It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Here I stood, or floated rather, on the threshold of world-shattering records, and an unmatched existence – the alleged breaking ground for my experiences as a human, and furthermore the experiences of humanity. My name's Jonathon Jones, and I'll be the first astronaut to sustain himself for 3 years in a single-manned orbital vehicle, going round and round the earth. I'm literally a million miles above the heads of humans, with my only friends, my tools and my books. I've just finished A Tale Of Two Cities by Dickens, but all throughout the novel, I remained stuck on the opening line, reminiscent of the situation I'd found myself in for the past 1,064 days.
April 30th, 2010, 8:59 P.M., CST; Day 1,065. This day signified the 30 day mark until I was to return home. After nearly three years, sleeping, breathing, working in absolute solitude, the idea of home was the only thing I could wrap my tired mind around. For the past 152 weeks, I had written endlessly of the black outside of me. 152 weeks spent in tireless maintenance.
Final repairs were completed earlier today on Side-6, America's latest flaw. After nearly 80 total hours logged into the thing, it was finally up and running... And that was that. With only 30 days left, my responsibilities had become few. I could taste those warm, blue skies: endless from the surface of the Earth, yet just beyond my grasp out here. Despite the countless journals given me for this journey, every page had been used, save two, and as I jotted down some miscellaneous thought concerning the nature of infinity, I was watching the sun set over North America. It's almost over, I told planet Earth. I'm almost home.
At this point in my seclusion, time was just a trick – an illusion that my digital clock persuaded me to believe every day. Waking up was just as surreal as going to sleep and dreaming of home. It was only an activity I knew I had to perform, similar to noting in my journal.
I'd told my wife to wait for me, and so far she had. Our communication was limited: 30 minutes a week. She talked all about Bienvenido, a little Mexican place at the bottom of town – how she'd gone back just about every other week since I left. We had our first date there, and I reminisced the cold cups, the smoky light, the diner din whenever she brought it up. Brown hair, blue eyes, and she wanted a kid. Real bad.
What have they got you doin' up there now? She'd ask me each week. Anything from broken satellites to gorgeous observation. There was the day I'd first gone outside the vehicle in my space suit. I stood, faulty feet planted on the vessel, as extraordinary planet Earth loomed in front of me. For those countless stellar minutes, I held humanity in my hands, and tried to lean into a marble more massive, and inexplicably flawless than anything its million tiny inhabitants would ever see or comprehend. The sheer perfection of such a flawless sphere, such mammoth grandeur gave me more butterflies than there were stars, and as I gazed ceaselessly at it, swirling millions of miles per minute, yet standing still in front me, I wept. I wept, audible in my helmet, yet soundless in space. Here I was, performing the grandest feats of humanity, stretching my limbs before the raw beauty of creation, and it was the loneliest place that any man has ever experienced. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I've been thinking a lot about Adam lately, and what those first moments of existence must have felt like. That first gasp of air as he blinked his eyes in the daunting perfection of his environment, gripped by a combination of fear and glory. I wonder if it was hard for him to look at his hands, to look at his legs, and know who or what he was. A tiny mirror hung in the back of my vehicle, but I'd given up on looking at it a long time ago. My sense of self was dematerializing, and my reflection began to lose its merit. With only myself, and no one else to compare with, my identity was waning. Waking up with planet Earth in your window every alleged morning is breathtaking, but the more I opened my eyes, the more I was desperate for that world to speak – to tell me who I was, and what I was here for, just as Adam had the breathtaking voice of God. The crackling voices of Houston were becoming more and more scarce every day – the duties of this intergalactic hermit were dwindling. My wife was all that kept me sane.
“You want to know what I miss most?” I'd asked her that day.
“Yes,” she said softly. “Tell me.”
Then I grinned. “I haven't had a chili craving this bad since those months I spent overseas.”
“Well,” she smiled. “First thing when you get back, I'm going to wrap you in my arms, then hide you in our car, and take you faster than a space shuttle to Bienvenido, where I promise you'll have the best dinner you've ever had in your life.”
“Sounds like a deal, and I'll tell you what... It's on me.”
“I love you,” she choked out. I responded the same.
“How's the war going?”
She groaned. “Could be better, Jon...”
“I wish it was.”
“I hope this planet looks beautiful way up where you are... because it sure doesn't look that way down here.”
It was stunning to me, that nearly all of what was pure and good in the planet below me was not only overlooked – it was completely raped and defiled. I tried to compare this current image of Earth to the image of the planet in its infancy. Perhaps it was cleaner: less clouds, more greenery. It looked flawless to me, though. However, I could clearly see in my mind the pollution that was practically poison, fires being started, whether by accident or arsonist, and people being cut down like grass, bulleted and bloody. The bitter quarrels of humans don't mean anything.
The best thing Houston did was keep me up to date on current affairs. The war was worsening, and our president kept making bloody decisions. Insignificant arguments over territory so abundant was killing off all of humanity's greatest potentials. Tensions were tight, and America's enemy had begun to release threats of nuclear war. It was damn pitiful, and each day, my heart was vigilant and my body nervous toward how it would end.
“Just hang in there,” I told her. “Everything's going to be alright.”
“How can you say that? You're a million miles away.”
“I promise... It's all going to be okay.”
It was at that moment, I chose to write my letter to the President. I departed from my wife once more, and settled into my solitude. I had one, single sheet of paper remaining, and still a few weeks to go. But I had to make everything okay for my baby, I just had to, and this seemed to be the best way I could make a difference. I struggled for the right words at first, but then it just poured out of me.
May 9th, 2010, 7:03 P.M., CST. Day 1,075
Dear Mr. President,
I’ve seen about a billion stars and seen about a million galaxies, and been closer to them than any of Planet Earth’s world leaders ever will be. Infinity is illuminated by these tiny dots of light. I felt forever, and saw it like a chandelier, wrought with the countless burning galaxies that swirl and flicker in their quiet peace. I felt forever, and I nodded my head to it. Or shook my head. I tried to define up and down, but I couldn’t. Up and down are the tools of man, invented with beautiful intent, so that people can know where to turn their heads when they hear about the glory of the moon, and they can know where to move their knees when they are absolutely humbled by it. But up and down have been turned malevolent. Up and down are tools that were transformed with malicious intent, so that people can know which way bombs fall from, and where to look to read gravestones. Please, as a humble astronaut who has experienced the peace of this planet for the past three years, I am pleading with you to negotiate – to call out your troops, dismiss nuclear weapons, and sit down with the enemy. If you care about maintaining the serenity and happiness of this breathtaking existence, you will listen to these words, and act dutifully on them.
Signed with respect,
Intergalactic Astronaut, Jonathon Jones.
7:00 A.M... Apparently... Only 10 more days till I came home. My hand met my wife's hand on the screen one last time, and she sobbed just enough for me to notice. The journey home would be dangerous and complicated. It required Houston's acute guidance, and I couldn't get home without them. They had to tell me exactly when to thrust, when to move, when to hold back, so that I wouldn't burn alive in the atmosphere, or get stuck out here in the big, black ocean forever.
North America had just come into my view. As I looked down at the U.S., I tried to point out where the White House would be – it's residents sitting at their desks, poring over papers, trying to discover the right answer – the solution that would keep the nuclear holocaust at bay. I liked to think I held it in my pocket. Stay still for ten more days, I thought, but I feared my time was running low.
Next, I tried to see where my home would be. My fingers danced across the window. I could see my breath, and I imagined what the sun would feel like on my face. I thought about holding my wife's hand in the corner booth at Bienvenido, and giggling with her about nothing and everything. I thought about holding her in my arms – the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body. I was sick of cold windows and absolute zero. I'm coming home, I thought. I'm coming home.
Just then, Houston buzzed in my ears. “You about ready to get back?”
I laughed, or sighed, or both, and said, “More than you'll ever know.”
“Glad to hear it. Well we're going to go ahead and begin the return procedure. Just hang tight until we get everything configured down here.”
“Sounds good... Hey Bill...”
“What's up?” he responded.
“How's the weather down there?”
“70 degrees, blue skies... It's gorgeous, Jonathon.”
This is it, I thought. I could barely sit still. I could barely wait to bid adieu to endless eternity outside.
And it was just about this time that I noticed something curious outside my window – something out of place, never before observed in the thousand times I'd circled North America. Something rotten. Horror struck. My body went numb, and my chest felt more cold than the windows – it practically failed.. The awful happened. The inevitable, disgusting tragedy that pulled pins from my heart. Sweating was just the normal reaction you would expect me to have when within the icy clutches of terror – alone in the unknown, with no one and nothing to cling to. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
With my eyes fixed on the United States, the four largest explosions I have ever seen, erupted over the continent, landing in all the major cities, then rippling quickly out, swallowing everything along the way. The enemy had just dropped bombs over our country – bombs so massive, I could see them from my distance, and I could barely trust my eyes. I beat against the window in terror. My heart erupted in my chest, and at first, I couldn't say anything. I just watched, in awe-stricken horror, as the mushrooms grew greater and greater.
After several minutes, I finally spoke into my receiver. “Hello... Houston?... Are you there?” I began weeping. “Hello!” I screamed. “Hello, please! Is anybody there? For the love of God, somebody, please answer me!” Silence. I continued screaming, but my voice bounced off the glass and reverberated inside the chamber. “Hello?” But no one was there. Only the stars.