by Noelle Gray
It was like this: Samson and I had journeyed out into the woods in our neighborhood looking for green and bald aliens armed with flashlights and bags of chips (because there aren’t any potatoes on alien planets probably, and there certainly aren’t Lays, right?). We wanted a lot of things, but we really wanted to get off the planet. It was at the top of our cosmic wish list.
I had always thought we were braver than any of the other average sixth graders, but maybe that was our great flaw, our own kind of hubris. I feel like we should’ve been afraid. I mean, bravery is just a sense of stupidity glorified. We have natural instincts that cause us to fear and distress; any kind of courage is an ignorant attempt to hide it.
And this bravery stemmed from my parents, mostly. It wasn’t like I had inherited audacity and valor from my parents; they had never committed any act of heroism in their lives. My bravery grew because of them.
When I turned eleven, my parents split up- but it wasn’t one of those nasty divorces. Mom just packed up Dad’s stuff and he accepted his fate and left. He never visited, which kind of hurt in a dull way. My mom fell out of love with my dad and she fell out of love with me, which sounds weird, but you understand right? She didn’t ask me how my day was or tell me that she loved me; there was just nothing.
So I started to feel hate. I ended up hating my parents so much, but I still loved them. I think it’s the same for everyone at some point. It was the normal worldwide parent-child relationship, but it was a little different for me; My parents hated me too.
They were simple people, and I was too much, too complex. They didn’t want me; they didn’t care for me. I think every child fears isolation- they don’t know it, but they do. It’s the worst possible scenario, but it was real for me. Once you stop fearing the worst, you become invincible really. Nothing can hurt you. You endure and learn that it’s not so bad. Maybe what you fear is what you want; fear was just holding you back. And figured out that I wanted to be alone. That’s how the bravery was born. Simple as that.
This was partly Mr. Jones’s fault too. He was our science teacher, besides our regular science teacher. It didn’t make any sense, really; no one knew why he had a job honestly. He wandered around school and taught to whoever was willing to listen. He had a Grizzly Adams beard and a brain full of random science facts, which was appealing to middle schoolers I guess. He knew everything and anything; he was the smartest adult in the school probably. He was never a grouch either. He understood every kid, like, on a spiritual level.
Mr. Jones made science cool apparently, but I thought it was cool before he taught it. I had always had a fascination with the stars and what lied beyond Earth; Mr. Jones just made it a concept that we could fathom. He’d try to make it as real as possible and he’d try to describe how it’d be up there. Mr. Jones would tell us to close our eyes, hold our breath, and picture the infinitesimal emptiness of space. I felt so happy, so tranquil. In those breathless moments, I could only feel the weightlessness that came a lack of parents, a lack of responsibility; I couldn’t feel the lack of air squeezing my lungs. I was still on Earth, of course, but I never thought about the bad sides of things, the consequences that rode alongside loneliness.
Mr. Jones never mentioned the consequences of space either. He made it seem like the best place in the galaxy when he was cramming all kinds of space junk in our sixth grade heads, my head especially. “Space is the most barren place in the galaxy,” he’d say. “It has such little human influence.” And that was the thing that got me, that was thing that made me think I could get away from it all. Space could be my safe haven.
Just think about it; imagine being one light year away from planet Earth. You can’t, because it’s just so crazy.
And we’re back to me and Samson trekking through the thick of the woods. It was somewhere around midnight (Samson had one of those glow-in-the-dark watches); we were getting anxious. You probably won’t understand; we were strange little sixth graders. And we didn’t understand each other that well either. I thought that Samson wanted to be different. Or maybe he was already different, and he wanted to escape from the planet because he couldn’t fit in.
I did know that his head was stuck in the stars, just like mine. We were both determined to leave the planet, but he was thoughtful and clever, everything all parents want their children to be. You could look at him and tell he was going to do great things in the world. He could cure cancer or end world hunger if he wasn’t wasting time scouring the woods for aliens with me, but he was.
“So what’s your deal?” Samson killed the silence around us and talked.
I glanced at him, but I couldn’t see him; it was so dark. I mumbled, “My parents.” I was going to leave it at that, but I felt like Samson would understand somehow. So I kept talking, “My mom doesn’t love me anymore. My dad probably never loved me. No one loves me, maybe. It kinda hurts to wake up in the morning.” It had sounded a lot better in my head.
I sighed, “Complicated stuff, I know.”
“Huh.” Samson paused and thought about it for a second. It was one of those thoughtful silences. I could only hear the leaves crunching underneath our feet. And he told me, “Maybe you just want to die.”
I thought about it; I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. I don’t think I wanted to die, I just wanted a different life; I wanted to be surrounded by different people. I wanted them to understand what I was feeling. I wanted to have them love me and care about me; I wanted to matter to someone, to everyone.
I thought that then; I’m thinking that now. Like, I’m the verge of salty, and unmanly tears right now because that was so long ago, but I still kind of feel the same. I thought that the aliens on whatever planet they had would appreciate me, because the humans on planet Earth could care less. It was another one of the many things, the infinity of things I had on my cosmic wishlist.
(We’re almost there.)
I could’ve aspired to be an astronaut instead of hoping my salvation would arrive on the slim, metallic edges of a UFO. I know that’s what you’re thinking, but consider all the training and math and nonsense one has to know to be an astronaut. I didn’t have time; Samson could certainly figure it out, but he didn’t have the patience. And remember, we were not normal sixth graders. Astronauts are what ordinary, average, boring, fourth graders dream about when they lay in their beds. It was such a cliche; the thought of us residing in uncomfortable NASA suits and spending our time floating outside a space station physically hurt.
Mr. Jones also served as our school counselor, but not really. It wasn’t anything official; every student in our middle school just sort of knew to go to him when you had a problem. Sometimes he came to you. He always sort of knew when something was wrong and I guess he noticed that there was something wrong with me. He called me to his desk after class one day.
It was Mr. Jones’s lunch break, but he wasn’t going to put his meal on hold. He talks and chews at the same time, “What? Something going on at home?”
He picks at his salad, “Wanna talk about it?”
“Not really.” Mr. Jones’s left eyebrow rises. I try to explain, “It’s complicated.”
“Life is complicated.”
“Whatever. Are humans the only organisms that feel… complicated?”
“We’re not the only ones out there. The galaxy is just too big. Surely there are lifeforms out there that can achieve higher level thinking.”
“Yeah, but what about us?”
Mr. Jones scoffed a little. He tried to explain it to me, “We’re just specks stuck on a rock orbiting around the sun which illuminates a galaxy upon many galaxies which make up the universe. It’s a lot simpler than you think.”
I think it was a way to tell us to stay in our own cosmic lanes rather than an explanation. Like, why care about something so big when you’re so small, you know? But I knew that Mr. Jones had a point; in fact, he was absolutely right. We’re specks compared to the size of the universe, but I refused to be a speck. It was demeaning to me to be just another one of the eight billion.
Despite my parents, sixth grade was all right for me. School was never a problem. I was one of those invisible kids stuck in the middle of the spectrum. I was everyone else. I could’ve been something if I had actually tried; a lot of people say that, but I’m really being honest. I was only normal because I did not care for human attention. I didn’t want it. My grades were a mundane mix of C’s and B’s and a few A’s sprinkled here and there; I was nothing like Samson. He was the smartest of us and he deserved better.
There were bullies at our school- I avoided their attention especially- and the worst was Greg. That’s such a bully name isn’t it? He was an eighth grader, he lived right up the street, he was abnormally huge for his age, and the leader of the vicious pack of bullies native to our middle school. He had problems himself, but no one cared of course. That’s how it is for bullies.
His favorite outcast to victimize was Samson, of course. He was perfect: small, weak, and exceptionally intelligent. Nearly every day Samson got the snot beat out of him- literally. He’d start crying and his nose would start running. It was one of those sights that made your eyes water. Before we became friends, I’d always end up watching from a distance somehow. My eyes were glued to every demise. I never intervened. That was the type of attention I didn’t want.
In the end, I was never trying to escape school; it was just one of the many perks of abduction. I imagined no word for “homework” in alien language. I thought the lack of school in space was what Samson was after when he agreed to go alien hunting with me. But he was so bright; he probably knew there was never a chance to be abducted. He must’ve tried so hard to conjure a minute possibility of a saving grace descending from the stars to rescue him. I knew he’d want to leave the pack of bullies at school, especially Greg. If I peeked into his head and peeled back his skull, I was sure I’d see Samson departing from them in a lustrous spaceship, leaving them all gasping for air in the stardust.
I’m making this seem spontaneous, I think, but I had been planning this for months. It wasn’t just a random idea. Well, at one point it was- but it had evolved into something more. This was an escape plan; Earth was my prison and I had to find a way out and it eventually became Samson’s prison too.
He was the brains of the operation, of course. He had all the ideas and he coordinated everything too. He made sure we had flashlights, snacks, Gameboys and Gameboy chargers even though it was very unlikely aliens would have the exact same outlets that were on Earth. I was the guy who kept us determined, probably. He’d always ask, “We got this right?”
And I’d say, “Yeah, sure.”
Samson trusted me for some reason; he believed in me. I was his best friend, his only friend; it’s kind of the same thing, I think.
You want to know how it ends, and I’ll tell you how it ends; but do you really want to know? Like, in all honesty, does this even matter to you?
My story might end like The Shining. It might have one of those endings that leaves a bad taste in your mouth; maybe the aliens are real and they kill us both. But I feel like shouldn’t call this my story; I feel like it’s everyone’s story. This is where I’m you because everyone has felt like this, I think.
A euphoric feeling might sweep over you, one of those calm sentiments that dying people feel before they die because it’s finally over; you did it. You made it to the end. Your stomach might sink; you might be disappointed because how could it end like that? I don’t know. I’m not you. I am me. And I know I am; I’ve always had a sense of what I’ve wanted. I’ve been telling you this the entire time.
It was like this: Samson and I had finally arrived at our “abduction zone” and we were waiting for the worst. The “abduction zone” was a clear field in the middle of the forest by our neighborhood, and we had assumed it was open enough for aliens to pick us up. But everything was quiet- except for me munching on some barbeque chips- and the silence really got to us. We were realizing that this was kind of stupid.
“This is dumb.”
Samson said it first, though. He was the kind of guy who explained everything, so I knew he was about to give a speech about why this was so dumb- but then there was rustling, like menacing, hardcore, something’s-about-to-get- you rustling.
Samson jumped up. I was shaking, my frail bravery was falling apart so easily. I wanted my mom. The rustling stopped; I dropped my flashlight. And I ran. I sprinted through the woods and ended up in some neighborhood I had never seen before.
I was so alone. I was finally by myself, isolated from the rest of the world and I was still on planet Earth. I had found the otherworldly detachment I had been always been searching for, but I felt just as small as everyone else. I was apart of the same planet I was dying to get away from, and that hurt. The thought jabbed me close to my heart. It hurt a little more than my parents abandoning me without actually leaving me, and it hurt a little less than running away from Samson and my long list of problems.
And in the end, everything was okay. I ran back home and slept on my porch; I didn’t want to hear my parents spiel on and on about my horrible and dangerous ideas. Somehow Samson made it back home. He woke me up the next day. He looked like he made it through World War III. Twigs were stuck in his hair, his glasses were cracked, and he looked pissed.
“Hey, Samson. What’s up?”
He didn’t say anything. We stared at each other for the longest time and I was waiting for him to snap and kill me or something. But he started laughing- and then I started laughing because this whole situation was ridiculous. And that was it; that era in our lives ended.
Well, not really. My mom never learned to love her son again and Dad didn’t ever come back home. Greg still bullied Samson until I decided to intervene and got us both suspended for a week. But it was okay, because knew it was going to be okay. We made a lot of memories, but in the galaxy of the stories we compiled together, this was the the only one worth the ending.
I’m grateful for your time and somehow grateful for all the Earth. I’m no longer striving to get away from everything. The prospects of space and its entirety fazes me as a concept that I will never be able to grasp no matter how hard I try. I don’t think any human can, not even the ones floating in space, not even Mr. Jones. Not even the life forms that could perhaps fester on planets so far away we could not measure the distance. Not even the aliens breathing whatever air they breathe, leading whatever lives they lead in the galaxies unimaginable.
Jeffersonville High School, 2019