By the time you read this, I’ll be 50 years old, I’ll be on Mars, and this book will be finished. I’m writing the first chapter before I go, partially for the sake of a dramatic narrative and partially because I’m so excited I feel like I either have to find something to do with my hands or else sit on them.
Seven years ago, when Community first launched, I was a Mars Widow. My wife left, and I did not, because — well, because I was good at things that were here on Earth. All happy marriages are alike, but Mars ascending revealed just how little unhappiness it took to split people apart. [FIX MAYBE DO WE REALLY WANT “Mars ascending”] I loved her for many reasons, but we also loved each other for our ambitions, the not-too-stereotypical combination of scientist and writer that brings together a pair of analytical minds who are all too easily lost in their own thoughts.
I should have paid more attention to the “our own thoughts” part.
We were young — we had only been married for three years when Community launched — and like many of the Mars Widows I also disappeared for a while, even though I was still on Earth right where she left me. When I think back on it, I remember an entire year, maybe two years, of watching the livestream for glimpses of her face. Wondering if I had made the wrong choice.
What I knew, though, was that I had also chosen. I was living with another Mars Widow then, a lot of us unsurprisingly pairing up as we adjusted to life on single incomes, and she told the story of her life as if something had been taken from her. I wrote about her in my first book, Excellent; described her as “grief streaming like iron chains from her hands.” [CUT? EXPLAIN EXCELLENT PUN? NOBODY GOT IT THE FIRST TIME] I missed my wife, lost hours looking for her online, but I also woke up every morning and wrote my three pages before going in to work. That was what I wanted, more than Mars and more than marriage.
By the time the war started I’d walked enough miles of emotional distance that I didn’t panic, like some people did, when we lost our connection to Community. They’d either be fine or they wouldn’t, and we couldn’t control that any more than we could when we were watching. I was mostly worried about whether this would be a real war or a fake one, because a real one might affect my work. [POSS. INSULTING TO DESCRIBE WAR AS FAKE. ASK EDITOR.]
But the war turned out to be as real as a wasp’s nest: dangerous only if you were close enough to poke it. That’s how wars seem to be, these days. I had the Molly McIntire doll growing up, and we acted out stories about rations and war bonds. Now we have Twitter hashtags that automatically deduct a dollar from your PayPal account every time you #SupportOurTroops, and today’s children wave their doll’s arms around as they play at launching a successful social activism campaign. [FIND PROOF THAT AT LEAST ONE CHILD DOES THIS]
Then we got the new-and-improved Network, and the feeling you get when you see someone after a few years and don’t know anything about them anymore. You don’t get that feeling much, anymore; I’ve been on Facebook for something like 30 years now. But it used to be like that with relatives, or people you saw at summer camp. Time passes, and you don’t know what to say.
And then NASA announced Community Phase Two, a little delayed but still in need of volunteers. And I decided to go. Like so many of the original colonists, I knew I would go as soon as I saw the ad.
Why? The version I tell people is that I’m a storyteller; I want to see what happens next. The first Community launch was an experiment, but now they know that people can live stable lives on Mars, even when they lose communication with Earth.
The version I don’t tell people is that I know what would happen if I stayed here. I’m a single, mid-menopausal woman with no spouse, no children, and no retirement savings. As the joke goes, I can’t afford not to go to Mars. They still don’t really need writers — they can watch Netflix and use their Kindles as well as the rest of us — but they do need teachers, and it is the not-too-stereotypical career transition. Millennials ascending. [CUT IF WE CUT “Mars ascending” ABOVE]
I’ll see my wife when I arrive, I suppose. I still think of her as my wife, even though she is not. I don’t watch the livestream for her anymore, but sometimes I do see her. It’s funny how the gravity changes things, how everyone looks just a little bit more like the big-eyed gray aliens that we thought Hollywood invented. I’ve already talked to my agent about doing the cover as two pictures: one on the day I leave, and one at the first-year anniversary, after my body has started to thin out. [POSS. REMOVE AGENT, NOBODY WANTS TO THINK ABOUT WRITERS WORKING WITH ANYBODY ELSE]
If I were writing this as a novel, we’d reunite. No matter how much I’d push for a more realistic story, I couldn’t get away with having us not reunite. Everybody wants happy endings.
You can imagine our happy ending, if you want — but I’m hoping that the truth makes a more interesting story.