I met Taylor in Macy’s. It was one of those sweltering Chicago days when I had to question the unbearable reality of a day this hot scorching the face of the earth, in this city, at this time.
It was heaven to enter the store, with its cold air startling me, as if I were inside a glorious space and not an ordinary department store. Turbulent women wearing white lab coats, worked the cosmetic counter with its museum-like glass cases filled with gleaming filigree etched compacts and luminous glass bottles as I wandered past to look for an escalator.
Three floors up and I was lost somewhere at the far horizon of the menswear department where I hoped to find a blue shirt – to match my eyes – and a silk bow tie – to lend me credence – to wear for one of my late-night television appearances.
As I weaved my way around the racks of clothes, I turned and bumped into a woman heading in the opposite direction. She was a perfumed trail I was destined to follow. My heart did a back flip and hovered in the middle of my chest for an eternity waiting for me to gulp my next breath – to do something, say something, anything, you fool! to this glittering woman.
In a splintered second, she dropped a slip of paper, a receipt, and as it floated down, I saw an infinity of possibilities and quickly narrowed them down to two: one move would signal the end of our meeting and another could signal the beginning of something more. Her wrist brushed mine as we both reached to catch the slip and time morphed, slowed, thenstood still as if I were witnessing an accident and I know now that I was, but I just didn’t know it yet because somehow I saw more than her beauty, I saw in the tiny constellation of freckles sprinkled upon her face and arms, the night sky I gazed into when I was a boy with my cheap telescope in a suburban backyard searching the skies for Jupiter.
Finding Jupiter by myself as a boy of eight, filled me with wonder and I felt then, as now, the sudden whippet feeling of my world tilting, the earth windmilling around our galaxy and as I gazed into her aquamarine eyes, I felt she knew my most intimate secrets. Her cheeks flushed and tiny beads of perspiration above her lips stained with some tough girl color reminded me of a time when I was happy as a child riding my bicycle in the wind and sun with my brother Goddard and I knew instantly that she’d be able to place bandages in all the right places on my bruised heart.
“I’m half-asleep. Sorry,” she said as she retrieved the slip and my heart dropped back into my chest.
In my darker moments, I’ve often thought that our meeting was a ploy, some clever ruse she used to meet me to play havoc with me, The UFO Man, as I’m often called now, or perhaps she was even sent to follow me by the Russian. Most of the time, I’m able to catch myself when I have these kinds of thoughts about her.
“Can you help me?” I asked her simply.
“I need something,” I gestured helplessly at the piles of shirts and ties spread out on the polished tables. I had already surmised that she wasn’t a salesperson, but it was clear to me even then that what I needed was her. And I knew I’d do anything to have her vibrant energy in my life. It was as if I had discovered a new star in the universe.
“To wear,” I stumbled on, “for my television appearance.”
I abhor, absolutely abhor this kind of vain situational name-dropping. I’ve never cared for people who name-drop the sport they play – polo – where they went to school – Harvard – where they vacation – Tuscany. And so on.
But even I’m aware of the unfair realities of male-female relationships. In that arena, everyone knows the one whose qualities are most admired and coveted wins. If you’re famous, the advantages are enormous – no matter how ugly you are. Thus, my hint to Taylor that I was of a certain stature. I’m on television. Infamy aside, it wasn’t really lying. In a sense, I just crafted a more perfect version of myself. It was all I could scramble to think of. It was all I had. At this point in my life, I no longer wonder if there’s some inner force propelling me to do the things I do. I know there are uncontrollabilities in each of us.
She placed five perfectly shaped fingertips on a perfectly proportioned hip, looked me over, apparently judged me worthy, and said, “You do look kinda familiar.”
And before I knew it, two giddy hours later, I was making my way through the revolving doors of the department store with Taylor, carrying three shopping bags filled with shirts of varying shades of blue and a baker’s dozen of bow ties. I braced myself for the onslaught of heat and noise. Reality. My life back home with Mia, my daughters, Cassie and Andie. Oh, it wasn’t going to be easy. How, after all, could I ever explain to Mia that I had fallen utterly in love with another woman while shopping for a bow tie? Wives just don’t understand this kind of happenstance. Love at first sight? Gimme a break.
I suppose the end of my marriage started unraveling long before Taylor happened. In fact, I believe it really began as a flash of light that I saw out of the corner of my eye one night as I was flying home from a Galaxy Formation & Evolution conference, where really, I should have at least been asked to be a panelist. I only went because the Russian was a keynote speaker, supposedly revealing to the world his work on The Project after winning a Wallace Cosmology Prize. He shared the stage with the physicist nitwit, Andrei Dubrovskii, the two of them bantering and showing their glorious lit slides of The Galaxy while I brooded in the back of the hotel’s Rose Room with my lukewarm iced tea. I freely admit that. Those two made their digital star bursts whirl and appear and disappear on the screen so swiftly at times that I thought I might vomit.
“Mia, he makes me sick. His research is more speculative than theoretical and I’m the one who wasn’t even selected to be on one of the panels?” I asked her that night from the hotel room.
“You shouldn’t have gone to see him. I told you that. Quit calling him the Russian. He has a name. I don’t like it when you do that. It scares me.”
“I don’t need an I told you so right now. That’s not what I need.”
“You’re overly sensitive. Let it go.”
“He dismisses my work. It’s all an illusion to him, but his work is important. It’s always groundbreaking. He’s nothing but a pretender: pretend scientist, pretend Russian. I should call him the great pretender.”
“Your work? UFOs? That’s not work. That’s heartbreaking.”
Mia definitely didn’t understand the flash I saw on the plane. Why even try to explain?
Of course, no one else on board with me mentioned seeing anything amiss in the sky during the flight and nothing was reported in the news the following day and yet: I had witnessed something.
But what? I tried to make sense of the flash, tried endlessly to explain it to Mia, but after a while, she only pretended to listen. It was probably the sun glancing off the wing of the plane. Or: It was nothing, it was your imagination. She didn’t believe me. And it wasn’t long before I figured out that what she didn’t believe in was me. She even claimed it was the Russian’s Project that was the problem. His work was driving me, fueling my interest in UFOs. You two are always trying to out-do one another. It’s a lifelong chess match.
At its heart, I suppose I knew that the provenance of our relationship had always been about a certain kind of sacrifice, only this time she wasn’t having any of it. I had stretched the boundaries of our relationship too far.
And then one morning, as I was pouring myself a glass of water I remembered that
the flash I’d seen flying home from the conference was the same bluish strobe flash of light I’d once seen long ago when mybrother Goddard was in thehospital. This wasthe UFO from my childhood. It had to be. It must have meant that the flash was a sign that I was about to see it or another UFO. Mia wasn’t at all happy about this new explanation. Not at all. I had no real evidence to convince her otherwise. Was I descending into madness? If this were so, I secretly thought, at least my madness, if it were that, was an ascension.
Twelve miles of dirt road. One of the last, loneliest roads in Indiana, where the horizon and stars stretched, yawned and opened wide until I became smaller and smaller, a speck inside it all. After one of my long nights of waiting for a UFO to appear it’s a fine thing to witness the secrets of morning as the skies shift from feverish blush to bloodshot. For a few minutes at least, I think I feel the smallest opening of something beyond worlds with the sunlight caressing my body, warming me after being inside the darkness for so long. The lit pageantry is the surprising side to my dark night of the soul loneliness, one that has beauty and meaning, even if it doesn’t hold the answers to any of my questions, I’m there to bear witness to the dawn of a new day. It never lasts and by the time I’m in the car driving back to the city, I know I’m nothing but a punk in the universal order of things.
Punk physicist, the Russian’ll call me. Back at you: you’re nothing but a Russian buffoon.
When I return home after one of these outings, Mia is waiting up for me.
“Grant, we need to talk.”
In the end, we didn’t really say very much to each other, except we both knew I had to stop searching for UFOs, and going on television to tell the world about it.
Growing up, my family didn’t own a television set. Instead, my mother used to sing to entertain us. Somewhere Over the Rainbow time, Goddard called it. My mother likes to tell the reporters who badger her for an interview that more than a few of my elementary school teachers told her I was a daydreamer, that I wouldn’t do my multiplication tables or write out my spelling words twenty-five times each like the rest of the class. And if she’s in one of her pranky moods, she might tell the reporter that I liked eating those candy flying saucers with the tiny balls inside – as if that provided some kind of prescience about my future. She has even been known to mention in passing that after my brother got sick when I was nine years old, I started to spend full nights camped outdoors. I wouldn’t sleep in my own bed while he was in the hospital. Even in winter, I’d brush the snow off the front porch steps and sit there as long as I could stand the cold, watching the stars shiver in the moonlight, driving her and my father crazy with worry.
My brother and I slept in the same room together for all of my life and it seemed then as if our small bedroom with its narrow bunk beds and walls papered with a constellation of stars, the Moon and Saturn’s rings, just wasn’t strong or large enough to hold all the pieces of my
broken heart or what it was my life had become now that I was alone. Because my, Hey, God – my nickname for Goddard – went unanswered. I had never felt so alone in the universe as I had then.
There wasn’t anyone else I really wanted to talk to as much or anyone who knew me as well as God did. Since God and I were always together, I never had to make any friends. He was my best friend and conscience as well as my brother. So I was pretty much alone. And then, somehow the gravitational tug of the moon pulled me out into our backyard where it felt to me that I was in one of the larger rooms of the universe. I felt I might breathe a little again and maybe I thought in this room I might see his lazulite eyes staring back at me instead of all the dark empty space he left behind in our bedroom. Being outdoors with the moon and stars I didn’t feel quite so alone. And I knew for certain I wasn’t, once I saw a flash of light that I perceived to be a kind signal welcoming me to an even larger home: the universe.
My own life became much larger when I saw the UFO looming over the rooftops one moonless night because I felt like I was being shown something no one in the world knew about, my secret, our secret. The craft was beautiful and curvy, a silver mirrored spiraling disk of silent light that instantly reminded me of the golden haze I saw spilling in through the stained glass windows inside our church, where I spent endless bored Sundays. I felt the urge to see what was inside that universe. I thought then, if I did see, I’d also hear God’s voice again and maybe even the voices of all the people I once knew who were gone now, like my grandfather and my cousin who had drowned and also other people I’d meet in the future, like Mia and Andie and Cassie.
At first, of course, I figured I was hallucinating or sleepwalking. But if it wasn’t real, why was there an overpowering scent of lime in the air? And a sudden tartness on my tongue? Why did I feel the air drawing perfect circles on my skin like so many fingertips? Something told me that I wasn’t meant to know all of my past and my future yet, so I turned away from the mirrored spiraling disk and went back inside the house. Thirsty and shivering, I took a sip of water from the glass on my nightstand and instead of water, I swallowed my bubbly secret.
I drank the water, tasting lime, savoring, and watched the UFO from behind the curtains of my bedroom window hovering like a hummingbird in the thick summer air against the starry night sky. With a perfect awareness I have never felt before or since, all the shadowy impressions stored in my brain about my fear of God’s death had been removed. My fears were replaced with memories much older than myself, ones that I had forgotten since I was born, but now remembered perfectly once I was nudged. At nine years old, I was in love. Literally standing inside it. And it was a relief. Falling in love, the feeling of it has remained the drug of choice I turn to when nothing else will do.
For it seemed then that I existed in a silken weave of membrane that wrapped me in its cocoon of consciousness and covered not only the entire world, but the universe. I imagined floating through my life bathed inside this enveloping womb of love, tasting the lime-ish sweet loving and welcoming communion of it – but…only I believed. Then a siren wailed in the distance and I watched the UFO blink and disappear leaving behind a phiff of cloud. I knew I wouldn’t tell anyone, ever, about it. It would always be my secret. And I’d spend the rest of my life chasing that feeling.
One week to the day after I bumped into Taylor, she says she has a surprise, and suggests that we meet the following day for lunch at one of the restaurants a few blocks away from Columbia College where she takes art and filmmaking classes.
Five minutes after we begin eating, she announces her surprise.
“I want us to see a psychological astrologer.”
“He can tell us about our relationship, our lives. Make you a chart based on your dominant planetary influences.”
I grab Taylor’s hand. “I’m crazy about you. What more do you need to know?”
“I need to know why we met. There are no accidental meetings. I met you for a reason. Why should we waste time trying to figure it all out when Free can just tell us? He knows everything. He reads stars and planets.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her that I don’t believe in horoscopes. But why shouldn’t she believe in astrology? In a week’s time, I’ve discovered that Taylor is the personification of a new age. I learned this the night after we first met, the moment I ventured into her tiny apartment. She had crystals on a dresser and tabletop, charms and amulets hanging from doorknobs and bedposts. And in her bedroom, on a tiny corner table next to the bed, she had built an altar, complete with votive candles, tarot cards, rocks, seashells, laminated pictures of saints and a small Buddha statue with three glass-beaded rosaries draped over his shoulders.
If she’s willing to believe in UFOs, I at least, have to make the effort to meet her astrologer. If she’s willing to believe that Mia doesn’t understand me and acknowledge the importance of my work, then I have to meet her half-way.
Free turns out to be a contradiction of his skinny bones and even thinner half-truths, a man dressed from head to toe in silky, slippery plum-colored clothing. Even his tie is just a darker shade of violet. He wears gold rings on his fingers and has the habit of waving his hands through the air whenever he speaks. I follow the path of his hands, instead of his words. A con man’s ploy. He asks us for our birthdates as soon as we both take a seat across from him in his reading room. As he closes his eyes, Taylor smiles.
“He’s full of circles, this one is,” Free says. “Ruled by the planet Pluto. Prone to be judgmental. Very unforgiving at times to perceived personal injustice.”
Idiot, I want to say. Pluto isn’t a true planet. It’s a dwarf.
“You feel like he’s twirling you, your mind around and around?”
Taylor nods excitedly. “Circles! I knew it. I’ve been drawing nothing but spheres for weeks!”
I have the distinct feeling that nothing good will come of this reading. I want to tell Free that I’m a scientist, that I was a professor, that I taught Early Universe Cosmology and Physics 525, that I can’t be duped, that I won’t be duped, that this is nonsense, he is nonsense.
“Who is God?”
Taylor and I look at each other. Who can possibly answer that? Free needs to take this up with the philosophers, not with two people in love.
“He says you know.” Free nods at me.
Taylor’s eyes widen.
I sigh. “Goddard. He’s my brother.”
Taylor understands me, perhaps better than I do myself. Sometimes, she records me and even though I ask her not to, I think she posts her films of me on YouTube. She’s a bit ambitious for her age, I think, but I recognize that her ambition is also a bit depthless because it relies too much on cultivating buzz, working social media as opposed doing the work. Would she even look twice at me if I wasn’t famous? No matter. One night after driving together past the endless rows of Indiana corn fields where the edges behind the skies are easier to peer into, I stop the car where I believe we might be able to enter the sharpness and discover how this UFO reality works.
The stark steel walls of an Indiana night seem to offer signs everywhere that there will be a breakthrough for me. If I can peer deep enough into the night, make my energy mutable, I’m convinced that they, whoever they might be, will sense my presence. I must sprawl my energy out into their world, open myself as a shaman: hidden, yet in full sight, invisible and visible at the same time and this will make all the difference.
True, this may only be wishful thinking on my part, or as the Russian would say, magical thinking, but it’s my intuition that this will work – simply because so many of the greatest scientific discoveries have happened as a result of intuition or dreaming. This will be my breakthrough: my ability to become indivisible from my surroundings, like a human chameleon so that I can become a part of the UFO reality itself.
I am as ready as I’ll ever be to see what’s behind the sleek silver lacquered doors with its hidden handles, ready to venture inside the gleaming mirror of the UFO itself. I am as ready as I will ever be.
After an hour of waiting and listening to the crickets chirp, Taylor runs her tongue along my ear and whispers, “Let’s go.”
Standing in this stretch of night, my hands on her delicate shoulders, her face brushed with a faint glow of Vermeer moonlight, looking up into the sky with her, I feel the beautiful bounce of possibility inside my heart. For once, my passion for Taylor and my work in the UFO reality can be focused into a space small enough for me to manage. My ideas about the UFO reality seem about as real and coherent as any other thing I have known.
She says to me as she begins to unbuckle my belt, “Men who’ve changed history, they’ve had lots of obstacles on their path, right? It only made them stronger. Be strong, Grant. Be strong for me.”
Somehow her words make me feel as if I’m about to fulfill some great destiny. I believe there’s a grand design for my life, our lives together, and that my usual rumpled self is about to have a short shelf life in the real scheme of things. I long to tell her how much her passion means to me.
And then, we both hear it.
Either one of the blogs reported my location again, or maybe it’s a prickly farmer who’s furious with me about venturing onto his property, wanting to give me a good thrashing for being on his land. It’s happened so often, I have my standard apology speech ready.
But it turns out to be a carload of fellow UFO watchers, who pull up alongside us.
“Hey, Doc, anybody out there?” They recognize me from the television shows. The Internet.
“Can’t say.” And it’s true. I can’t tell the watchers. And then before I know it, I can’t tell Taylor what she means to me. She’ll film it anyway, figure it out for herself. Her generation is swift that way.
It isn’t as difficult for me to tell Mia I’m meant to pursue UFOs. However, I don’t tell her I’m falling in love with another woman. I can’t. Not even when I come home one night to see Cassie and Andie fighting over a can of Redi-Whip for their chocolate ice-cream. They’re pushing and shoving and sticking their tongues out at each other, spraying a whipped cream chocolate mess on the dining room table so that Mia’s buttons are pushed and she yells them upstairs to bed. It’s only when I watch Mia sponge off the table and load the dishwasher that I figure: life is more than this. It has to be.
This much I know about UFOs. They are not cigar-shaped. They are not shaped like saucers. Nor do they manifest as orbs or glowing balls of light. And while there have been numerous documented reports of these flying saucers, supposedly traveling at speeds of over 1,000 mph, moving and turning at this high speed defies our law of gravity and confounds the scientists and astronauts of today. It’s all of the false alien craft sightings make my work in UFO reality theory suspect in the larger scientific circles of the world.
My story has been devalued and dismissed and cited as nothing more than the unproven lost dream of a nine year old boy, now an astronomer, trying to reverse an ocean of past conjecture and chasing fame with his undocumented theories of science fiction.
However, if that were true, if I was intoxicated with fame, like some have claimed, then certainly I would have consented to star in that reality television series, UFO Hunter, about my life as a UFO theorist and astronomer on a flying saucer hunt.
But I declined.
I want the world to know firsthand the gleaming truth and beauty that exists in the world right next to ours. UFOs are a facet of our own twisted and bendable reality – a reality we typically perceive as limited. UFOs hover in the unlit corners of our dusky skies, invisible to our limited intelligence, filled with polished perfect beings who don’t bleed or sin as we do, rather they possess an awareness that transcends the limits of our earthly wisdom.
It’s as if their messages are being spoken in a language using an alphabet so far advanced and we only have the comprehension to translate such ideas into three letter words. But they’re interested in us. We’re an entertaining species. We’ve captured their interest with our high-rise lives and our naked soap opera schemes and problems, our anxieties and broken dishes, our sprinkled donuts and fragrant hand-rolled cigarettes, our fetishes and futile wishes, our battles between sexes and countries.
Life is two things at once, the visible and invisible, the possible and the impossible and somewhere hovering right on the edge, the threshold of nowhere and somewhere, there’s a place where Goddard, the brother I once loved and UFOs and maybe even beings with wings exist. Who am I to say? But I damn well want to know.
I remember that man couldn’t fly until his consciousness was ready. I tell myself over and over that my consciousness has to be ready to accept a UFO. The bigger question is: is it ready to accept Goddard? I believe the UFO and God are linked: the bluish strobe of light I saw long ago when he was in the hospital and now the same flash I saw through the window of the plane.
It seems as if I’m so close to it, as if our world is merely a room that is simply next door to this other, even larger room. Whenever I gaze into the night, I feel small enough to slip under the doorway into one of these other rooms, one that holds not only the promise of what I’m searching for, but also the Goddard I once knew.
He’s around me, but not as the Goddard I once knew. My brother, delicate flutter of energy that I conjure from memory. He lives in the back of my consciousness, a destination I still travel toward when I feel most alone. Goddard is my comfort, the innocent boy of my mind who’s always ready to play statue or checkers with me, always ready to pedal off on the blue bicycle of our shared awareness. I need him.
Of course I knew that God was going blind. How could I not? I knew almost immediately that he wasn’t able to see as well as he was pretending to for Mom and Dad. Luckily, with my help, we were able to keep it a secret from them. Whenever they’d ask him to read or see something, he’d give me a look and I’d pipe in with a quick answer or interrupt them. When you’re a kid, you figure your tricks will never be uncovered.
But then one day when we were out riding our bicycles together, I’d forgotten about his failing vision and looked away for a second, and didn’t see the hole that he was about to run over. Normally, a kid falls off his bike, it’s no big deal, only God’s fall turned out to be a big deal.
“My leg. It’s….”
“It’s gonna be okay.”
“It hurts.” A tear slid down his cheek.
We had never said to each other that anything hurt – ever. We always pretended to be strong. That’s how we were.
“Are you sure?”
Crying even harder now, he gestured for me to help him up. It was impossible. I wasn’t strong enough to carry him all the way home. I left him there and ran home. At the hospital, that’s when they told us that he had broken his leg and that it was cancer causing him to lose his sight. The doctors set his leg in a cast and performed some operation to fix his eyesight. But why, I thought, because even then, I knew he was going to die. I just knew it.
All my childhood questions about death seemed to be another aspect of adult life
that was untranslatable and foreign. I decided then that my terrors and fears and all of the framed memory pictures I had saved in my mind of Goddard could be buried for good if I tried hard enough. But then I discovered that life wasn’t as merciful and it’s not as easy as making a simple decision about what memories you could keep or not. I could bury my memories, but they would never disappear and in fact, over the years, I learned a funny thing about memories: they seemed to sneak into my consciousness at odd moments, say I’d have my hand on a door knob, about to open the door to go to a baseball game, or I’d be about to pour water into a glass and there he was: Goddard, like a counterfeit visitor, leaping into my mind, alive as ever, jumping off the bed and flying up into the air just like he used to before he got sick.
And I began to dislike him, him and his sickness. I had no other choice: it was my only way to distance myself from him, from the pain of losing him.
Who am I kidding? I never lost him. He’s always there. Always blathering on about something. What do you know of science, you with your bad math? You know nothing.
Approaching midnight, the hundreds of pages of notes on the marble table top discourage me and I wonder if it’s safer to keep my thoughts in a file cabinet. Locked. I feel like I’m naked even though I’m always dressed and waiting. Even the TV in the corner of the room appears to be watching me now. Sometimes I see Goddard there.
The bow ties with their stripes and polka dots, the ones that Taylor picked out for me during the first hour of our relationship, are lined up along the edge of her dresser and appear to taunt me because my television appearance has been postponed for some mysterious future date when they’re able to schedule the Russian. They want him to appear along with me because they know that he, in his inimitable fashion will dismiss my work as science fiction, swat it away as if it has no more meaning to the universe than a flea. I loathe how television reporters who nothing at all about the galaxy have the strange ability to pit one scientist against another.
In Taylor’s tiny apartment, where I’m living now, I’m lost. It’s all arched pink and orange painted ceilings – sheer raspberry colored curtains veil the windows and vermillion beads cover the doorways – I feel as if I’m in the furthest place away from nowhere – or at least an ocean away from the smooth calm feeling of escape that I felt the day after Mia had me leave home.
When I can’t remember why she asked me to leave her, my daughters, why I was asked to leave my job as astronomy professor at the University of Chicago, Taylor will snuggle up behind me naked, put her arms around my middle, and whisper: UFOs are sexy, don’t you think?
Finally, when I disappear into sleep, into my midnight surrender, there’s no perfect solution for me. Endless realms of space spiral out in front of me and the Milky Way with its grasping arms is forever unforgiving and unclaimable. It’s as if I’m four years old again and trying to push open the heavy doors of a church cathedral, with God standing behind me, waiting for me to go through first.
Taylor has taken to flouncing around the small apartment naked. I think she does this not so much because she believes I’m inattentive and she desires my attention, but rather she’s bored with me, our relationship. It’s as if I’m not even there. I’m no longer someone who is a surprise to her – despite my work. Standing in a cornfield in the middle of the night all the time is boring, she said the last time I asked her if she wanted to go with me. She is, after all only twenty-three and what twenty-three year old woman has the patient vision to realize that a life’s work is indeed a lifelong pursuit without a weekly or monthly payoff? Her generation naturally believes it should happen at once. No waiting. Instant gratification. And it didn’t help my stature at all in her eyes when she learned about Mia. And the girls.
“Oh, Cassiopeia! And Andromeda! What cool names!” she squealed, then frowned at me.
I wonder now if she had some faulty illusion of me and my situation.
One thing I’ve learned because of my marriage and my work is, it’s best to just focus on the task at hand. Looking too far into the future, trying to predict what might happen, is a fool’s folly. So while I can’t possibly predict how my relationship with Taylor will proceed, I can at least make some attempt to keep her with me through the end of today. My motto: work out today’s problems and tomorrow takes care of itself.
It helps to pay attention to the small things, so I force myself to be attentive when one day, Taylor walks into the apartment with a large goldfish. She drops her backpack by the door and sashays over to where I’m writing, and twirls the water-filled plastic bag in front of me. Her swaying the fish in front of me is a taunt.
“He’s breathing hard in here. See him? He’s panting. E.T. needs a home, don’t you think?”
The extraterrestrial? E.T.? I mean, really, now Taylor, your attempt at contempt is ludicrous. What else can I think except that she has named the fish E.T. to poke fun at my work? Me? Though she’d claim otherwise, I’m sure….
I secretly believe that she wants me to move out because even though she still records what I’m saying, her questions have turned suspicious. She rolls her eyes and sighs dramatically whenever she doesn’t like my answer, which is becoming more and more often.
She doesn’t even wait for me to answer her taunt before she heads to the kitchen where she dumps E.T. in a glass fishbowl where she keeps Harry, another goldfish.
“Harry’ll love E.T., don’t you think?” she calls out.
I refuse to answer.
The fish isn’t for Harry. Or me. It’s for her. For her drawings.
“I’m learning water,” she’s said by way of explanation.
The way she spends time sketching goldfish, she must think she’s Matisse. Hours she spends naked, perched on a stool or sprawled upon the couch, sketching, floating bright pastel colors of emerald, pine, cerulean, flamingo pink and orange, rubbing her slim fingers through the chalk dust on her thick drawing papers. She leaves an afternoon of fingerprints smeared all over the apartment, on the coffee table, the refrigerator door handle, the medicine cabinet door – everywhere, it seems, but on me. When I’m alone, I’ll discover an emerald thumbprint on a box of Cocoa Puffs, or a Pompeii red smear on a page in one of my rare volumes of Blake’s poems, and when I open a drawer, I might find bits of flamingo pink sprinkled on top of my white t-shirts.
When she returns a few minutes later, her face is flushed, as if she had perhaps gone on a dawn fishing excursion to the sea shore, instead of through the doorway and into the kitchen. She brushes the hair away from her eyes and peers down at me as if she’s from a distant continent, as if she finds herself in a strange new world with me, a man who may, or may not be an acquaintance of hers. She opens her mouth as if she wants to say something, but doesn’t say a word. Instead, she sighs, goes into the kitchen and comes back carrying the fish in the bowl and sets it down on the coffee table.
“Did the producer call?” she finally asks after a long silence. “If I’m gonna get out of class, I need to know ahead of time.”
I shake my head. She’s told her friends that I was going to be on Anderson Cooper, that she might even go on the show with me. It’s true I didn’t have the heart to tell her that such a thing wasn’t possible to begin with and I know she’s disappointed in me. She thinks I’ve been lying to her about my appearance and knowing this makes me feel small until I want to disappear.
I know exactly what she’s going to do. I’m shaky watching as she pulls off her t-shirt, her skirt, her sandals as she settles in to do just what I was hoping she wouldn’t do so I could concentrate: draw. I move my pencil around on the paper in front of me, my attempt to appear busy.
But I’ve lost. In her game, my side always loses to lust. So I start drawing her as she draws. Drawing isn’t as simple or as easy as it looks. Nothing is: Taylor. UFOs. Mia. My daughters. The Russian. His Project. My life. Goddard. The more I am privy to her afternoons of flushed nakedness, the more she is becoming illusory to me, like a star, dead from eons ago. She’s drawing the water I’m drowning in every afternoon.
Feeling dizzy, I look down at the notes in my lap, my documentation for UFO theory. My scientific notes have morphed into a diary of sorts, more entries comprised not about UFOs, but fragments and adjectives describing Taylor or just the random simple thoughts I’ve been having. One is about an unusual fluttering noise I heard in a vacant Indiana corn field. Bats? Another is about the brightness of the moon that’s more of a poem than any kind of scientific documentation. And in another, I’ve taken an entire nine pages to describe Cassie and Andie’s typical daily routine as I’ve imagined it, including a map I’ve made of the possible routes Mia could take when she drives them to and from piano and soccer lessons. Was I trying to capture the ordinary elements of our lives before it all became too mysterious for me to comprehend?
I’m no closer to seeing any objects in the night skies, cigar shaped, with or without wings in any kind of formation. I’m in a darkened gulf. I’m no closer to Goddard, seeing my brother in the daylight or the moonlight, tall and lanky, with or without wings, bald as he was when he was sick or blond haired as he was when we’d ride our bicycles everywhere together. He’s invisible to me always and forever, I think now.
I’m no closer to Taylor either, she of the day and night skies of my mind, my self, she with her lovely breasts, hips and face always sauntering in strange formations, maneuvering through my long afternoons and even longer evenings. How can I measure this doubt I have about the meaning of UFOs and Goddard? Maybe he’s nothing more than some ephemeral ghost of my mind and the UFOs are nothing more than the odd ghost rockets of the 1940s.
I wished I had never even seen the moon, much less a UFO. When I look at the sky, it’s with suspicion. I’m suspicious of everything and everyone.
I’m lonely inside the skies of my mind.
It’s only when I remember my times with Mia and the girls when we were all buoyant within the thrill of each other, oblivious to the fragile lightness of our dimension and what our future lives would become that I feel real.
But I have, I believe, now discovered that loss is inevitable. And yet, despite my doubts and miseries, I also know that there are a few places we can travel if we want to: with a bit of luck, we can save a handful of good memories; we have our flaring hope and we can even venture into the secret continents of space where we might fashion a loyal brother, a lover, a UFO or a dream with our own two hands and our awakened heart.
I watch Taylor dip a slice of bread in a bowl of whipped eggs and milk for her French toast. She eats more French toast than I could ever imagine anyone eating – sometimes twice a day she’ll fix herself a plate. Three slices, with butter, maple syrup and a glass of milk. Only now as she’s cooking, she’s mumbling to herself.
This isn’t a good sign. I know because Mia did the same mumbling routine and the longer we were married, the more frequently she mumbled, until the last year of our marriage when she was uncharacteristically silent and I was relieved because this left me free to concentrate on my work. I didn’t even realize that her silence was a major signal that our marriage was in trouble.
Naturally, seeing a repetition of this behavior in Taylor puts me on high alert. So I say to her after she’s through eating and cleaning up the dishes: Let’s talk. And she says, Okay, when I get home from school tonight. I’m late for class. She flees into the bedroom and throws on her jeans and a sweater, pulls her dark hair into a ponytail, tosses a spiral notebook into her backpack, grabs her sketch pad and before I know it, I’m alone.
And when she returns after midnight, I smell the smoke and beer on her as she climbs over me to get to her side of the bed, avoiding me. But I don’t say a word. Not tonight – or for all of the other nights when she comes home later and later. After a while, she doesn’t even bother to come home to sleep at all. She tells me that she’s working on a new film since the documentary she wanted to do about me hasn’t worked out.
I’ve never met any of Taylor’s friends. She meets them for drinks after her painting or film classes at the Salvation Pub, but I don’t really know who they are. “They need to watch you on TV before you meet them,” she tells me. And I wish I could conjure up an answer for her to try and fix out what’s wrong. So I do the next best thing, I visit her astrologer.
“Free, tell me what’s going on with Taylor. Give it to me straight.” If he’s psychic at all, he’ll remember me. And he does. I knew you’d be back. Pluto is persistent. This time, instead of the plum outfit, he’s dressed in a flowing black silk shirt and pants. I hope it’s not an omen.
He closes his eyes after a moment or two of staring at me. “I’m getting a vibe,” he opens his eyes and with a sad smile says, “planetary influences suggest that your mental energies are conflicted. Man, it’s hot in there, buddy. Trust your intuition. You can’t go wrong. In love, in life, you gotta trust your heart. Trust God.”
But it was my instinct that I let direct my life toward UFOs. How could I ever trust my intuition? And God? I should trust God?
Was he reading my mind? Because as if on some otherworldly cue, Free says, “UFOs? The UFO shit you’re into – that’s too spooky for me, man. Stay real.”
And I had to admit that he might have a point.
Sometimes I think relationships are like the galaxy: you can wander around millions of stars and meteors, moons and planets using the best telescopes and computer programs and never get any closer to understanding anything. Not when it’s always spiraling beyond your reach. We have theories of everything and nothing. I might’ve believed at one time that I could understand Taylor, but the truth is, she and Mia and the girls are just far too many light years away now.
One evening, when Taylor isn’t home and I don’t think she’s coming home, I figure I’ll go and see if I can find who she really might be spending time with. A few days ago, I saw her after school getting into a red pick-up truck – my God, Taylor, I want to say to her – a pick-up? Stay away from guys who drive pick-ups. They have trouble written all over them. But it’s twilight and the landscape shifts during that hour and the truth is: I don’t know if I really want to see where she is or who she’s with and because the sky above appears as implacable as ever, I discover that I truly have nowhere to go, except I don’t want to go back to the empty apartment and confront my notebooks and theories, my unfinished equations.
So I get in the car and drive. It relaxes me whenever I drive because I can think. I’m going nowhere. I’m reminded of that old Beatles song, Nowhere Man, and start humming it. Nowhere man please listen, you don’t know what you’re missin’. I’m humming along and after a while, the roads lengthen and curve. Before I know it, I’m back inside the suburban night of my neighborhood. The street where Mia and the girls still live is quiet and I know as I park the car and step out, I’ll hear nothing more than the leafy sounds the wind makes as it stirs through the trees, bushes and across damp flowerbeds and lawns on this moonlit night. I swear I can even almost hear Lucky, the spaniel from down the block cough out a few forlorn barks, just as he always does as night falls over yet another suburban day.
Only now, it’s as if I’m seeing it all for the first time because I haven’t been home in weeks and I’m struck by the sweetness of Jasmine from the bushes filling the air and maybe it’s the particular way the light falls upon the rooftops that makes me think: I miss my life. Yearning strikes me in such a ferocious way that when I see Cassie open the front door, I lurch back, startled, at how my desire seemed to will the door open and have Cassie and Andie to come to me. Cassiopeia and Andromeda. They skip down the front steps and bound across the lawn together to the house next door where Sarah’s mother beckons them inside before I can gather my senses enough to call out to them.
They didn’t see me.
My daughters didn’t even notice me.
I didn’t call out to them.
What’s happened to me? To us? My daughters, my family, my galaxy, my darling stars.
Mia, please let me come home, I begin writing, over the course of one long night, what will become a sixteen page letter. In it, I catalogue my inadequacies and attempt to make amends for whatever I think I have done, whatever I didn’t do, what I might possibly do now to make it up to her and the girls. I think it’s a good argument for me. I believe I’m a different man. I’ve changed. I know the failings of misplaced optimism so I even wait one long week before mailing it. When I don’t receive any reply after four days, I phone home.
I hope that one of the girls picks up first. Andie, my princess. Please, Cassie, my queen. No such luck. “Mia,” I say, as soon as I recognize her voice.
After a few long seconds with neither of us speaking, I have no choice but to say something. Anything. “I sent you a letter. I don’t know if you got it or – not.”
“I had to sign for it. You know that.”
“Did you open it? Read it?”
After a few even longer seconds, I clear my throat. “Well.”
“You don’t sound good.”
She doesn’t say anything more. I decide to forge on. “Can I come home?” I ask quietly. I imagine my words drifting down, down, down.
“Grant,” she hesitates for what feels like eternity, “the girls are afraid of flying saucers.”
“Whatever. They think they’re going to be abducted.”
“Call it whatever you want, UFOs or flying saucers – the girls are terrified. They can’t sleep. They wake up in the middle of the night.”
“It’s dangerous, you’re chasing after flying saucers, Grant. God forbid if something alien really happened to you. Then what?”
“Something could happen to me, to any of us at any time. It doesn’t matter what kind of work I’m doing. I could get hit by a bus, or choke on a seed.”
“I meant if you had a deranged fan.”
I already know the answer, but I have to ask again. Just to be certain. “Can I come home?”
“Grant, you’re a controversial figure. The girls are too young to have to deal with UFOs. Kids at school make fun of them and laugh at them. They’d never tell you. But it hasn’t been easy for them. This is their childhood — ”
“My life’s work – ”
“The girls are my life’s work. Flying saucers don’t fit into our lives.”
“I’m close to finding one. I know it. Once I do, I promise you, Mia, it’sover.”
“No, it would be the beginning. You’re too preoccupied with all this to be a good father or husband.”
“My work isn’t a preoccupation.”
“You’re right. It’s consuming you. It’s already consumed us, our marriage. Our lives. I can’t let that happen any more, this madness. It’d be different if you were consumed by work that was meaningful – but this – UFOs, flying saucers, for chrissakes. This is all about Goddard. You need to make peace with him, Grant. You really do. And that girl you’re with? Taylor? What about her?”
Neither of us says a word, until she breaks the silence by saying: “Oh Grant, how could you do this to us?”
And then she hangs up on me.
Ten minutes later, the phone rings and I pick up, thinking it’s Mia, but in my heart, I know it won’t be her and it’s not. I’m right. It’s the producer from Anderson Cooper calling to confirm the date of mytelevision appearance in two weeks. They’ve scheduled the Russian to appear with me on the 28th.. I know his work intimately, The Project, that seems to offer perfect calculations for what the world is willing to believe. He knows my work intimately, we’re two brothers of the universe and yet so many astronomical units apart. I know what he’s going to say about my work, my life, even before he says it. Whenever a reporter asks him about my work on UFOs, he says: science fiction. And then he laughs. I wish at that moment that television had never been invented, but I say yes, yes, of course, I’ll be there.
I have not seen much more than a few distant streaks of meteor during all of the nightfalls I have witnessed. Not a single spacecraft. I search and search the skies and it’s as if I’m blind to the shining spin of all the UFOs that I know are wandering lazily right in front of me. How many evenings, nights, mornings and days have I spent now searching for the mirrored disk I was so certain was circling around inside the solar system of us, so close that I swore I could feel the wind from their orbit ride across the palms of my hands when I stretched my arms out to greet them? And yet. And yet.
My illusions are stuck in this maze I’ve created. I have a feeling that I can watch the skies forever and I won’t be any closer to this UFO reality than I am to Goddard. Dear Goddard. I feel as if what it is that I thought I knew about him may not even be true. Maybe it’s not true that he loved to eat jelly club sandwiches, three slices of white bread with peanut butter and strawberry and grape jelly for breakfast in the morning, maybe it’s not true that his favorite game was checkers, maybe it’s not true that he was going blind, maybe it’s not true that sometimes when Mom and Dad went out for the night, he’d sneak into their room, open up Mom’s compact, remove the powder puff, sniff it and say, “Hey Grant, it smells like Mom. It’s Mom in a container.” And maybe it’s not true that he’d skip and dance around the bedroom, filling the air with her powder pretending to be her while he dusted the furniture with her powder puff, singing one of her favorite songs: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
And maybe it’s not true that he once whispered to me while we were watching one of those history shows on television that he wished he we could visit some other countries like Japan, Russia and maybe even Istanbul because it seemed like a place of large skies, even bigger hearts and bright colors everywhere, where we could sleep on the street, but there’d be soft pillows and silky tapestries embroidered with emperors in golden robes and elephants flying through uncharted heavens, so it’d be okay, and maybe it’s not true that he once failed all of his classes in sixth grade because he was going blind and didn’t want to tell anyone that he couldn’t see the blackboard.
And maybe it’s not true that his voice always sounded to me like he was about to ask me for a favor even though he usually was, or else it was sleepy like he just woke up. And maybe it’s not true that both of his middle fingers curved slightly to the left, I don’t know, maybe they curved to the right or maybe they were perfectly straight, because what I think I know so well about him, I don’t any longer.
The only thing I know about Goddard is that he’s been gone so many years and when he left, he took his magic and his crooked fingers with him and his love for jelly club sandwiches and it was as if I was left behind in a hollow place and because he was gone and because I was just a kid, I thought I could keep him alive if I just kept my eyes open. If I just kept looking for him, I’d find him. Only now I’ve been trying to find him for years and years.
Maybe I was trying so hard to see into the universe simply because he couldn’t. I wanted to look for him and show him all the things he’s never seen, he’s never been able to see. Maybe I even thought in some warped way that I could show him the grid and diamond pattern of some crazy UFO reality. I’m a poor archaeologist of the heavens and I feel half the time that I’m brailing my way through life. But the story of mankind is one of hope, of perseverance and when I find Goddard, I’m going to tell him that we could see the whirling dervishes of Istanbul if he still wants to go. I’ll also tell him how much I’ve missed him.
Some nights, I won’t go to the cornfields. Some nights now, I just don’t feel like driving all the way to Indiana. Some nights, I’ll wait until it’s late and dark and since Taylor doesn’t come home any longer, she doesn’t miss me enough to know that I’m driving across town only to park a few blocks away from my old house. I take my time to walk down the street, not in any hurry because I know exactly where I’m going. I’m going to stand in the shadows in front of the house and imagine Mia and the girls sleeping inside. Andie and Cassie in their bedroom, sleeping under that swirly Van Gogh looking painting of a cow jumping over a moon smiling brilliantly down upon them, their beds close enough so they can listen to each other breathe, safe under their blankets and I know they feel like I used to before God got sick.
When God came home from the hospital, we’d sit on top of his bed together, playing Hearts for hours. He was tired most of the time and because we couldn’t ride our bikes around like we used to, I’d tell him about my day in school or what it was like outside, so he’d have a picture in his mind of it and then he wouldn’t feel like he was missing out on anything. Sometimes when he was feverish, his eyes turned to such a bright sapphire that I couldn’t imagine them closed forever. I wished he could see all the countries of the world, from India to Venezuela.
We never talked about his dying – just as we never talked about his living. And as the weeks drew on, it seemed as if there were more and more doctor visits and I wanted to be careful about what I said. Afraid that I might slip and say something wrong, I stopped talking about school. After a while, he quit asking. He seemed too tired to care. And everybody believed that he was dying because nobody, not even the teachers asked me any more about how he was doing. When I’d get home after school, he’d be asleep. I’d watch him breathe and once when I was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the soft rise and fall of his chest, he opened his eyes and looked up at me blankly. He looked right through me as if he were dying. He looked gone.
“Hey, guess what I saw when you were in the hospital?” I asked him, figuring if I told him my perfect secret, he’d be too excited to be sleepy.
“What?” He grimaced and pulled the covers up to his chin.
“I saw a flying saucer. Honest,God. I really saw one.”
He stared at me, trying to determine whether or not I was telling the truth. I watched the different emotions wash across his face, bewilderment, suspicion, fear and back again until the look on his face seemed to settle down and he smiled. And then, before I had the chance to fill him in on what it was like to see an actual spacecraft, he suddenly yelled out, “Hey Mom, Grant’s seeing aliens!”
And then he started giggling and laughing and when my mother came into the bedroom, she took one look and started laughing too. “Saucers!”
Saucer became his name for me for a few awful weeks. He laughed every time he called me that and I liked to think that it was worth it.
My upcoming television appearance has me more frightened than I have ever been in my entire life because I know precisely what I’m going to do. Whether or not it’ll make any difference remains to be seen.
When I dress, instead of putting on the new shirt and bow tie I bought the day I met Taylor and thought I was in love, I put on one of my favorite blue shirts that Andie and Cassie gave me for Father’s day. And I wear the necktie that I wore the day I married Mia. For good luck.
Later that evening, in front of hundreds of thousands of television viewers, before the Russian joins me with Anderson, instead of talking about UFOs like I’m supposed to, I face the camera and say, “Mia, honey, please let me come home. I love you. I love the girls. I’m so sorry for all of this. Forgive me.”
And then I take off my microphone and leave. My marriage is over. So now is my career. Other worlds mean nothing to me if Mia and Cassie and Andie aren’t in it with me.
When I return to the apartment afterwards, Taylor is there for once. She bursts into tears and hugs me.
“I’ll help you pack up your clothes, your papers.”
Her generation doesn’t hold grudges. Everyone claims they’re jaded, but really, they’re romantics. She left me many nights ago to fall in love again with another man. And I didn’t even know it.
Daybreak. After nearly thirty-two hours of standing inside the middle of this Indiana cornfield all I have seen is a pair of storks. Their wingspan appears to me to be over six feet wide and as I watch the two soar overhead all I’m left with is the feeling that that skies are a haven to so many creatures, every creature it seems, except for me. I’m more discouraged than ever. I’ve made up my mind that I’ll never waste another moment of my life searching for some crazy UFO. I’ll stop my foolish pursuit. And just as I’m about to leave and go back to my car, I hear a car racing in from the distance, coming closer and closer, until it stops, the engine shuts off and a car door slams.
I hope it’s not one of the watchers. I don’t want to have to make small talk with someone who’s seen me Anderson Cooper. Or skirmish with a peevish farmer. But it’s not a farmer who’s hurrying towards me. It’s the Russian.
“Grant, you need help. You have to stop this madness.”
Goddard tries to put his arm around me. I twirl away.
“Let me help you.”
“You? You’ve got to be kidding.”
His lazulite eyes shine brightly, drawing me in. They’re the familiar eyes I looked into for years, first in a childhood house from so long ago, then as the years accumulated and we drew apart, I thought I had forgotten him and his eyes. It’s never quite that easy to erase a memory, a brother. It’s as if I had turned away from him only moments ago.
I turned away from him once, I can do it again.
I take a deep breath and instantly, I smell it. Lime. As I turn to look, there’s a strobe of blue light and the spaceship is there, a soft ovoid floating inside the woolen blue skies of an Indiana countryside on a Sunday morning.
The careful constructions of my mind become then a fine balancing act between disbelief and illumination. In this instance, on this morning, I really only have two choices: believe what I am seeing or forget this startling production of beauty ever existed. Dismiss it from my mind forever. But how do I refuse this shimmering ship of walls and borderless rooms in another texture of time that has been hidden in plain sight before me for so long? I can’t.
Goddard sees it too. He’s dropped to his knees.
And oddly enough, because it seems like the right thing to do, I kneel and say a small prayer, not to this construction of reality that has somehow unfolded before us, but I pray to the deeper loveliness of a universe that is so large and so beautiful that it can hold a spaceship, a pair of storks, two brothers, a falling leaf and the stars and planets all in the same handful of existence.