The Satellite Fear

I am not moving fast enough to keep up with the events. Art imitating life imitating art. For the record:

The report was still so vague in that first week of September that it seemed less a threat than an ill-conceived promise, but still there it was, breathless and hanging out there like a timebomb: a broken nuclear-powered satellite had fallen out of orbit and spun out of control and was now due to fall from the sky, the location and date as-yet-unknown. With that the lever had been pulled, downward shift and we were stuck in this enthralled paralysis, it was as if the world was on hold. Everywhere you would look people were gripped with fear and excitement, it was odd and fantastic. No one knew when or where it might land but everyone, it seemed, was certain it was to be upon their own head.

“You know this thing is going to fall in the ocean, right?” I said to Sandy, “If it even makes it through the atmosphere,” but soon she was swept up in the fever with everyone else, saying and doing things as if the world might end.

Sandy was glad to have me back in the face of all of this fear and conspiracy and we would take these long drives along the lake and watch the sky, drinking out of paper bags and theorizing on a post-apocalyptic future as the sun burned away into night. I could feel a distinct change in the earth’s pull, that weird heaviness that came with doom, and I quickly fell in love with the idea of it—planet in peril!—it was, as it turns out, the perfect cushion on which to land upon my return. The old familiar surroundings and places I had long ignored now appeared clearer to me, more in focus, with highlights and borders, like maybe they wouldn’t be around much longer? The disorientation I had felt from re-acclimation began to take on new heights and it left me feeling like I never really came home, like somewhere along the way we had hit a cloud and veered left and got off the plane in another dimension. The hype kept building and the crazy theories kept spinning wildly out of control until it finally seemed as if we were sitting on the cusp of a total meltdown.

“It’s not going to kill us off, Sandy,” I said, but she kept that worried look in her brown eyes and laughed nervously.

One of the last times that we drove to the lake before the satellite fell she was quiet and I filled the space with jokes, trying to put her at ease. I could see her staring up at the sky like it was a monster getting ready to pounce and when she spoke it was in a little girl voice, timid and cute. She was such a small thing anyway, with long brown hair falling down over her turtleneck, and when the cold came roaring in off the water she would lower her head and get swallowed up in the big jacket that she wore until springtime.

“I better learn to swim, Sam, don’t you think?” she said, looking out at the water and moving her arms.

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, you know. First there’ll be fire and then there’ll be water,” she said.

“Well, don’t worry, baby, I’ll build you an ark.”

Now she laughed. “No you won’t, silly.”

“Yeah…you’re probably right. That thing would sink like a stone.”

She just smiled and kept looking up. “You’re smart,” she said. “You know how to get out of doing things.”

She was sweet when she said this, and then she looked at me like I was the one who was going to be there to save her. I pushed her hair out of her eyes and it didn’t feel like lying, not at all and I thought about the words she had said to me when I was still in the black cloud, those sad days when I was still trying to understand where love goes. “That’s what you do, is glorify the past,” she had said and it burned into my skin like a scar. Of course she was right, and I needed to hear it, but that didn’t mean it made any more sense to me. It was always the past, always that which I could not change. “Come on, Sam,” she said, “Look around. Be in the Now.”

It felt like I had come a long way from those days, living for myself in the moment, appreciating life and not getting caught up in the old anxieties. I was becoming more of a man. But then I gazed up at an airliner floating across the clear night sky, lights flashing slow and dreamlike, and remembered how it was not so long ago when the sun rose for the last time at the bottom of the world. It seemed like I had just left, like I was barely even there. The whole world was in a fog sometimes. Sandy grabbed my hand and held it, silent, as the lights blurred up into a red burst, the long pause and then darkness. It felt like we were going to stay that way forever.

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