You’re standing in the airlock listening to a diminishing hiss. The needle on the pressure meter is still in the green, but not for long. Soon, in minutes, it’ll cross that threshold between green and yellow, and you wonder if you’ll feel uncomfortable. Not worried. Just curious.
You’re getting cooler, too. It isn’t cold yet, but you figure you’ll be frozen solid by the time it’s uncomfortably cold.
The airlock isn’t large, but big enough for three or four people in puffy EVA suits, so it feels luxuriously spacious now, alone, wearing nothing but jeans and a t-shirt. About the size of your first apartment with her. That was a crazy, busy, time for both of you. Part time jobs, full time school, friends everywhere. Sleep was for the old and the dead. That was four years of work, study, sex, fast food, trips home, weekends in orbit, internships on the moon. Four years out of eighty, four great years, but not even the best years.
You push yourself off the back wall and float toward the outer door, then grab the overhead rung with ancient wrinkled hands and hold steady before the small window. Your nose bumps the glass – triple paned and thick – but you’re still shocked at how cold it is. You realize you’ve never touched with your bare hands any part of the outer hull, and you wonder if you’ll still be conscious when the door slides open. It’d be cool to lay your old hands on the exterior of the station, if only for a moment.
You’re looking through the window at the stars, at the millions you can see, wondering about the billions you can’t, sugar sprinkled on black velvet, but more, and denser, and blacker and alive. You crane your neck and try to look in all directions at once, but the glass is cold and you’re feeling colder, and your neck starts to cramp, so you back away and stand straight and breathe and close your eyes.
And you think of the life you’re leaving behind. You can see in your mind the moment you met her, how it seems like a million life chapters ago and how it seems like it was yesterday. You can see her smile and hear her call your name, and you can see her holding the babies – first one, then she’s a little older and holding another, then she’s older and she’s holding another. And you can see the evolution of your children from babies to people, responsible and with babies of their own. And somehow sixty trips around the sun have gone by since that first apartment, and together you lived and thrived and, finally after a lucky and earned full life, she died.
You’re standing in the airlock listening to the diminishing hiss, hoping you’ll be with her soon. Hoping the children will understand. They should be getting the queued message soon, and you hope you wrote enough. You hope they can explain the importance of each moment to their own children, and you hope they live each day with the gratitude you are feeling at this moment.
It wasn’t always easy, but by embracing the inevitability of the end, you found peace and patience and joy every day.
Your eyes are closed, and the hissing stops, and you can feel the airlock door slide open, and a warm gentle hand rests on your arm, pulling you out into the sunlight, and you know you’ll never stop feeling grateful.