I climbed through the hatch of the Icarus Space Rocket and strapped myself into the cockpit next to Captain Johnson. I yawned the seatbelts diagonally across my silvery-moon spacesuit, feeling them clasp against my rib cage.
If I had looked through the cubbyhole, I would have seen eight hundred feet of nothingness down to the tarmacked Earth. If I had looked through and up, I would have seen a trillion miles of space beyond the domed blue sky, and glimpsed where this adventure was heading. As things were, I was tied into my little red chair, my ejector seat into the heavens, and saw only a constellation of dials above me.
“Just like we planned?” Captain Johnson said out of his space helmet.
“Just like we planned.” I replied.
“Breaker, breaker, one, two, how do you read?” Captain Johnson said into his communication device.
“We read you, Captain, prepare for liftoff.” A little voice said through the speakerphone.
Johnson then arched his spacesuit slightly towards me and said, “next stop, Mars,” before rolling back into position.
Even though I had prepared for this for a lifetime, I felt myself trying to quell a tornado of anxiety. My heart rate sprinted at an Olympic pace, leaving my body behind for dust. Slow trickles of sweat wet my forehead, like I was in Communion receiving the Word of God. Our mission was to find life on another planet, I felt like I was really only looking for myself.
The slow, familiar beating of the countdown rang through the cabin. “10 … shhhh … 9 … shhhh … 8 …” I knew that any moment the stillness of the day would break into an avalanche of explosions, with the very ground taking off beneath us. “5 … shh … 4 … ” Captain Johnson lay still beside me, a cadaver waiting for ascension. “3 … shh … 2 … shh” Here we go! I rambled in my mind before hearing, “1 … shh … lift-off!”
The Earth began to shake out a ferocious earthquake of energy. My body was vibrating side-to-side, being thrown off kilter. The red chair became an angel, lifting me out of the only world I had ever known. Higher and higher we rose, the great jungle-roar of the burning-white engines shooting us into space.
As I felt my insides want to escape, I focused on the light blue patch of sky out of my window turn to a blueberry purple then an inky black, growing dark as we left the stratosphere. Everything and everyone I had ever known were now vanishing beneath me, left behind on a distant marble I may never see again.
I steadied my breathing to a gentle pant, breathing in the elixir of freshly pumped oxygen slithering into my helmet.
Breathe, I reassured myself, breathe.
Captain Johnson clicked a dial with his gloved finger and our lift-off propellers broke away into the silence below. We were now outside of the Earth’s orbit, on a one-way ticket to the great, mystical beyond.
I closed my eyes and, in the darkness of my eyelids, red-flaming shapes formed. Just brushstrokes at first, but then those brushstrokes morphed into my mother, holding me high above her head in the garden where I grew up. I could feel her hands clasp around my little waist and see her young smile as she looked into my childhood eyes. She was throwing me up high into the air and catching me before I fell, each time with me laughing hysterically and crying “again, again!” hoping it would never end.
As she caught me in her hands, she grew older, the lines on her forehead scratching more pronounced, the emerald of her eyes greying coldly. I had just got home from school and threw my satchel down on the kitchen table before waiting for another argument that would surely come.
As I was about to hurl at her a tirade of teenage angst she turned older again, her hair fading into an autumnal hue, her lips a darker red. I was standing by my father’s graveside, telling her that the letter had arrived this morning. I was invited onto the first spacefaring mission to Mars and I would never return.
She looked at me in horror and then disappeared back into the gloomy darkness.
I opened my eyes and all around me was vanishing. The walls were falling down and the sky was opening up and I felt free and alive and dead and everything all at once.
“We made it out of the Earth’s orbit,” Captain Johnson said. “We are now one with the stars.”
“Isn’t that something?” I said, before closing my eyes and falling into a dream.