Life on Mars
July, 2012. If we look to the west shortly after sundown, we can see Mars from our front porch, a faint red glow in the twilight. The astronomy website earthsky.org tells us that “Because Earth in its orbit is traveling away from slower-moving Mars and Saturn, these planets will fade in brightness and will sink lower in the evening sky. Even so, these planets will still shine as brightly as first-magnitude stars…” Mars will disappear from view in about a month—right about the time that I have to leave you.
Barsoom–Abbot and Costello went there; Ice Cube fought ghosts there; it’s where Dr. Manhattan exiled himself; Yvonne Craig was one of its needed women; its natives grafted Sarah Jessica Parker’s head onto her Chihuahua’s body; Santa Claus conquered its inhabitants.
I wasn’t much of a David Bowie fan, before I met you. Like everyone else, I knew he was a rock and roll legend, and I appreciated the fact that he produced Lou Reed’s best albums. But I didn’t really appreciate him until that first time we danced together, at that club’s “Retro 80s Night.” The song was “Modern Love.” We were only friends at the time, just getting to know each other, but you said, “It’s Bowie—I have to dance.” So we put our drinks down and went to the dance floor. That was when things began for us, a decade ago.
In October of 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about two researchers—Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Arizona State University and Paul Davies of Washington State University—who proposed sending two humans to Mars on a one-way trip. These hypothetical explorers would go to the red planet and begin construction of a habitat that would, one day, house 150 people, decades after the explorers’ own deaths. At the time, we were frustrated at our jobs and with small-minded, small-town living. “So let’s go to Mars,” I suggested, joking, but also secretly longing to get away from work, away from people, away from the stress of writing and teaching and worrying about tenure and the mortgage and student loans and getting old and realizing I hadn’t done anything significant. “They probably wouldn’t let us take the cats,” you replied, knowing that would cause me to lose interest. You’re sensible like that.
Bowie was The Man Who Fell to Earth.
You will be living in Murfreesboro, North Carolina next year. I’ll be living in Canton, New York. The distance between these places is roughly 700 miles.
We were married on Bowie’s 58th birthday. We didn’t know it was his birthday when we sent out the “Save the Date” cards, but once we found out, it seemed appropriate, and suggested some type of order or plan to the universe, a glam rock god’s Divine Providence.
Depending on where each planet is in its orbit, the distance from the earth to Mars can be anywhere from 34.6 million miles to 249.4 million miles.
The physical distance between us for the coming academic year seems overwhelming, but it’s really a matter of perspective.
We had not planned on a long-distance relationship at this point in our careers or marriage, but come August, this is where we will be. We both decided, months ago, that this was the right thing to do, but it’s getting harder to fathom this time we will spend apart, as my departure date nears. It’s not that I’m concerned about our marriage—I know we’ll be fine. But I also know that these next few months will be lonely without you. Like sitting in a tin can, far above the moon.
“Tell my wife I love her very much”—a love that’s deeper than the trenches at Noctis Labyrintus, more vast than Olympus Mons.
I have tried to love
country life, small town life.
We drive the back roads,
byways a bit less than scenic
seeking the interesting and the odd.
Wandering the roads I ask you,
at every intersection,
left, right or straight ahead.
Armed only with our county maps
and our sense of adventure
we seek our fate
but we find instead
piety planted in the cotton fields
no room on the pews for us.
I have lived among
the ruritan saints,
and my sin is not fitting in.
Once again we find
We’re carrying a bit more now.
Let’s try a different direction this time –
The one that takes us all the way
to the interstate.