to be up there.
I said, For you, when it’s been five years, I’ll be four years older than I was when I left. And she said Okay, and I said, But for me, when it’s been four years, you’ll be only three years older than when I left. And she had to think about that for a moment. And when she’d considered it, she said, So which one is true? And I said, Both. Neither. And I went over how we’d both see the other as traveling and therefore getting younger not to mention how long it would take for the messages to travel back and forth but then I would stop and it would all suddenly catch up and I would end up younger after all. Only by a few years.
I don’t get it, she said, again. How does it look like I’m traveling away from you? I’m not going anywhere. And I heard it: I’m not the one going anywhere. I knew what she wanted to say. I was glad she didn’t say it. And I said: Do you know that we’re traveling around the universe right now? At incredible speeds. We’re traveling, too; we just feel like we’re not because we live here.
And she looked up at me from the couch and she said, Okay, come travel with me. And I did. She knew she couldn’t keep me. Nobody could keep me; my mother couldn’t keep me in our house with the incense burning and my grandpa couldn’t keep me in town with the old willow tree and she couldn’t keep me on Earth.
But we’re not finished with this planet. She used to say that all the time, even before I applied to go up. Our favorite fight. You’re going to leave us all behind? Make a new home up there because the one down here’s not working? We need your help to fix this place.
Maybe she was right. Probably she was right. I used to sneak up behind her while she was in the zone and go, You’re painting right now? Hey, I could use your help right here. When the trash overflowed. When it was time to feed James—the turtle. Hey, I need your help right now. You’re going in there, leaving me behind? Where are you going? Tickling her until she collapsed in my arms. Where are you going?
When I left, I said the one rule was don’t argue with me and don’t make me want to argue with you. I don’t have time for that in space. I can’t be thinking about fighting you when I can’t even hold you. I don’t care if it’s funny. I can’t do it. I told her and so far she’s never brought any of it up and I haven’t either. And it doesn’t feel real.
You’re a pawn, she said once. Just another piece in the big game of America versus everyone else. Like it hasn’t been centuries since we thought we ‘won’. She scoffed. Back to the space race. Imperialism never changes. Scrubbing her paintbrush clean against the palm of her hand. And I said How does it feel to assimilate to the neo-capitalist cisheteronormative white supremacist construct of being married, and she laughed like she always did when she thought I had a point but not a good enough one to be right. And I said, Do you want any help? and she told me no because I never knew a thing about how to clean her supplies properly and the harder I tried the worse I did. So I called her a housewife, too.
Does she remember my face? The broad nose she said she loved; the chin only men had in my family until me. I told her when I shaved my head after having locs for years; space called for simpler hair. I wanted her to picture me right. It took two years for her to get the message and I thought every day about how she was imagining a me that didn’t exist anymore. I want to remember her right: her wide hands and her hooded eyes and the lipstick she never got very good at putting on. I hope I remember her face even as it changes.
And it’s not my body aging; it’s my mind learning how to live in the big lagoon of space. I imagine she thinks I’m totally out of touch with her, figuring out mortgages on Earth, and she’s right. If I ever get back, I don’t know how I’ll do everything normally again. I don’t know how I’ll ever understand it. I don’t know how I’ll live knowing I was up here and she was down there and what could I do to help her. What could I do to fix the planet I used to live on. I told her before I left if you meet someone else I’ll understand and she said don’t make me fight you right now.
Sometimes I fall asleep to nightmares that they’re ending the program. I wake up and my shirt is soaked and I can’t catch my breath and the sky outside of the window isn’t dark enough to go back to sleep to. I close my eyes and I see it: We’ve got to concentrate on our own problems here on Earth. We don’t have the resources to get you back. I understand it better than I do the reasons for sending me up. Every time I want to send her a message, say I wish I never left, I wish I didn’t go. I wanted to go somewhere but I never wanted to leave you. You’ve never been someone I had to get away from. Don’t you get it? I want it all, I want everything and I want the moon, too. I want you in my arms when I step out of the shuttle. I want my feet on the ground and I want my head in the stars. I won’t leave you to fix the world on your own.
I don’t want to die, but I’m not afraid of it, either. It’s a chance that I’ve gotten used to living with. Like a stray I’ve tamed, up here. I would understand if everything changed. It’s been long enough to.
I scratch out a million messages because I don’t want her to think about it and I don’t want to think about it, either. I don’t want to think about coming down and seeing her look different; I don’t want to think about never coming down.
I imagine interviews; people asking me what comes next. Do we take this moon for our country and what does it mean for the military. Is this the final frontier. Are we aliens. Is Earth unlivable. Will we be the first to build a settlement on Lilith.
Sure, I’ll say. For me and my wife. And we’ll build our house in the sand and the mud, and we’ll bring our turtle on up, and we’ll live together whatever age we’re at and fight every day if we want to. We’ll bring her scrunchies and my sweaters and enough sustainable jeans for the both of us, and I’ll write a letter to my mom every morning. I’ll break down the spaceship and we’ll stay up there until we die, the first to live up there and the last. This moon will be our place, our land, our house and nobody else’s. Ours, and nobody else’s, ours, and no others’. Me and my wife’s. For me and my wife.