An Essay by Isabelle Davis: “Lay Off the High Ones”

Nonfiction: Isabelle Davis

Lay Off the High Ones

They failed to come back to Earth1, gravity, conventional use of time. B says, That would be the best way to die. To become fire, immediately after seeing outside of a world everybody else you know will never see outside of, would be so simple. Everything would be colors.


Eighteen people have died in space related incidents due to parachute failure, decompression, vehicle disintegration during launch, upon re-entry. Decompression, according to B, would be the worst way to die, all of the nerves screaming, horrified, instead of dying, becoming fire. Those decompressed died in space, and those who disintegrated were back in orbit, home, Earth. The preferred death probably depends on the type of astronaut, spouse, child2, scientist, who lives it.


Three of the eighteen, the crew of the Soyez 11: the only people to have ever died outside of Earth’s atmosphere3, in space, the cosmos, the heavens.


If someone dies in The Heavens does that bring them closer to a god, God, deity, that they, their families, may believe in or does it just take them, their bodies, further from science? If someone dies Up There do their souls get swallowed whole by black, the absence of color, light, matter, or do they find other creatures their old family does, will, not know about?


The ship4, the Soyez 11, seemed to make a normal landing, rushing back from the four-day mission, hurtling towards the ground, the Soviet Union, home. No one opened the door, upon landing, after knocking, until someone on the outside pried it open, and found bodies and blood running out of noses. Three bodies.


They asphyxiated.


The pressure leaked out of their spaceship, in space, and they, Geogry Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, Viktor Patsayev, suffered cardiac arrest from lack of air, pressure, ability to inhale, within forty seconds. Geogry was still warm5.


According to the Wikipedia page, Animals in Space, a third of all animals sent, or attempted to be sent, to space have died. This fact surprises no one. Most died on launch, on return (heart attacks, dehydration, depression, decompression), almost none died in space.


Laika the Space Dog died outside of the Earth’s atmosphere hours after launch. But even if she had not, the Soviet Union made no re-entry plan and Laika was not her real6 name. Her body burned with her ship after orbiting the Earth for months. N showed me a song while drunk and we were both very sad. It, the song, which was also sad, completely disregarded her, Laika’s, death, or, it did not, but it made her a type of god, and he said, Dogs are the best gods. Maybe that is true if they are in space.


In ten years a group of four people will begin a trip. They will go to Mars. They will not come back. These people will not be astronauts, professionals, scientists. They will have filled out an application online, submitted a video, been narrowed down from a group of ten thousand, been picked for Mars I. These people will also die outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.


A and I drive the kids home from school and on NPR we hear from one man picked for Mars I. He has a wife and two children, a family, they live in San Francisco and A’s husband lives in San Francisco. We turn up the interview. The man is very excited about the trip. His wife is not calling it a trip, an adventure7, she is calling it, The end of our marriage. I am not sure what the man’s reaction to this is, but I am not sure his marriage will matter very much on a new planet, when he is building a new civilization, when everything is new and ancient8 at the same time.


When I tell my dad9 this story he says, I10 would be very sad. He would go to Mars, to read, for a few months, but he could not live there, without us. Most people do not want to die in space, away from home, family, love. Even if their Big Love is falling into an undeniable adventure.


Kalpana Chawla went to space twice. She went to space without coming all the way back.


The animals, spiders, bees, fish, silkworms that went up with Columbia, Chawla, mostly did not come back either. Except for the roundworms who, too small to explode and scatter, survived, inside of fire.


She went to space for thirty days, fourteen hours, fifty-four minutes. She11 said of it, When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system. Chawla went to space before any other Indian-Americans, Indian women, she went to look at all those stars, to become a part of something bigger than herself, to become, and when she came back, she didn’t, none of them did. So she found herself scattered over Texas, Louisiana, the ground,12 home.


If she considered that home anymore cannot be determined.


Very little can be determined. That is why we invented science, why we, humans, always try to discover this universe outside of us. We know years more about space than we do about the depths of the seas. About Deep Sea. We got so involved13 in it, the universe, outer, we forgot about the ocean14, inside, underneath, and left ninety-five percent of the floor, bottom, essence, unmapped.


The ocean is a different kind of dark and too many religions, taken seriously, wrap themselves in Water. Water brings a renewal by evoking something that cannot be renewed, cannot disappear. The religions that worship space can typically be filed under the label: cults.


A believer is someone who has conviction, who holds onto something so hard that it becomes a kind of truth, without facts.


Carl Sagan15, author, astrophysicist, Cosmo, talked to the Dalai Lama about the afterlife for a long time. Sagan did not believe the way, described above, religious, we think of it. He believed in science, facts, disproving, so he asked the Dali Lama what he would do if science disproved reincarnation. Reincarnation is the idea that a soul never really dies, energy does not die, it moves on into another being, so your essence does as well. The Dalai Lama said, I’d stop believing in it, but it would be very hard to disprove reincarnation. Sagan agreed, it, the lasting, transfer, of souls, warmth, colors, needed further investigation before he could ask for it to be unbelieved.


Kalpana Chawla attended a Hindu temple at home, in Houston, when she had the time, out of the lab, but her husband, Jean-Pierre Harrison, told reporters, after death, Kalpana had no interest in religion—especially after arriving in the United States. She had no interest, but belief does not come easily except for when things become desperate and we have to wonder about the point of everything, life, work, progress, and then it does not matter, because we burst into Brightness. Because we burst, we burst, we burst, and then, who knows.


If a soul can be, gets released outside of this atmosphere, world, Earth, home, it could move onto something unknown, new, or unnew, ancient. We are not alone in here, in this universe, galaxy, Milky Way. If Sagan believed in anything, it was that. Earth souls could reincarnate into something alien. These colors are different, but they are still bright and undeniable.


B and I often talk about moving to space, the rent would be cheap there even if the cost of living is high. We would not be lonely, alone, and when we died our souls would relocate in a way most little essences cannot.16

Isabelle Davis is a Chicago-based writer, student, and Pushcart Nominee. She works as an editor for Big Lucks Books, and is the author of the chapbook I’m Sorry Because This Is Not About Sex (Zoo Cake Press). Her work can be found in The Iowa Review, alice blue review, xoJane, Quaint, and others.


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1. amy drew circles around herself at second base. she made herself a target because we are not alone & she did not understand how crop circles were supposed to work. we grew up on harrer park number five & the aliens never came but we still got sunburns on the tops of our shoulders. we still waited until night time & counted the stars while drinking cherry flavored capri suns.

2. we wore knee socks once we got older because the dirt hurts when you press your legs into it. i hated pressing my legs into it.

3. my dad became a coach because i lied to linda. i told her that he played baseball in college but he hadn’t. he loved teaching me to run backwards into left field after all that yellow shouting mine so everyone would know that it wasn’t theirs but mineminemine. he made sure i knew how to be possessive.

4. when i said mine i was talking about the sky.

5. during the winter we still practiced. we went into the field house where it was humid from the pool & the chlorine & the batting cages hid behind the bleachers. security rolled down the fabric cage & my dad lifted his glove & i brought my arm around my body again & again until i struck out the side 1,2,3 & then another side 1,2,3 & then another 1,2,3. after we went for hot dogs or cheeseburgers. something bad for us & american.

6. the sun gets in our eyes when we try to catch pop-ups but we refuse to wear visors. why do we have visors like our grandmothers wear on the tennis courts but boys get to wear full hats? instead of answering my question my dad just buys me some sunglasses & asks me to focus that anger into my fastball. my friends don’t have fastballs so they focus on throwing themselves into the dirt or the grass.

7. when one of us gets hurt on the field, they tell us, rub some dirt on it. & we are always fine.

8. at dinner three years after i have quit the game my dad & i are talking about molly. she has a love of the game & my dad says she is his favorite player this year. my mom asks who his favorite player of all time has been & he says, isabelle definitely. i swirl my wine in the cup & try not to cry & think about the sound his glove made when it caught a good pitch.

9. it had a specific sound.

10. little kids will say they are so sorry so so sorry for throwing that ball out of reach or for not using two hands to catch or for hitting you with a pitch & leaving the stitches of the ball in your leg. they will say i’m sorry until someone tells them to stop saying it. until someone tells them that they should focus on the problem & fix it & stop apologizing because that takes up too much time.

11. the last time i went to a game i cried because i quit too early & last summer beyza & i played catch & i drew a crop circle where amy used to draw them & we waited to be abducted until the stars came out.

12. we have to end our games when the sun sets because the fields with the lights have grass in the middle & this means they are for the boys. amy tells me the boys get to play longer because the adults think their game is more serious. she is no longer drawing crop circles & she knows how to drop step perfectly to catch a ball hit far behind her in the outfield. we talk to my dad about the lights & he knows it’s bullshit.

13. when people talk about making it to second base they are talking about getting felt up. the bases represent the four fs: frenching, feeling, fingering, & fucking. when people talk about the fourth f, when they talk about the fourth f done well, they are also talking about seeing stars. about making another person a galaxy or becoming something like that with them.

14. when i tell katie burke that my all-star team voted me captain she laughs because i no longer seem like the kind of person who would lead a group of people who play in dirt but i used to come home & not be sure if i had a tan or needed a shower. i used to count out all our stretches.

15. divya stopped talking to me even when we had to play catch together. my dad told me she needed time & i discovered: i am very bad at space unless it is outer.

16. some people call bunting a suicide. when someone bunts, they keep the ball close to them & then they run so that everyone else on their team can also run. they bunt for the team. i am very good at outrunning this fate.