At the edge of eight my life began, the night I stepped onto our tiny, unused balcony. Bruised by my limits, gazing at citydim stars, it dawned on me there is no end to up. Biggest thought I’d ever thought: I felt my brain enlarge to hold it. No end to up. I could build a life on this. I could go up into that up.
In my thrill, I wedged my knee between the wooden rails. I didn’t want to wake my parents—no one in my house could use a tool. (Mother was thumbs; the men were heady; my sister, gorgeous and useless.) So I spent the night on the balcony shivering, watching the wheeling stars. Burly firemen sawed me out in the morning. I limped to the bookshelf as soon as I could; swore to know the sky and the saw as well.
The family slammed hope shut like a shuttle door. Girls don’t go to space. After a tantrum that scarred us all, I withdrew, rocking on my balcony each night as if my brain had crashed against my skull.
One night a vision clear as glass appeared: me in space floating. I thought: if there’s no end to the top of up, there isn’t an end to the bottom. I could get up through the bottom of up, no matter what anyone said.
I kept my “floating” vision to myself. I sweated math under clubfisted teachers, till Miss Barrett rolled a TV into class. (In those days, a launch was still a miracle.)
“Numbers have meaning, ladies and gentlemen. Rockets speak mathematics.”
I disclosed my dream to her; she helped me chart my flight plan, so to speak. I studied fiercely and in isolation; tried to protect myself from sissies made bullies by fear. They kicked my crotch to see if I were a boy in disguise.
I grew and withdrew. My body shuttled me through the alien environment of high school. I ran it, greased it, breathed my private oxygen. I knew you don’t get up there without care. It was perfect preparation for the life I lead.
It also gave me love for insects. They, too, travel in shiny, hard transports. I know they must have soft bug souls at the controls.
My life compressed in fear, in quiet and in concentration, until now, until you, you lovely planet of a woman. A launch into infinity is easier than launching into intimacy.
But you are like my first walk. When I first walked in space, black with the blue earth curved beneath my white boot, all the weight of my life went away. I was transformed, a wing of joy. In the dark; a girl on a balcony. I sent the softest part of me, the part within the firm complexity of flesh, the part for whom the flesh is shuttle, and I appeared to her. I told her that there is no end to up.