Excerpt from ‘Postcards from Space’–Christina Dietz

Honorable Mention, Fiction

I

Do I dare disturb their universes?

Yes.

What of yours, of my own? Do I dare disturb the universes at my fingertips?

Yes.

Some eyes cannot be opened unless someone disturbs them. But who will disturb them, who will dare play the role of a lonely god?

I will.

After all, we were all lonely…isolated within ourselves. They were going to continue living in their loneliness, but I…I had to do something about it. We had been together our whole lives.

It was time we were together once again.

II

That fool.

I wanted to believe he was still alive. Out there, somewhere. But this postcard I held in my hand made me suspect otherwise. Vincent’s only clue. It didn’t make me feel very hopeful. It had a picture of the whole universe on one side. On the other, Vincent’s handwriting. The Known Universe. Location: Unknown.

He had always wanted to float, to fly away. Falling was just like flying. Except it ended in death. Suicide was not below him. My best friend, that’s what he had been. My best friend. Some friend. I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. I suspected the latter.

My legs dangled over the cliff I sat on. It was a mountain overlook, and it was also cold. He could have jumped off a cliff like this one. If he did, he probably expected to float away into outer space, but instead fell to a different kind of void. There was a black sky above me. It was riddled with stars. Without them, it would have been just another void…one below, one above.

I wished the darkness was a fire lit by my anger. Vincent, my best friend. We had grown up together. I thought I knew him. I was wrong. All I knew was that he had a poet’s heart, and burning bridges and committing suicide would have translated the same message. An end. An end. A violent, meaningless end. One had a beginning, if he wanted it. There was no hope for him, for me. I couldn’t make myself believe he was out there.  If I knew Vincent Cybele, I knew that he was gone. It didn’t matter what kind of gone he was, but he wasn’t coming back. I mourned for him. That made me angry. The idiot. He had always had his head in the clouds. Whenever I had told him to get his head out of them, he would say his head wasn’t in the clouds, but further. I never knew what that meant, but I should have known better. I should have known that he didn’t believe in gravity. His feet weren’t tethered to the ground. He’d probably floated away. Too bad he wasn’t a balloon. He wasn’t going to pop and fall back to earth this time.

There was no hope this time. This wasn’t one of his pranks. That made me angrier. I looked to the dark heavens above. The moon full. The stars formed shapes I could not discern. I wanted to shake my fist them, yell at them. If Vincent was out there, if he was listening, he should be ashamed of himself. He should be ashamed for making me angry over his absence. Because whether by death or leaving, he was gone. Never to return. And I was angry…I had done nothing to stop this.

And he left me to deal with this alone.

 

III

I spotted my namesake in the stars.

Seeing Orion in the stars always made me wonder if that lonely hunter had thought it was a strange name, too.

The moon was full. Her bright rays illuminated the postcard in my hand. On it, there was a picture of the Sombrero Galaxy. I didn’t even like sombreros. Of all the places in the known universe, this galaxy had previously been unknown to me. On the other side, it said “you are not alone.” Now, listen, I liked the thought of aliens. Sure. My parents had probably been high enough to have seen a few UFOs in their hippie days.

Whatever Vincent meant by this, it was probably a metaphor for something bigger. No matter what that was, though, it didn’t make a difference. Whether he had been abducted by aliens, dropped off the grid, outright disappeared, or died—it all had the same meaning to me. He wasn’t here. He still had a house, though, and to have a house he needed money. That house must not have been home to him, if he had gone and done this to me. Still, he didn’t have a right to tell me I wasn’t alone. Because I didn’t see him living on practically nothing.

All I had was the Volkswagen van I had inherited from my parents. It was my little house on wheels. I had run away from my parents’ past as hippies for so long that I spent all of my money on school and college, just in my effort to stay with my friends. My parents weren’t poor gypsies. They were actually from rich families with successful companies. But I hadn’t inherited those companies. But they were hippies, which, in all sarcasm, was a beautiful way of sticking it to the man. In this case, “the man” was “Mom and Dad” and becoming hippies and being vagabonds most of their lives was the best way of saying, Look, I don’t really want to run a company that operates illegally. Their siblings who were next in line inherited the companies, and my parents were given fortunes to stay quiet. That left only the cash and the van for me…good thing, too, or else I would spend my time sleeping in a cardboard box instead of a cozy van.

I tried to run from their past. I wasn’t a sellout. They were the posterchildren of smoking pot for peace, but what had that led them to? It led them to accepting a payout so they’d set aside what they supposedly protested for money. I was going to make something of myself. I used my inheritance for school, and I was going to work hard to have a life, but that didn’t last very long.

I couldn’t find help for my homelessness. Not in Vincent, not in anyone. They probably wouldn’t believe me. They’d probably laugh at me. They wouldn’t even understand how I could possibly be homeless after I had gone to all of the expensive schools with them, and they would believe that I should’ve had a substantial job by now.

I did everything right, too…graduated high school and college with top grades. I should’ve gotten a job. But I guess life wasn’t as easy as the textbooks made it seem. The textbooks didn’t even mention how to do what you love and make it a practical job. My parents never took enough interest in me to tell me, either. Make art and make money off of it? How’s that even possible?

Life is so stifling, after all…so ordinary. Everyone’s been made out of a cookie cutter—all doing the same thing, living in the same cookie cutter houses. But I never wanted to buy into any of that. I wanted to do what I loved. No one ever told me it would leave me like this.

Orion, up in the sky, you make this Orion, down on earth, feel less alone.

But just like sombreros, I didn’t like my name, either. Who names their kid Orion? Just another thing to alienate me. Homeless, odd name, no job, no one to talk to about it. And I couldn’t talk to the people I had grown up with. I was alone—no one would understand. They would pity me, and I would feel even more ashamed of myself. If being alone meant I could avoid that, I would take it.

I’ve watched people be successful. I’ve always watched them. I’ve always wondered how they could have their lives figured out, even when they’re no older than nineteen. They’ve always known what they wanted to do with their lives, and they’ve always had the means to do it. They start young, and they make it far. The farthest I’ve ever made it was not jumping off a building, which, for all I know, could be what Vincent’s done.

My eyes kept looking at those stars. They wanted me to believe that I wasn’t alone. But I couldn’t. No matter what Vincent wanted to tell me, I was alone. There wasn’t anyone I knew who had ended up homeless failures. At one time I fueled myself by saying my parents would’ve disappointed in me, so I had to keep fighting to make them proud. But they’d be proud of me either way. They may have cleaned up their acts all those years ago, so I could live up in a good environment and a nice house, but they always longed to go back to their nomadic, free spirited ways. Here I was living out of their old van, living wherever I could park without being towed or fined, or both. They’d be proud. And that made me feel even more ashamed.

I was alone. There were billions upon billions of stars out there, and galaxies I’ve never even heard of. I’m but one person on a planet of, what, seven billion? I am alone. There’s no one to run to, no shoulders to cry on. And nothing, not even a mysterious postcard from out of the blue, could make me believe otherwise. Because it would have been make believe anyway.

IV

Oh my dear Vincent.

I wanted to tell you how worried I am. I didn’t know whether you’re alive, or if you had decided to end it all. You were a good friend of mine, or are you still? I would tell you that if this was your note, you didn’t have to leave, because I’d been there too. Depress…ingly enough, it was easier to help someone with the problem than admit there was a problem in myself.  I’ve been alone for quite some time. Alone with my thoughts, alone in a silent car with no escape. I’ve had plenty of time to think it all through, time to think myself into it. Easy. Time to think myself out of it. Not easy.

The stars formed shapes. Constellations. Consolation prizes for not joining them. I still got to look up at them, just didn’t get to know them. Be them. Why you had to do this was beyond me…wonder if it was beyond those stars you might’ve joined. This postcard couldn’t have been a note. It wasn’t. All it was: a picture of the Milky Way and on the back you wrote I wish you were here. Cruel joke, that’s what it was. You couldn’t be gone. Maybe you just needed space.

Innumerable. Those dots up there in the black sky, innumerable. There was a time they took my breath away, but now as I sighed in the piercing cold air, it seemed my breath had been taken away and never returned. That was what a gripping sadness had done to me—it took everything out of me and never returned it.

Were you out there? In space, or in the distance between wherever you were and where I was now? I wanted to hope against all hopes that you were out there somewhere, Vincent. Someday I’d join you, wherever you were, but today, I would stay here, wondering…hoping…and maybe one day, even believing. All I could do now was stare, with curiosity, at those stars above me.

It didn’t make a difference, Vincent. If you were in the heavens dead, or on earth alive, I would still be alone. I had been alone, and I will be alone still. If there was such a thing as destiny, mine was to be alone. I could talk myself out of being lonely as much as I wanted. I could say that I had finally overcome it as much as I wanted to. Neither statements made it true. The ecstasy of company wouldn’t permanently cure loneliness. It never had—never will…loneliness had a way of clinging so strongly that it would never let go. Ever. Just when I thought it had released its icy grip on me, it clasped onto me again. I talked big about not feeling alone anymore, but even in a crowded room, it came back to me. All of this longing for people, for someone, for anyone—it would never be met. That was loneliness. There was no cure, and just when the pain lessened, it came back hard, merciless…and my pain lessened. It lessened when I saw those stars spanned across the sky above me. But then I remembered. I remembered why I came here in the first place. For you, Vincent. To find you. But what good is it when you’re already gone?

Oh, I hoped you were out there. With loneliness clutching me once again, it was nice to think that maybe you were out there, somewhere. Maybe you were an alien, a spaceman. Maybe you were out there somewhere, just getting some room to breathe. Wherever you were, it didn’t matter. You weren’t here. You weren’t where you should’ve been. I wanted to believe in something, anything. I used to have belief, I used to…but now it’s gone away like autumn leaves floating away in the breeze. It was a colorful belief, too, with hues of red, and orange, and yellow, and my, oh my, how it fell in the breeze and drifted away. Now winter froze the world over with despair, and in these cold, isolated woods, I saw the stars, and with little belief left, I hoped you were somewhere out there, maybe even in the stars looking down on me.

Vincent, if you’re out there, somewhere, then I wasn’t alone as I felt.

V

Too much honesty, too much transparency, too much putting everything out there, hanging my heart on the line to be that only genuine friend—where did that get me? We were good friends—honest, genuine, transparent, like brothers…it was a different best friendship than what existed between Vincent and Logan. Between Vincent and I—we had put everything out there. We both knew when the other was lying, bluffing, but now—well, I get that was the ace up his sleeve. I couldn’t tell if he was bluffing or not. The last bit of honesty I’ll probably ever get from him was a postcard of the stars I was looking at now that said “I wish I weren’t here.”

He’d always been a dreamer. He had too much inside his head, saw too much behind closed eyes, but the last I saw of him, he had convinced himself that all of those dreams would never come true. I thought that with a graduation and a diploma in hand, and a job offer underway, he’d be able to either make his dreams come true or come back to reality. Vincent told me what those dreams were—something Logan never understood but criticized him for. Vincent only ever wanted to write words, and unlike Vincent Van Gogh who he’d been named after, he wanted to make a painting in the written form. He’d started to believe his words were in vain. All of the things swirling inside of his head—the storm of stories yet to be told, the fantasies inside of his head—these became the stories never to be told, the dreams never to take place. And I wish I had seen it sooner. I was something like a therapist, that person he trusted most, to talk to like a drunk man talks to a bartender. He confided in me, and I in him, because I understood. I understood it all. I understood how the words nagged at him until they were written down, how it was important to tell the stories because it wouldn’t be fair to the characters he had created.

Funny how he could be honest with me and then turn around and say no one can ever understand, that no amount of empathy in the world will ever help would be enough to understand what he had been through. I believed him at the time—maybe my trials weren’t as great as his, maybe my dreams of being a chef weren’t as important as his dreams of being a writer. He had worlds inside of him. What did I have, he’d ask? I had copied recipes. I supposed that, right now, he’d turned around and walked away from our friendship because to have a successful restaurant, you needed passion and money. But to be a writer, you needed raw talent and luck. I wondered if that was what he’d shout in my face if he were here. I wondered if he’d get mad at me because he didn’t have enough luck, but I had the money to buy the luck. It’s not like he had gone into a career that he could buy. I had—bought the equipment, bought the building, bought the supplies, bought the menus, bought the wine, bought the decorations, paid the employees. If he were lucky, he’d get published by the time he was fifty, but he wouldn’t be able to buy that. I had a feeling that’s what he would tell me—just how bitter and angry he was.

The different directions were astounding. I looked around. People were together. Then they walked away. Sometimes without saying a thing. Sometimes they promised to speak, but then they didn’t. People didn’t keep their promises. People didn’t remain as honest as they once were. Sometimes they just…saw their loneliness as an excuse to walk away from something that would destroy the loneliness, but then they were just left alone with no cure.