As the hatch closes, I feel my daughter’s hand reach in and touch my fingers. She pulls back quickly. I hear the hatch click, the hiss of the air pumping in and then quiet. She says I love you and places her right hand on the glass above me. I reach up. Her husband pulls her away and sunlight fills the sling.
“Just like you asked for,” says a voice in my ear, “we’re going to play “Space Oddity.” The guitar starts, teases the drums out. I take a deep breath as David Bowie’s voice starts. “We’re gong in five.”
Five seconds later, the sling tilts forward and I’m standing straight up. Far in the distance, I see the line of the ocean and below me, the launch track drops away before arcing forward and toward the sky. “In five, we’re going skyward.”
Five seconds later, I feel the first rocket fire and the sling drops, lurches down at the earth. The track clacks and clangs, metal on metal, machine gun slamming. I’m weightless for a moment, then my shoulder straps are keeping my head from hitting the the top of the sling. My neck compresses, it hurts. I put my hands in the pockets over my belly. The ocean on the horizon gets a little higher in the distance. The second rocket hits, the shoulder and waist straps clamp down, sucking me deeper into the sling and I’m one with the shaking and buckling. I bite my tongue and blood fills my mouth when the third rocket hits, and I know my feet are pointing at the sky. I know I’ve passed the bottom of the track because the ocean disappears and sky fills the glass again. It feels like my throat is lodged into the bottom of my brain and I can’t breathe. The track gets madder, a metal tornado, high pitched metal pinging and then the track is gone as the fourth and fifth rockets fire. Now it’s nothing but sound my ears and brain can’t understand maybe this is what people hear when they skydive. Just one flat harsh tone blanketing the eardrums. The sky outside the glass gets darker.
It’s cold now.