It was supposed to rain today, but it never did.
And thank god. I’ll admit it was weird, seeing my best friend’s wedding online, you and him and your family, all side-profiles and screenshots, your dress from friends’ cellphones, the little moments – the big ones.
If I’m being honest, I checked the mail every day since we last talked. This last week, I begged the lady at the post office to look in the back, on the floor, under the file cabinets. She shook her head and said sorry. Said it’s been months and she’s sorry, but I should send someone else to grab the mail for me next time. All I could do was shake my head, say I’m so sorry, you’ll never see me again.
And that’s what I want to talk about. This is a sorry thing. For you. And for him. I know you’ll probably see my name on this email and delete it, and I wouldn’t blame you for that. But it feels fucking crazy not talking to you on your wedding day and so here we go:
I’m sorry for everything. Do you remember that day on the beach, last year? He was hurt, shattered his foot running on a trail. You two had just gotten Paisley, and someone had to walk her because she was such a maniac then, and your hands would be full with Rose already, and it really is a chore.
You asked me to walk them with you on the beach. My head exploded in like a thousand little places and without taking a breath I said, yes. We were outside the library after work, remember?
(I get worried you don’t remember this stuff, because, frankly, you’ve got a lot more going on than I do, you know, like getting married, and I get worried that these memories I death-grip are just like passing little leaves in the autumn of your life, and again that’s a shitty feeling but again I can’t really blame you if it’s true.
That day just killed me. It was so domestic. I think we both felt it that day really bad. This thing. This invisible line between you and I. It was tight that day, our pulses ran through it on either end and they bumped into each other in the middle and reverbed back to us like a vibration and it was so nice. We threw the tennis ball into Lake Superior and Paisley and Rose chased after it and Paisley got it most of the time. We found the best skipping rocks and you handed them to me, and our fingers were close by centimeters. I miss that. I know we’ve talked about all of this before but, Jesus, it’s been months, and you were like an everyday person for me and things have been so weird since then.
I’ve been reading about Vladimir Komarov.
(Honestly, anything to get my mind off this whole thing.)
In 1967, Vladimir Komarov was supposed to launch into space in the Soyuz 1, a Soviet Union space shuttle. The next day, a second shuttle would take off. Komarov was supposed to get out, in fucking space, and crawl from one shuttle to the other and then take that shuttle to the moon.
Yuri Gagarin, Komarov’s best friend, the first man in space and Komarov’s backup for the mission, inspected Komarov’s shuttle and found 203 flaws with the thing.
(Can you imagine if there were inspectors for people like that?)
But, Leonid Brezhnev, who was, basically, the fucking communist commander (basically), had commissioned this whole thing. It was the 50th anniversary of communism or something. He couldn’t be told no.
So Komarov got on the shuttle. Everyone he loved begged him to back out.
But Komarov said, “If I don’t make this flight, they’ll send the backup pilot instead. That’s Yuri. And he’ll die instead of me.” Then, he burst into tears. Then, he said:
“We’ve got to take care of him.”
And then he launched into the stratosphere in the Soyuz. Gagarin was there at the launch, demanding to be put into a spacesuit, to be up there too, but everyone told him, no. We’re sorry.
As soon as the shuttle began to orbit Earth, it started to bleed. Antennas didn’t open, the power didn’t spark, the navigation was all off. Can you imagine how that feels? All alone like that – I don’t know. I don’t know if any human has ever felt that kind of thing.
What happened next wasn’t a miracle. I wish I were telling you a miracle story. But, no, the shuttle began to streak through space, a ruby red scar across the sky, and crash back into Earth. The parachutes would not deploy. The United States’ NSA was listening in, because everything is politics I guess, and anyway those people on the equipment had to hear Komarov scream in rage through the atmosphere, had to hear as his wife tried to phone in, asking him what she would tell the kids, had to listen to his friends back on Earth tell him he was a hero, and then break down crying because they knew he would hit the ground back home at thousands of miles per hour.
Komarov’s last words, they think, were, “Heat is rising in the capsule.”
There’s this picture. Five serious looking men, in ’60s-looking military uniforms. They are standing around an open casket. In the casket is a twisted lump of something. The size of a kid. A melted Komarov. Unrecognizable. Probably still hot to the touch.
There’s a legend that Gagarin later arranged a meeting with Brezhnev, the communist leader, and threw a drink in his face.
I sure hope it’s true.
What I’m trying to say is – let’s be those kinds of friends for each other.
Do you remember our alternate universe? The one we imagined a few months before the wedding? Where you could still have this life and be with him, and you and I could have a life in some other dimension, and just try? Remember how we were going to have a brown cat, a little lizard? A Roomba, to suck up all our secrets and everything?
I know it was just that. Alternate.
Did you know, out there in space, there is this pair of stars orbiting each other – they’re called WR 104. They’re all red and deep purples, space-colors, and they’re like a pinwheel as they spin. I imagine it really is beautiful. I hope (and I know this is impossible), but I hope Komarov saw these stars as he dove back to Earth – I hope he saw them pinwheel and I hope he saw himself and his best friend Gagarin in them – I hope before the fire whipped the air from his lungs and put him to sleep that he realized that that was soon to be him, that all those white-hot molecules in those stars were little pieces of best friends, spinning together forever now in the range of space, and I hope that brought him some peace.
And now I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be there, too. I want to spin in space with you. I want us to be close like that and I really mean it.
I saw that video you sent around the other day. It was on a friend’s phone. The one of him (your husband!) popping open a champagne bottle, and the pressure of it sending the cork flying into the sky. You both laugh.
That kind of thing used to eat me up inside. Jesus. I couldn’t sleep and all that. I hated him. I’ll admit that. I hated how he reduced us. Reduced us to digging up our teenage Yahoo! email passwords so we could talk in a way he’d never find. How he reduced us to typing messages to each other on our phones, but never sending them, and just leaving these “____ is typing…” things for each other to see, so we’d know we were thinking about each other, and just, I don’t know. I hated him.
This cork-flying video kind of washed me in this feeling, something like happiness, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt that way, and I guess I’m trying to tell you, honestly, I am happy that you are happy, and even if he did the whole “if you talk to him we’re done” thing and made you and I melt down that day, and throw books and clench jaws and melt years off of each other, I love him, because you love him, because he takes care of the dogs, because he makes you happy…
It was supposed to rain today, but it never did, and I went for a walk to celebrate your wedding. I stopped by the 24/7 arcade. Have you been in there? It is real creepy, let me tell you. It was something like 11 at night. There were no people, just these machines chanting. It scares me how they just keep saying things all day and all night. One of them kept screaming, “Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!” and all the lights were flashing and it was dark otherwise, and so I bought one of those glass bottles of coffee for a couple bucks in a vending machine and got out of there.
Oh, I drink coffee now. You always said I needed it and I guess you were right.
Anyway, I kept walking, and it’s kind of far I guess, like two miles from my apartment now, that tree where we first talked, like really talked, where we talked about (I’ll always remember) the stupidest thing we’d ever done, our first times, and the most beautiful moment in our lives. I was hoping in some impossible way that you’d be there, under that tree barely lit by a distant streetlight, that you’d be spinning in your dress and waiting for me. But of course you weren’t, and shouldn’t have been, and of course instead there was this little yellow flag a few feet from the tree, and of course it was surrounded by woodchips, and of course when I leaned down to read the writing on the flag it said, “New Growth – Don’t Touch!”
I don’t remember what my answers were to the questions then. But I think they’re different now. I think it’s like this:
The stupidest thing I’ve ever done: Try to convince my little brother, as we sat in the sandbox one day in June when we were little, that there isn’t life in space except us.
My first time: This is the same, of course. It happened, I was 16. She and I, after, we went for a walk together, talked about our house someday, what flowers we’d have hanging, what music we’d listen to, all that. But what’s different now from then is that I don’t think it was a dumb thing, my first time. No, I think these things happen, and I don’t mean in the way cars collide or space shuttles explode, but like in the way that stars orbit each other, that drinks get thrown in faces, that friends fall in love under a tree sometimes.
The most beautiful moment of my life: This is simple now. The most beautiful moment of my life was that day, the question itself, under that tree, on that first warm day in Michigan that year. You asked me what the most beautiful moment of my life was. Like I could ever answer.
There are so many more things I want to tell you. Like, the other day, I was looking out the window (like you always said made me seem like an old man), and I watched as an ambulance turned onto our road, and for the first and maybe last time ever I watched that critical moment where the ambulance driver actually reached over, flipped a switch, and made that ambulance light up and scream all the way down the road. I heard a storm drain raging underground, hissing and gurgling on a 74-degree day.
I saw some kid playing guitar on the street. People were throwing handfuls of quarters into a mason jar at his feet. They tinked! and clattered on the glass. He was singing that song I sent you, it’s one of the last things sitting in our messages, right behind those last three texts you sent me (183 days ago) that say:
I miss you.
All the fucking time.
I’ll talk to you soon.
and the way he sang that song hit me in this way, and, well, I almost shouted.
So anyway. I’ll end this email you’ll maybe read, and maybe not, with this:
If you ever wanted, you could take a walk to our tree.
If you were there, you’d find an empty bottle of coffee, leaning against the bark. Inside, there would be a picked daisy, a pen, and a little note on lined paper, folded four times, and it would look like this:
This isn’t an I love you thing,
although it is, although
it isn’t. I hope your wedding day
was like two lights in a
dark universe colliding,
and I mean that
in the best way.
About the Author
Brandon Hansen is a graduate of Northern Michigan University, where, in his work as an English-Writing major, he was also a Writing Center tutor and an editorial intern for NMU’s literary magazine, Passages North. His writing is forthcoming in, or can be found in, Puerto Del Sol, The Dunes Review, Prairie Margins, and a few other places.