Youth in Orbit
We wanted to be the first children in space, but by the time we finished building our rocket we were very old and our hearts weren’t in it anymore. We launched ourselves anyway, and our children’s children’s children were there to see us off.
In the alley between our parents’ houses, you sat with your bare feet on one wall and your back on the other. I contend that your feet were splayed out in a V against the red brick beneath my bedroom window, but you are equally sure that you always sat with your back on my house and your feet on yours so that you could watch for the top of your mother’s head through the kitchen window. We may have met before this, but we can’t remember.
In the space between our houses, we described what was ours. You with your baby dolls and their attendant dresses, porcelain nesting dolls with horrible faces, shiny Skippy books and your Amazing New Bottle-tot that cried and drank and wet when it slept; I with my G-Man gun and shoeboxes full of baseball cards and my Flash Gordon rocket: red and yellow and made of tin with fins and stripes and painted-on fire. We decided we’d make a million mistakes and carefully note the outcomes; amass a lifetime of wisdom and pass it on to children who wouldn’t care. We decided to spend so long building a rocket that we’d forget what we’d wanted it for.
Early models were made of straws and pencils and paper fins; later models of egg cartons and lawn chairs and gasoline siphoned from my father’s mower. We scorched the grass in our parents’ yards and set the field behind our houses on fire. We wore homemade space suits at our wedding and ate a cake in the shape of the moon with a rocket in its eye. We kept the helmets on while we made love for the first time, to feel less nervous, and we lost sight of our bodies for the fog on our solar shields.
Our children had other interests, but what we wanted never waned. We grew older and less precious every day. Our children’s children showed a little more interest, but only when they were young. We provided surreptitious sweets and unconditional love. They said our rocket was neat. Our children’s children’s children wanted to come with us to space, but our children and our children’s children thought it might not be safe and anyway, we thought, why should they get to be the first children in space? Build your own damned rocket.
You sat buckled in with your back to me and asked if I remembered the day we met. We argued for a while about the position and placement of your feet, and then went quiet while our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children counted backward in the yard.