I knew I would go to Mars when they told me my baby’s heart was no longer beating.
They scheduled me for a 36-hour delivery to excavate my dead baby girl from my body. This body that buoyed her to new life for the past eight months. I took the anesthesia, couldn’t bear the thought of her silent entry to the world. After the procedure, when they whisked away my small purple girl, they led me to a secret shower and washed the blood and shit, then wrapped me in towels, handed me and my husband pamphlets about Maternal Grief and Recovery, and the chaplain sang Psalm 23, and a nurse asked if I wanted pictures of my baby girl from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photography. Then they wheeled me out the door without a birth certificate, stillborn babies don’t get birth certificates, just a memory box with a snip of infant hair, and the promise to receive her ashes.
It didn’t have to be Mars. It had to be anywhere away from my second story apartment, decked with bassinets and swing sets and Fisher Price Zoom ‘n Crawls. Away from my husband who loved me too much to cry when I was watching—who locked the bathroom door and sobbed in the shower, as if I wouldn’t hear.
It could have been hang-gliding in Croatia, like a bird over the Dalmatian coast.
It could have been an expedition to Machu Pichu, hiking along the vertiginous peaks in alpaca wraps of crimson, saffron, gold. I could have collected postcards of llamas, the sprawling, mountainous jungles, brought them back to paste on our fridge, cover the ultrasound pictures we left there, the announcement already printed with her name. Annabeth.
It could have been a volcanic exploration in Reykjavík, followed by a bout of salmon fishing. Then, I could have descended to those milky pools, succumbed to the geothermal waters, serpentine amid the snowbanks.
It could have been a cruise to the far reaches of the Pacific, where the wide-hipped women could show me how to dance, how to move my thighs, reclaim my body.
I might have gone diving with great whites, hiking with penguins, spent every equinox and solstice in some place holy, mythic, impossibly far.
But then again—what was farther than space?
I registered as one of those Mars tourists, submitted the down payment, the paperwork, the healthcare proof. There was a NASA-sponsored online course about what to expect in regards to g-force and dried food and peeing in space, that sort of thing. I packed a small bag, imagined its contents floating inside the space chamber when I unzipped it. My hair brush, wrinkle cream, nail file, wedding ring. Her memory box.
We leave Cape Canaveral on a bright November morning. I wave goodbye to my husband who has come to see me off—whisper to him through the glass, “I’ll see you next year.”
She is in the wooden box, which is in the second pocket of my packed bag, which is in our cargo room at the back of the shuttle. The pilot tells us we will hyper sleep—me and the other Mars tourists, a divorced man and an old hippie woman. As we depart our galaxy, sleep is descending and I will dream of her as we tumble through the dark. And when I awake after six months, I will strap on my suit, leave the shuttle, hover over the blood-red planet, and sprinkle her ashes in space. She will never be buried, never tossed into a river bed somewhere. She’ll float among the stars, become space dust.