I wish I could enjoy the stars, but I waste time out here worrying.
“Can you get my wife on my phone?” I ask mission control, but the relay takes at least twenty four hours. Sometimes a week.
I wander through the pictures on my iPhone–a door knob, a stove, a dog in a window. I snap pictures whenever I leave my house to ensure everything is in place. Three blocks down the street–or three hundred million miles, in this case–I might want to be certain that I locked the door behind me on my way out or that I checked the stove eyes were switched “off.” I can look at the picture I took through the window of little Rosie inside and sleeping curled beside the couch in her usual spot. If I took the picture through the window, the dog has to be inside the house, right?
Neptune soars by to my right, massive and blue and beautiful, like a godly teardrop flung aside into space and drifting forever. Well, until the sun explodes. But all I can think of are worse case scenarios: my stupid, damn Playstation 6 being burglarized by some deranged junkie who adds injury to insult by hurting Rosie, silencing her for barking in his desperate gathering of electronics to pawn.
What if somehow while taking that picture, I accidentally hit the knob and turned a stove eye on, leaving it burning to grow hotter and hotter and hotter until it ignited some derelict crumb? Or it simply superheated the oxygen above–theoretically, that could happen–and combusted and torched the house with my Rosemary inside.
You see, my wife was away when I left for the mission. She always goes to the beach or the mountains to drink mixed cocktails and pass the time with Romance novels and Hallmark movies while I’m away–stress killers. She feels abandoned and worried, though I did warn her about marrying an astronaut.
My therapist calls this type of anxiety “magical thinking,” though she says my worrying isn’t as severe as OCD but is normal for anxious people. Magical thinking is expressed in habits like touching or placing objects and then associating this with unrelated consequences. For instance, a person might think, “If I don’t position the vase on the end table in a particular way before I go to sleep, my father will have a heart attack during the night.” That is an extreme example, but I worry that my paranoia could progress to this point.
NASA doesn’t know that I see a therapist. I do it covertly, like a man buying drugs. I’d be barred from space if they learned the truth.
It tipped when we got that beautiful little dog I mentioned. Ironically, Rosie was to chill me out around the house. We’re childless. But, I immediately became convinced I would forget and leave the door open and then face the unbearable consequences of having allowed such an adorable, defenseless thing slip out into the woods and wander alone to starve. I’ve already got the world to look after.
My wife jokes I’m no longer the man she married but one with his “head in the clouds,” a “literal space cadet.” My job dictates that I think in math, so no Ativan, just yoga.
I’ve passed the asteroid belt, and communication with Earth is limited. I only receive clipped sentences, possibly coded messages.
What if I left the stove on and it started a fire that burned out of control and there is no Earth for me to return to? I should never have agreed to fly this mission alone.
Should I just switch on the warp drive and zoom onward, hoping against the impossible odds that I’ll find a new world which I haven’t destroyed or hasn’t yet destroyed itself? Or maybe I’ll just smack back at Cape Canaveral, where I left from. No one really knows. We only speculate.
No. I’m turning around. I have to go back. I forgot to check all the bathroom sinks. And, I never should have left unreliable Kaylee down the block in charge of feeding Rosie. And, how could I have forgotten to check the thermostat?