Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - the end

He came back to me.
He stood in the doorframe. It still had the blue pen lines where I had marked his height each year on his birthday.
He came over and awkwardly pulled me to him. My head rested on his heart.
Quietly I said. “Aidan. When I found out I was pregnant with you. I cried. I cried for my future I thought I’d ruined. I cried for you and how unfortunate you were to be mine.”
His arms loosened around me.
“But everyday, I tried to keep you happy and eased your reflux. I was worried you would die and it would be my fault. As you got older, I worried you would run onto the road or get hurt climbing trees. I kept you reading and looking out for Mars. I thought you would finish your studies and settle down in a job in a university somewhere, maybe with a family.”
I took a deep breath, “I am afraid to lose you Aidan. What is my life now? Without you, what am I?”
Aidan let me go. We stood centimeters apart but alone in our own thoughts. I stared at the vinyl diamonds between his socks; the vinyl he had run his cars across.
“I tried my best Mum. I wanted you to be proud of me. I am good at physics. I am good at this.“
Aidan’s phone rang and it tore off the cloak of tension holding us. He went into the lounge and I heard him, picking up the photo frame of him and me on his first day at school. I looked at that photograph every day.
Aidan came back into the kitchen where I hadn’t moved since he left. “I will always love you Mum, wherever I am.”
“Me too.” I whispered.
“I’m scared I might die out there.”
“Me too.”
“But I’m still going. I want you to be happy for me.”
I walked over and held him.
“I’ll try Aidan.” I said into his shirt.
Aidan wrapped his arms around me. “I’ve asked Katya to keep an eye on you. Every time you look at Mars you can think of me, and the nights we used to spend together looking up. And please, I did do it for you.”
I was not sure it was the best gift from a son to his mother, but I had no choice.
I squeezed him hard.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 5

“I love my work. I have given up everything to get to this. Look at Katya. I loved her. I wanted to stay with her but I couldn’t have both.”
“You wanted Mars more.” I murmured.
“This is history. It is bigger than you or me or Katya.”
“Nothing should be bigger than the people you love.”
“I thought you of all people would understand. I did it for you for Christ’s sake. For you.” He picked up his laptop and scratching his head, where there used to be curls, he walked out of our kitchen.
This kitchen was where we had played with playdough; we had built space rockets and Martians in multicolours.
He turned around.
“Look at you Mum. You are still living in the same house; even the table is from when I was a kid. I am not your baby anymore.”
I heard him in his old room and then his footfalls on the worn carpet in the hall, the floorboards creaking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 4

I made myself a cup of lapsang. Aidan had never liked it. He was working on his laptop at our formica, kitchen table.
“Aidan. I love you.” I blurted.
“I know.” He said, as he tipped the last of his coffee in his mouth and handed me the empty cup.
I didn’t take it.
He looked at me. His long lashes fanned against his eyelids.
“You are so selfish and I did not want you to grow up like that. Everything is just about you and Mars. I meant for you to learn to love...” I trailed off, looking into my tea for inspiration. The smoky aroma reminded me of those nights.
“I know what you gave up.” He said, rubbing his laptop like a pet. “I know you wanted to complete your PhD but I came along and Dad left you and went back to Germany. Aren’t you proud of me?”
I said bitterly, “You think you have gotten where you are because you did it.”
“I did. But I did it for you.” He was staring at me now without blinking.
“Have you not seen all the people that have helped you?” I could feel the tears on the edge of my eyes.
“Every winter night when you were little I checked on you. You always wiggled out of your blankets and I would gently pulled them back up over you so you wouldn’t wake up cold.”
“What are you trying to tell me? Not to go? Not to make history? Didn’t you used to say I should make my life worth something?”
He stood up and I stared up at the underside of his chin.
But he was still my son.
“Not without love.” The words were not right and it sounded soppy but I hoped he understood.
He exploded before me like a supernova.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 3

Katya came to congratulate him on Tuesday afternoon. She gave him a hug with her shoulders, her black hair tied up tight behind her head. She gave me a hug too. I could feel her heart thumping against me.
“It is amazing isn’t it?” Aidan said. “Aidan Jones going to Mars.”
Katya agreed it was amazing.
I asked her what she was up to these days.
“I’m teaching physics part-time.” Katya said. I have a wee boy – just turned three.”
It seemed only a few years since Aidan was that size. Aidan left to check to his messages, while we were sharing toddler stories. I saw Katya out.
That night I went outside, to look up at the stars. Aidan had looked out the door at me. I was going to tell him how much I enjoyed those evenings long ago, standing outside with him leaning against me, smelling the wood fires, feeling the chill against my face and staring up at the myriad of stars. Aidan hadn’t come outside. He was not used to Christchurch’s temperatures after California.
We went to the University on Wednesday for more speeches. Katya was sitting at the back, with a little boy driving cars around her feet. Aidan glared at him when he dropped a car on the wooden floor as the vice chancellor was finishing his introduction.
I played with Katya’s little Theo while Aidan caught up with his old lecturers and then suddenly he was calling me to his next appointment.
The whole week was one event after another. I began to feel like his secretary.
On his last day he had no more appointments. Now was my chance.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 2

This week I needed to be honest with him. If Mum were here, she would encourage me. “It doesn’t matter what I think.” She’d say. “If you think it best for Aidan, then you do it, you’re his Mum.”
Monday we went to his old primary school. He told them to work as hard as he had. He opened the Aidan Jones Technology Centre.
As we were leaving he said to me; “What are the chances of them ever reaching space?”
“You did.” I replied.
“None of them will work as hard as I did.”
I said nothing. The “I” in that sentence bit into my bones.
Aidan got As right through primary school. When Aidan was seven, I took him to lecture by an astronaut. Aidan was mesmerized with his stories and pictures of earth from the orbiting space station. The astronaut had said; “I wasn’t the brightest student in my class, I just worked hard.”
In the winter evenings Aidan and I would go out on the back, concrete steps and look at the stars. He would rest his head of crazy, blond curls against me. I said he was lucky to live in New Zealand. We could see so many stars from our house, not like in those bright cities the astronauts captured in the pictures.
When he was twelve, I said there was a downside to living in New Zealand. Yes we could see so many stars with our clear skies but he was unlikely to become an astronaut. “Kiwis don’t go up in rockets”. That night we stayed out late looking up in silence at the winking stars and then he just gave me a hug and went inside.
At high school going to parent-teacher interviews was easy. Aidan most enjoyed physics and decided that would be his major at University. He soon lost me, he was delving deeper and deeper. He brought Katya home, she seemed to be able to keep up. I liked her, we would share a pot of lapsang souchong tea but soon I realized she was coming to chat with me. Aidan was back in his books. He was determined and addicted. I should have been pleased but his intensity was unnerving.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.