In-Between and Overseas

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A SpaceX astronaut in an open marriage recounts a lost love on his travels.

Scrolling through someone’s social media account, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, whichever poison they choose, is the modern art gallery experience, a highly curated version of the person’s life. You see the pictures of kids, all the snazzy snaps of food items, the cliché beach shots, and the trending waves of the day in the volatile sea of Internet sensations, often involving the exploitation of children for fake likes. Not many are immune, save for those who live under a rock like Patrick Star. For the many, the ubiquitous nature of oversharing form the prison ball and chain tethering us to the constant urge to filter our experiences through a fine sieve. No pulp.

On the surface to the casual Facebook creeper (my own skills notwithstanding) their prying eyes would be graced by the aforementioned trope littered about on my various pages. From their perspective, we were happily married enough for the smile lines to crease a photograph. Along for the ride included a sufficient number of children to drag along on various chases for new TikTok viral trends. With countless missions back and forth as a SpaceX astronaut to the American colonies on the moon and Mars, to the silent observer, I had it all, and still do. 

But chiseling away at the dust and buried deeper is the bedrock, the truth immutable, a love splintered. The fire continued to burn bright and strong between us as it ever had, but now shared its warmth to various passersby on the fringes, mutually assured amorousness, an open relationship. Ground rules were robust, enforcement vigorous, transparency paramount between each other and secrecy beyond. No hard feelings other than the desire present in our passionate primal instincts, moving from one flame to the next. Always fun, always fleeting, always within our control. 

There exists no greater threat to the validity of any system than the exception to the rule. Anomalies often hailed as the “sentinel event” and the occurrence of which is chalked up to a greater being, formed the basis of nightmares in my line of work. Every possibility was to be explored, studied, and modeled. All variables were expected to be present and accounted for with nary the faintest complaint. Yet, the most advanced artificial intelligence algorithm will still fall victim to human error, a point driven home in every training. 

Cue the blonde cliché, with her hair tied in an almost neat braid that left the imperfections to exude a sense of adventure and degree of wanderlust. An infectious smile and slender figure to match, her shape hugged the stars and your heart simultaneously. In the world beyond strict scientific method, she carried a lackadaisical demeanor as a relief to the stringent requirements we were held against. The rockets could push her into the seat at 3 G with the thrusters at full speed ahead into orbit, but no tether existed with the ability of grounding that Outlaw Star spirit. Break room shenanigans replaced the water cooler banter. The final frontier of outer space was just a short hop away on whichever spacecraft tickled our fancy. Moon rocks by day, fine wine and Lost in Translation by night. 

The mind’s ocean, rip tides of genuine lunacy, were quelled by a sun with a vendetta to undermine my head in the sky. Another banner put up, more rolls of dollar store tablecloths, and trays of catered food formed the preamble to a lengthy stay under the stars. Friends, family, and progeny swarmed about and within my personal space. Pleasantries were exchanged under the guise of my full attention, though a small, but not infinitesimal portion of focus was dedicated to the one seemingly absent from the room. She was no figment of my imagination, yet felt as such given the lack of presence. 

Water cooler banter became tepid at best, its blue plastic becoming the only beacon of color in an otherwise dull and gray sterile environment. An empty seat in the conference room meetings glared intently at my internal vacuum, taking a likening to it no doubt. Even as the room stands to welcome our founder on an impromptu visit, which in his old age becoming frequently seldom; I found that drawing the energy to activate those leg muscles only resulted in a bounced check. Overdraft fees.

Another space mission, another space song, another replay of the sounds that first crossed the airwaves four score and seven years prior, “Till I See a Sign”. Plumes of smoke began to mushroom up to the sky with the heat following soon thereafter. My fellow comrades took their positions, highly trained and intelligent beings hellbent on viciously attacking the sealed mysteries of the cosmos. In carefully reviewing the manifest as commander, the empty seat once again played the pivotal role of a stowaway passenger.

At the moon base, sitting on the edge between the occult lack of brightness and heavenly rays, I saw the surreal view of Earth just as the first humans to set foot beyond our then-failing planet did a century and a half ago. My senses were overwhelmed, blurred by a resource found so rarely in these parts, as I previously shared this view, with her. An imprint lay undisturbed in the lunar soil, a caricature of a once vibrant exchange of jokes, often at my expense, and a constant fight to keep the condensation from forming inside our helmets due to all the comedic exhalations. 

It was a packed itinerary before the team made its way to the Mars colony for a few more weeks of various agenda items, some scientific, some political. Each day was capped and finalized with drinks at a slew of Martian bars that would make Andy Weir proud. Alcohol always hit a differently here, an anecdote she would chalk up to the one-third gravity on Mars in comparison to Earth. As a firm believer in Occam’s razor, my working theory was that our livers were a casualty to the cruel nature of age. Looking beyond the dome at the towering cliffs of Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in our solar system, even time felt insignificant. 

After making our way back stateside, I was greeted by my relatively vintage red Corvette convertible, a relic in an age of electric cars, self-driving technology, and the latest in space travel. Misty brine air filled the top-down cabin along the oceanside drive from Cape Canaveral to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. The beach house was void of any vacationers for the weekend giving a much-needed time for rest and reflection with the aid of pizza and ice cream from a longstanding staple of the OBX, American Pie. 

Standing on the boardwalk facing the entrance to the beach, I leaned over the top railing stained by years of sun bleach and splintered by waves of expansion and contraction. An ocean breeze lured my weary and travel-ridden body to the sand where the first and final imprint lay. A place where we complemented the view of Earth with the ocean’s song and dance with the ever-eroding shoreline. A moment to share earbuds, with nary a care to gross germs and nasty earwax, to appreciate the sonic journey. A time to forget all immensity and recall the weightlessness, an addiction that was as unrelenting as heroin. Seclusion was my only companion, memories the bed of solace. They say the sea can be a cruel mistress and, in my opinion, the same can be said of space. Both can give plentifully, but can take as much if not more, with greater velocity than the c squared in Einstein’s famous equation.

Another banner put up, more rolls of dollar store tablecloths, and trays of catered food formed the appendix to a lengthy stay under the stars. Friends, family, and progeny swarmed about and within my personal space once more to celebrate the return of a well-decorated space commander. A forlorn facial expression was met with an empathetic and loving glance by my number one, who understood with no words or longform conversation. Juxtaposing this exchange was being whisked away by friends of our children to be pulled in for selfies, which would then be uploaded on their respective pages for more fake likes and hashtags. For a brief moment you feel like a star, but in the end realize it is quite the opposite. Social media is the penultimate quick fix of popularity boom and bust. 

A fruitless search for something more tangible than a feeling was in vain. Perhaps our paths will cross again or maybe this is the coda. Nevertheless, I must forge ahead. A chapter has closed, but the book remains to be finished. The imprints in the sand will eventually subside,gently assisting my heart on the mend, for you.

Submitted: April 15, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Justin George. All rights reserved.

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