Originally published in Bard Lux Literary Magazine.

Space

 

When I told my teacher I did not understand space, I meant it. She didn’t get what I was saying so I just repeated myself. That is when she thought maybe I was a smart-ass. I am a smart-ass, but not when it comes to space. Space has my respect.

I should have taken earth science, but I did not because I thought maybe something about space would make sense to me. Maybe the vastness would be more like the ‘eternity’ of the ocean, something we sail around and around in and soon enough it becomes clear what it really is, what it means, what centers it. The currents are mapped, the islands drawn in, the little gaps of starlight are observed by madmen shipwrecked on alien coasts.

I was wrong. I still did not understand space. It was just too big. There was too much. Rocks would have been easier. There are only so many rocks. I saw some today, actually. I can’t just see some space; it’s all or nothing.

My mother told me that the soul was bigger than space. I think she was being kind of dumb about it. I don’t care how special you feel in this place, your soul is not anything like space, in dimension or value or character. The soul is an engine, or the laughter after a mediocre joke, or the plot of a movie. Space is an organism made up of every heaven ever imagined, beating like a trillion hearts. And I can barely imagine one afterlife, so how could I ever imagine space?

My brother said space was just the big thing. My brother is very thick. Space wasn’t a thing, it was a landscape without rivers or mountains, or plains, or dirt or rocks or sand, or water or little bunnies screwing in a hole in the ground. It was a landscape that had zero definition. It wasn’t a thing, it was a concept that you happen to be able to move inside.

Landscapes are a bit abstract like space. Just a matter of perspective on a bunch of big things. Space can’t even be in the same sentence, though. Space is a matter of perspective on perspectives.

I had a teacher who told me space was always expanding. I didn’t get it. I felt that the universe contracted every second. People seem closer, rooms get more crowded, memories get denser. The universe must be shrinking because life, as it goes on, keeps feeling smaller. Don’t give me any nonsense, I bet it’s because of space. Space is a master prankster.

I know there are people who major in space, who master space, who eat it for breakfast and get space-fat and need to go to a space gym. Astronauts interest me because I don’t think space makes any more sense to them than most. Just because they walked ten feet further into a vast desert doesn’t mean they know why it’s there, or how big it is, or what it is like to go far enough that the nearest water source is just a dream. They can pick up a handful of sand and say “Space here is like this!” and tell you there was more of a breeze or they saw around a bunch of trees and I would say so what. I see space fine from right here and it looks just the same. I just don’t have sand in my boots. You are not fooling anyone. But the love you have to have for space is amazing. I can get behind that. I love space. Like love, I don’t get it. They go hand in hand. I think it takes guts to take the ten steps into the desert. I just don’t know why, and that is probably why I’ll never be an astronaut.

When the Challenger went down I know I cried – space usually makes me cry but this was a special occasion – and I felt terrible that these people were abducted forever by such a brave passion. There is just too much space and everyone got so curious and they then had to die because of it how dangerous it is to try and reach out. We already have to die because we run out of space, or our little genetic bits suffer and collapse in space or the space in our lungs get filled with water or space comes together and we crash. Space kills us all. Space is our graveyard; side by side with supernovas and comet trails we lay forever. Although that suggests we can actually lay down in space. By the way, we can’t.

Space is everywhere. We are space. Stars are in space as much as we, as are the nebulae and galaxies and clouds of formaldehyde and little alien bacteria that are really no different than most bacteria we can imagine, they are just foreign (Space has made us default to racism.) Space is a soup that we have digested and mixed ourselves into at the same time. You are part cosmic beauty, but also part dinosaur fart. Space is funny, space made laws so that someday silly things would happen, like sentience would be born in its endless womb and thereby go crazy about never being born and never being able to understand the cradle of life that nursed it so.

I also once saw the space shuttle Endeavor, and my mind just broke. I wasn’t even thinking about space. I was thinking about how I wanted a cheese sandwich, then suddenly I was bawling in the background of tourist photos of the shuttle and my friend asked “What’s wrong Michelle?” and I could only respond “It had been to space so many times, and I don’t understand space.” I couldn’t even really thank it for what it did. I couldn’t properly thank anyone for their discoveries, their losses, their sacrifices for space and finding us a place in this universe because I could not fathom the depth of their conquest when there is nothing to really conquer, rather there are just levels of insignificance we have in the real grand design. We don’t have an address in space, the city planning office left us off the map, mainly because the map is like remembering a dream when you get up in the morning and having to locate a specific moment. Space, like a dream, is confusing and lost outside what we can reach with our minds. Not to say space even has a comprehendible size to someone. Giving space a size is like dividing by zero. The space police will come and get you and say “That’s a bad thing you have done. You hurt space’s feelings.”

When I lay in grass at night and stare into space, it stares back at me. I wonder if it thinks there is something else like it, somewhere in me, so it isn’t alone in the universe. I seriously doubt it.

Sorry space.