YOU DON'T BELONG HERE
By Brianna Simmons
I recall the image of a NASA space suit. It stood at the end of my bed, about a foot from the wooden frame. It never moved a muscle from where it stood. And I never moved when I saw it.
The Ben 10 nightlight glinted green off the blackened glass of the head. I recalled aliens taking the form of human men to conquer an unassuming planet. This alien wanted me for a reason I could not understand.
One night, I remember, the suit had put a moon rock on the foot of my bed. I did not see it move but I knew it was the suit that put it there. We stared at each other for a time, as we were prone to do, neither moving.
Eventually, I tried to move my feet, but the suit had cursed my feet into moon shoes. I could not move even if I wanted to. So, time went by, my eyes and its face panel locked until my eyelids drooped, and the suit was swallowed by darkness.
When I awoke again, the suit was gone and the moon shoes were taken away.
The moonrock had stayed, and I was exasperated and tired.
I got up and went to the living room. Mom and Dad were still there watching late night TV.
“What's wrong, honey?” Mom asked. Dad looked curious.
“There's a rock at the end of my bed,” I replied. I did not mention the suit or the moon in which the rock had come from. They shared a look with each other before Mom turned back to me.
“Honey, you're tired, go back to bed.”
“I can't go to sleep, there's a rock on my bed,” I insisted. She sighed and stood, ruffling my hair with her hand. She turned me around and we walked back down the hallway. She did not flip the light switch.
She made sure I was looking when she inspected the bed. She patted it down, starting from the head and reaching the foot.
She turned to me, smile tinted green in the dark. “No rock in sight.”
She hugged me close then settled me down in bed. She patted around my feet just to be safe before kissing my forehead.
She closed the door behind her. The rock was gone, and I slept.
The suit came back later. It was mad I had made its moonrock disappear, or that is what I assumed. It had traveled so far to bring it to me.
“I'm sorry,” I said. It had not replied. “It was a nice rock.” That was satisfactory to the suit. At least, that is what I believed as it had disappeared.
Later in life, I had seen it at the foot of my bed after waking from a nightmare. I had been alone, floating through space. I could not breathe, I could not see. I feared what was behind the mask. I could not speak. Never had I been so chilled to the bone. I could not see anything beyond that void of black and I closed my eyes against it, willing myself to fall asleep or for the suit to disappear.
I was struck then how small I was. Not in size to the suit—which was three times my size at the very least—but to the universe. How could something as small as me survive the crushing weight of yawning pitch-black void? I was struck with how different the suit and I were. I did not want to be a part of the same universe as a thing that wanted to embrace such a thing as the unknown. How could the suit be fascinated when the fear of death as the unknown clawed at its back?
This is not the moon. This is not outer space. You do not belong here, I chanted in my head like a prayer.
I did not wake until morning, and by then the suit had left. I did not want to know where it had gone. I shut my mind away from the thought of its existence anywhere but the foot of my bed.
But the mantra was stuck in my head. I wrote it down in the margins of homework, in notes, on receipts, on empty whiteboards at the back of classrooms, on sticky notes tacked onto a bulletin board. I wanted it out of my head in any way I could. It was my curse. The last thing left to me by this specter.
I fall asleep to the mantra: This is not the moon. This is not outer space. You do not belong here.
I find myself, now, staring at the ceiling of my room. It is not my childhood bedroom, the Ben 10 night light is gone, the Dale Earnhardt poster absent from my bedside wall. I am not living with my mother and father.
I am an adult now, and yet the memory of the space suit still haunts me.
The thought of that night set off alarms in me every time. I see the headlines applauding the new research––men and women have gone into space. They have come and gone, and some even live there on a floating station in orbit.
I still feel so small. Don’t those people living on an orbiting hunk of metal feel small against the endless blackness of it all? Aren’t they scared?
I find myself wishing I could understand. Because I don’t understand anything. I can’t understand and it makes me afraid that I can’t understand.
I’m spiraling, the thoughts endless in the dark cave of my room. I’m alone in this room.
This is not the moon. This is not outer space. You do not belong here, I think. I don’t chant it. I don’t squeeze my eyes shut.
I’m not on the moon, I’m on Earth. This is not outer space, this is an inner place within outer space, separated.
And I don’t belong here.
I want to cry, but that’s useless in the end––crying won’t stop the overshadowing thoughts. Crying won’t help anything. Crying won’t make the universe stop growing, expanding.
I’m not alone in this room anymore. The thought comes to me and it confuses me. Of course, I’m alone, but I’m not.
The suit sits at my bedside, ruffling my hair as my mother did that night of the moon rock. I can’t move my arms and I can’t look away.
“Honey, you’re tired, go back to bed,” my mother’s voice says. But it’s the suit talking. But this doesn’t scare me. I can’t find it in myself to be scared.
My mother coos at me, humming to ease my startled mind, from behind the space suit mask.
“There’s no need to be scared, pumpkin. We all have to fear something, otherwise we’d get too rowdy, yeah?”
I know she’s smiling from behind the face plate––for some reason, I just do. The space suit’s hand is somehow soft, like I know it shouldn’t be.
Then my mother’s face is laid bare to me as the suit removes its head. I am scared––how can an astronaut breathe air like this? My facts are messed up, I am not getting enough oxygen. Is this the atmosphere of Mars, or Saturn, or even Pluto?
“Breathe,” she laughs. And I do because she tells me to. I can breathe this air, we share the same air.
I had never thought of that before.
She smiles at me, that green tint to it. And I am laying in my childhood bedroom and it is my mother sitting at my bedside.
“Having another nightmare?” she asks.
She smiles and shifts me over to sit beside me, leaning against the headboard. She scoops me up and sits me in her lap, facing her.
“Did the astronaut show up again?”
I shake my head because it had not been the usual astronaut. It had been her, but not. I do not tell her. Instead, I hug her close. She asks no more questions as she wraps her arms around me, a hand absently ruffling my hair.
I wake from the dream of my mother. I’m sad that it wasn’t real.
I feel light as I sit up. The room is still dark. The sun will rise soon, I think.
The suit stands at the foot of my bed. But I’m not afraid of it. The hint of orange tinges the sky and reflects a tiny growing sun in the face visor. The face within can finally be seen. My mouth drops open to take in a small breath. Not out of surprise but relief, or perhaps realization.
It is not my mother behind the glass separating us. I hope to myself that this isn’t a dream because I think I’m finally discerning meaning from the suit. After all these years, I might understand something, even if it’s the smallest detail that led up to this moment.
My lips move and the glass starts to fog up. My breath is hot in the suit, and my words burn themselves into my brain.
This is not the moon. This is not outer space.
“But I belong here, this is my place,” I whisper, and the foggy glass clears. And I can see myself sitting up in bed, the green night light highlighting my young face.
I smile from behind the glass, but my younger self cannot see me.