Fragment from a trip to Mars – Tom Gaffney
I realize I did not make things easy for them. I did not want it to be this way. Did not ask for it.
What I want is a window, into her thoughts, everyone’s. A way to explain myself. A window out of my current situation. So troubling, so unfair. Makes me think of being sent to my room as a kid. If only.
This has been such a long trip. I tried to prepare for it, but it really is unprecedented. What would I do if I were home? Where would I go? Do any of them even remember me?
I wish there was a window. But it makes sense that there isn’t. What could I see anyway? So quiet. I think about screaming some more, doing some banging. But my hands hurt. And no one responded anyway. I can hear, or is it really just feel, the distant hum of the engines? With no other sounds the stimulus seems to run through me. I wish the lights would go off once in a while. Or do I?
I recall staying at my grandmother’s house as a child. Out in the woods. Listening to the rain at night. Milking cows and gathering hay. Driving the tractor. My room for the summer was called James’s room. A lost uncle who I had never met. But the name stuck. My Dad used to tell me that he liked to sleep with the windows open, even in winter. He needed the fresh air. But he also had terrible bouts of insomnia and really bad headaches. Sounds familiar. At least they didn’t name me after him.
So, he liked the windows open, but he needed absolute darkness to sleep. Light pollution was not a problem there and then. I bet it is still pretty dark at night there now. I would be lying there, trying to go to sleep, oppressed by the dark. One night I convinced myself I could not see. Had a panic attack. Couldn’t find the light switch. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I rolled out of bed. I don’t know if I was delusional or mostly asleep but feeling I was awake.
My father came bursting in, wondering what the racket was all about. I’d pulled the sheets off the bed and in my frantic search I had knocked over the lamp that would have calmed everything down. He told me to get a grip, and commenced to tell me the story of how old the lamp was. How his grandmother had bought it and how I needed to be more considerate. Not a moment of consolation from him. I was terrified, but so relieved by the light and the sight of him that I burst into tears.
“You’re ten now,” he rumbled, “act like it!”
Act like it. Gee, thanks Dad. Good thing you are not here for counsel now.
I look around my empty, silent, windowless room. Featureless. Nothing to sit on. Nothing to hold to. This is unconscionable, really. Not reasonable. Don’t think about it. Keep the anger down. Keep quiet. You are a world renowned scientist, one of the tops in your field. You tested into this program and trained non-stop. You should be here. It is not your fault if everyone else has turned out to be unreasonable. All I want is some understanding, some real interaction. I thought out here it would be different than home.
It would be better if I was hearing voices, getting strange commands from some inner demon. But all I want is to sleep, and for the rest of the crew to pay attention to the way she has been treating me. I did not create this situation. I’ve been going about my job, trying to pay attention to the painstaking difficulties I am adept at, all while trying to be a good crew member. You would think there is no harm in sharing your feelings and thoughts with someone. Someone you care about. Someone you know cares about you, even if they have trouble admitting it.
She’s just afraid of what everyone else thinks, not of what I think. Yes, I lost my temper. But it isn’t like I hurt anyone. It’s not like I did anything that would threaten the ship’s integrity, or the mission. Damn the mission. What day is it? How much longer are we going to be out here? A long time.
So much joy when I was selected. The triumph of a lifetime. I should have done more homework around the selection committee. Maybe then I could have understood they were incompetent. Or, they were just selecting a group of guinea pigs, try to fly them to Mars and see if any of them make it back. Or maybe I was the only guinea pig – I was selected to be the object of their social experiment.
I don’t believe that. But, then again, I don’t know what to believe. Mission to Mars? Prison? What day is it? How long have I been in here? No watch – nothing to mark the time.
When was the last time I exercised?
Bored. Sleepless. The sound of my heart beating in my ears I exercise until my clothes are drenched with sweat. I lay down flat on the floor, my head near the wall, as far away from the light fixture as I can get. The lights dim a bit and I can feel sleep creeping up on me. But the lights have dimmed – I think. They wouldn’t turn the lights off on me? Would they? It would be a sensory deprivation tank in here.
I feel a lump in my throat and my recently calmed heart begins galloping anew. My hands are shaking and they roam the walls looking for a seam, any way to escape. There’s nothing to grab onto. The noise of my heart grows louder.
I start calling for help.
Finally, a sound, an answer at the door. The door comes ajar and four of my fellow crew enter. On their guard. Restraints in hand.
“Let me out. You’ve got to let me out. I can’t take it. Don’t turn out the lights.”
I lunge for the door, try to get past them. “I’ll kill you, every last one of you; you’ve got to let me out.”
My lunge is ineffective, and they soon have me restrained. Quietly. None of them say anything to me.
“Bill, you’re going to be alright. We’re going to give you an injection and then you should be able to sleep.”
“What I meant to say is that I’m afraid of the dark. And the silence, please make it stop. Please.”