When We Die We Go To Mars
During his sophomore year in high school Andrew’s mother died after a prolonged battle with cancer. Less than a year later his father got hit by a car while crossing Pelham Parkway, dying a few days after.
We both went to Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx and were good friends back then. He had no religion or mythology to make these difficult events more comfortable to deal with, but he seemed to do okay and I did what I could to support him. But not long after his father was gone Andrew was sent to live with his father’s sister in Brooklyn and we saw each other less and less.
When we did see each other he would tell me about his new school and friends and especially his Aunt Donna. She seemed nice and was more than happy to give him the spare room that had been her son’s before he married and moved out. She treated Andrew with kindness and made sure he had whatever he needed. Having once been a chef, she also made him some amazing meals.
One small compromise Andrew had made was to sit patiently whenever his aunt got into a spin on one of the many esoteric beliefs and conspiracy theories that she was sweet on. She’d read the Theosophists, been audited by Scientology, and was even captivated with Mormonism briefly—until she encountered their racism, and underwear. (We had a good laugh on that one.)
There was the Kennedy assassination, chemtrails, 9/11, the Deep State, Reptilians and/or Illuminati ruling the world, BigPharma and the FDA hiding the hemp-based cancer cures, vaccines, even flouride. Everywhere Them with a capital T.
He said that one of her favorite conjectures to extrapolate on was actually quite different, pleasant even — the idea was that when we die we all go to Mars—and somehow continue life on another plane. Eventually, travelers from earth to the red planet would be able to re-encounter those who had passed away here.
I’m not sure what happens to those who die a second time, on Mars, he joked. Venus?
Even though Andrew had never heard it from them, she claimed that his parents also believed this and would have explained it to him when he was older. That print in your room that you brought with you, the Velázquez painting of Mars Resting, that was like a holy picture to them, she said.
Andrew appreciated that her having access to all this supposedly secret knowledge gave his aunt’s life a sense of meaning, importance, even direction. Out of respect he never outright debunked her theories, only occasionally suggesting that perhaps some of these assumptions distracted and confused actual issues that should be getting addressed.
Andrew’s new neighborhood had a park and other interesting places to hang out with his new group of friends, and life was good, so he rarely made it back to the Bronx.
We spoke briefly on the phone after he graduated. I told him that I’d been accepted at Stanford and was moving out west, pursuing a degree in psychology. Andrew seemed to be floundering, directionless, not sure what to do with his life. He said he felt like his wheels were spinning in place. He did mention with some excitement that there was a package left for him by his father that was to be released when he turned 18—which was just a couple weeks away.
We completely lost track of each other and that was the last time we spoke— until yesterday. I saw in the newspaper that he was in New York for an interview regarding being one of those who were preparing for the much heralded historic flight in the coming months. Since I was back in town on business I made a point to locate him. We met at a diner in Manhattan and he filled me in on all that had happened in the decade that had gone by.
His aunt was away visiting family in Chicago when he turned 18, but left directions to the lawyer’s office where he could pick up the package. In a small metal file box were some photographs of Andrew—fishing on a boat with his father, he and his mother playing badminton, a old Omega watch, a computer memory chip, and a cigar box. Inside the cigar box was a little golden ball and a Three Musketeers bar. He expected something more interesting but the mystery of it did captivate him.
For days afterwards Andrew struggled to find meaning in what had been left him. The watch didn’t work, the photos seemed merely favorite mementos. The chip was a static random-access memory (SRAM), possibly broken out of his old Nintendo system. He couldn’t assign any significance to it.
He focused his energy on the contents of the cigar box, particularly the Three Musketeers bar. He consulted books on chocolate confectionaries, numerology texts, even read the famous novel. It was while glancing through a biography of Alexandre Dumas—that he stumbled upon a description of a play written by Dumas, which starred an actress named Mademoiselle Mars. At the sight of that name an epiphany enveloped him, and, as if Destiny was clearly pointing with a finger, a road seemed to open up ahead of him. Of course, he thought—the candy company that made 3 Musketeers — Mars!
Until then he had ignored the candy bar, suspecting it horribly stale, but now he tore it open—and yes, a note inside. Come visit us.
When Aunt Donna returned from her trip, hearing about his experiences, she felt that her beliefs were being substantiated. She unlocked her heart and thoughts to him, recommending he do further research through science fiction — suggesting that many of those stories are in fact sacred texts that reveal hidden truths to those with open minds. With all the references to Mars that were out there, he became an avid reader of the genre. Asimov. Bradbury. Heinlein. And so many more.
His aunt also suggested he read about the scientist Nikola Tesla, a favorite among esotericists. A biography of Tesla revealed that his ashes were contained in a gold sphere in Ohio—and suddenly the little golden ball inside the cigar box also gained implication. The book led him to an article Tesla had written about his research titled ”Talking With The Planets”. Things were certainly falling into place.
Amidst his online science fiction studies Andrew stumbled upon a short story called Last Train to Teslaville. He was instantly aware that this was one of those sacred texts his aunt had spoken of, this writer was foretelling the future with blazing clarity; up to an amazing glimpse of the ultimate effects of global climate change on New York City. The literary and religious references in the story confimed his suspicions of this text.
He now fully understood his calling. The SpaceX Mars travel program responded to his inquiries and he was working with them as an intern while he completed college.
Those were the days when images were coming back from the Mars rover and the promise of travel to Mars was part of the daily news.
I was quite skeptical of all that at the time. As a therapist I felt this species needed to straighten out their behavior at home before taking it abroad. And the whole idea of colonizing Mars seemed mostly a fantasy of venture capitalist boys with way too much bitcoin and far too little empathy for the real needs of humans on earth.
Before he left the city Andrew connected me with his Aunt Donna. Now, two months later, a conference in New York on Psychopharmacology and Therapy coincided with the launch so she invited me to stay with her. She was in her eighties, still quite active, and provided me with a comfortable place to stay, and a superb meal.
I am writing down these thoughts, remembering different parts of my friendship with Andrew, and going over those amazing events that led him to where he is—there in Texas, taking off on the first giant spaceship full of people and cargo, the Wings Take Flight (WTF)—about to be launched towards Mars. In my hand is a little golden ball.
As the countdown began she said, as if to herself, I suspect he’ll be settled in by the time I arrive.
Knowing my profession she didn’t much talk about her ideas regarding Mars and an afterlife.
And I do wonder, she added, if they know he’s on his way.
© AleXander Hirka 2019. All Rights Reserved.
© AleXander Hirka 2020. All Rights Reserved.
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Tempest Tossed in New York City — writing and art and life in New York City.