STAND BY . . .
I thought stasis would be like sleeping. I thought I’d simply close my eyes on Earth and when I opened them I'd be a hundred light-years away, with no memory of the intervening time or the immense distance I had travelled.
STAND BY . . .
I've discovered that stasis isn't instant. It isn't empty. It isn't restful. It's more like a slow, swirling dream, a ghostly voyage through the events and emotions that you thought you were leaving behind.
STAND BY . . .
I thought stasis would be an escape, but I've spent the absent infinity of our voyage through space exploring the inside of my own head, reliving every one of those moments, those days, those joys, those sorrows.
INITIATE AWAKENING . . .
I was just TEN . . . years old when I met Molly. She was singlehandedly responsible for lifting me out of the juvenile "girls have cooties" mindset that characterizes so many young boys' early days and kick-starting my adolescence. She entered my life that morning with short red hair pulled back by a white headband, round, rosy cheeks, and a button nose surrounded by about a million of the cutest freckles I'd even seen. There was a lily blossom tucked behind her ear. I thought she was an angel.
That very day I declared on the playground that I was going to make Molly my girlfriend and get her to kiss me, no matter how long it took. The preteen grape vine carried my declaration to Molly's ears, and after that she was so embarrassed that she wouldn't even make eye contact with me. I knew I had set myself a real challenge, but that only heightened my determination.
It took me NINE . . . months, just about the entire school year, to even get her to laugh at one of my jokes. It was a dumb joke, too, nowhere close to my cleverest. She was sitting in the tire swing while I dangled from the monkey bars with one of my friends. "A big moron and a little moron were sitting on a fence," I said. "A gust of wind came along and blew the big moron off. Why didn't the other guy fall? Because he was a little more-on!" When she giggled at the punch line I was so surprised that I imitated the joke by losing my grip on the monkey bars, falling down, and breaking my arm. It was entirely worth it.
I spent the last few weeks of school in a cast. Everyone signed it, and Molly put a smiley face next to her name. When the doctor cut the cast off, I asked him to save that piece for me.
"Your girlfriend?" he asked me with a wink.
"Not yet, but she will be," I told him sincerely.
EIGHT . . . years later I asked Molly to go to the prom with me. I'd been working my way up to it for months, trying to gauge her interest, stressing over the possibility of rejection, wondering how she might interpret the request. We'd been friends for a long time at that point. We hung out during lunch every now and then, shared parts of our music collections, and went to some of the same parties, but despite all my hints and advances she'd never showed any real interest in me. I wasn't even sure whether I wanted my prom invitation to "mean" anything, but she blushed when she said "Yes," and I couldn't stop smiling for an entire week afterwards.
Prom was the happiest night of my life. I presented Molly with a corsage of white lilies. The way her face lit up when she saw it made my heart jump into my throat. The event stretched on past midnight, and when it was over we joined up with some friends of ours for an all-nighter after party. We spent the entire night talking, laughing, watching movies, and playing games.
I dropped Molly off at home at SEVEN . . . o'clock the next morning. She was half asleep. Her eyelids were drooping, her hair was all mussed up into a soft, fuzzy halo, and she had tucked the lily from her corsage behind her ear, just like the day I met her. I couldn't help it: I asked her to go out with me right there on her parents' porch. That was the day I finally got my kiss, and it was worth every minute of those years of waiting.
That summer passed in a blur. I remember holding hands on the beach, riding the rollercoaster at the state fair, the road trip we went on to go see our favourite band, and the fancy dinner I spent an entire day preparing for her. All of the amazing memories we built with one another have blended together in my mind into one big, cozy ball of joy, warmth, and contentment.
Then, a few days before our SIX . . . -month anniversary, Molly told me she wanted to break up.
I wanted to know why.
She said things just "weren't working" for her anymore.
It was a nothing explanation. It left me full of pain and questions. I was crushed.
I spent a week alone in my bedroom afterwards, only coming out when I absolutely had to, lying on my bed watching the movies we had watched together, listening to the music we had listened to together, looking at that little piece of plaster she had signed her name on back in elementary school.
Life went on. I got a part-time job, went to college. I told my friends I was over her so many times that eventually I started to believe it was true.
It was FIVE . . . years before I saw Molly again. I was working at a hardware store on the weekends, trying to pay my way through my last year of college, and she came in hanging off the arm of some guy who looked like he'd never held a hammer in his life. She had let her hair get long, her eyes were older and darker, and her smile was subdued, restrained, grown up. The girl I had known was gone; she had become a woman.
She saw me, did a double-take, and broke into a wide smile. In that moment I saw the girl inside of her, shining brightly like a summer day. She hugged me, and I knew then that I had never gotten over her, that I would never get over her.
Molly introduced the man she'd come in with as her fiancé, and the floor dropped out from under my feet. She told him I was an "old friend." I shook his hand and stared into his eyes, searching for some weakness, some flaw that would justify my instant hatred of him. But the only thing I could determine was that she loved him instead of me, that he had taken away my girl and made her into his woman. That, I decided, was crime enough.
FOUR . . . days later I got a card in the mail inviting me to their wedding. I don't know why she invited me. I wish she hadn't.
In the photo on the front of the invitation, Molly was wearing earrings shaped like lilies. I put the picture on my fridge, sat at the kitchen table, and stared at it for hours.
I don't know why I went. I don't know what deep masochism led me to make the drive to the church, to sit in that uncomfortable pew, to clench my fists so tightly that my nails dug into my palms, to finger the piece of plaster in my pocket as I watched her stride radiantly up the aisle, shimmering in her white dress like a flower, like a lily bloom, like my dreams.
I imagined myself in his place, dressed in his THREE . . . -piece suit, coming down those steps, shaking hands with her father, taking her arm, leading her to the altar. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't think.
Then she cut through the last weak, faint thread of hope that had been holding my broken heart together with TWO . . . simple words: "I do."
I found myself at the Colonization Office the very next day. The lady there handed me a brochure and a consent form and told me to think over my decision carefully. I sat down and pretended to read the words describing the difficulties of space travel, the challenges of the pioneer life, the emotional hardship of the relativistic effects of faster-than-light travel, how everyone you knew would be long dead by the time you arrived at your destination. It didn't surprise me how easy it was to sever my connection to Earth, how little I cared about leaving behind everything and everyone I'd ever known. I'd already done it emotionally.
It only took ONE . . . signature to get me on that spaceship.
DISENGAGE STASIS . . .
I'm lying in my stasis pod, eyes closed, skin cold and damp. My ears are filled with the hiss and hum of technology, of thousands of pods like mine disengaging the mechanisms that have kept us alive, kept us young, during our long sojourn through space.
A mechanical voice is informing us that we have arrived at our destination, that we are now thousands of light-years from Earth, in orbit over a blue-green planet with a breathable atmosphere and immense stores of liquid water. Here we are, as far from my heartbreak and my history as it is possible to be, separated from my past by an impossible distance and the turning of irretrievable centuries.
I open my eyes. All around me the other colonists are stretching their long-disused muscles, stepping out of their pods, dressing themselves, greeting their neighbours excitedly.
But I just stare at the viewscreen overhead, watching the projected image of our new home. Amid the swirling white cloud patterns skimming the planet's surface, I see the shape of a lily.