The first time my brother left was when I was three. At least, that’s what he told me. I don’t remember, obviously. He went on a two-moon trip to Atlanta, GA, a hundred miles away from our rural house in a suburban neighborhood. I think he went with his girlfriend, or met his girlfriend there, or something involving a girlfriend, because I saw a picture of a girl in a motel bed waving at the camera, wearing nothing but a broad and sheepish smile. I commented to my brother that she was naked [and that he shouldn’t be showing these things to a kid like me]. He liked to say [it wasn’t a problem because] she was covered in sin [and everything was covered in sin, so I should get used to it].
The second time my brother left was when I was five. I remember this a lot more, because he asked me if I wanted to come along. I didn’t then, I had more important things to do. He ended up leaving for a tour of the Dead Sea. He said he dove to the bottom and came up a new, salty man, but I didn’t believe him. How could I, when he had no evidence? He looked the same to me. Besides, the Dead Sea probably wasn’t even deep enough for him to dive into.
But then he said he was going to the moon. I couldn’t go with him this time, he said. He’d been training for the past six and a half years, he had, and even though he’d been trained well enough to even bring a dog up into space, he wasn’t allowed to bring me. He got there okay, I guess, because I got a postcard from the space station telling me so. It was three lines: “Your brother is fine. He says hello. The moon is more fun than he’s had in years.”
Then I got an email from my brother who was out in space somewhere. He said he wasn’t on the moon anymore, literally he was just “out in space somewhere.” He’d used a satellite nearby to send me this message, and it would probably be the last communication for a while. He was going to try to reach a distant place called X194-89. It had properties of Jupiter in the form of a sun–in other words, it was an icy, burning star. I couldn’t reply back to him. I was pretty sure he was fine, though. The space station told me that they had contacted him a few months ago and things seemed to be going well. He sent them a message saying “Surf’s up!” They asked me if I knew what it meant, but I didn’t.
Last week the space station my brother had taken off from had blown up. My wife saw it on the news, engulfed in a cloud of hell–the fires of sin, I guess my brother would say. I wouldn’t know. He was never really my brother anyway, I just liked to call him that in my head, because if I didn’t call him that I wouldn’t have anything else to call him, because if I called him the love of my life inside my head then I thought there was a chance I would make a mistake outside of it and that would’ve freaked him out, my brother.
But my wife is making a trip in a casket today. She told me she was leaving me to go on a trip to Jordan. She had wanted to see the Dead Sea.
By Sarah Phou