Brazos River

1981. Brazoria County, Texas.

He comes up out of the water, ropeswing dangling a wet knot overhead, comes up from the cold, dirty water and smoke mists off his skin.  The water’s so cold, skin so hot, makes steam even in the warm spring.  Steamsmoke licking away, but just for awhile, until the water is gone, the skin chilled down closer to the water’s temperature, then it just becomes plain old skin.  His older brother told him it was on account of all the chemicals poured into the river by the plant where Mom worked, but his brother was born stupid and mean.

Today he climbs up the tree holding the rope swing, watches all the others swing off the platform below made out of four-by-fours by the old guy who owns the land.  Some said that if the old man ever caught any kids there he’d shoot first and ask questions if he ever felt like knowing.  But Martin is smarter than that.  He doesn’t worry about old men with shotguns anymore than he worries about his older brother or chemical plants or girls or owning a car some day or making the football team.  He reaches inside his baseball cap and pulls out a joint he has stolen from his older brother, who is now off in the woods with Nancy trying to get himself a screw.

He lights the joint with matches made damp from his wet fingers, snorting smoke off the end through his nose.  This makes him look like a pro.  Girls get off on guys who smoke a lot of dope.  He has been practicing.

Couple of the girls have brought pint bottles of Peach Schnapps, God-awful stuff, but it takes the edge off like it should.  They’re passing the bottles down from the bank to the boys in the water and the boys drag on them, then toss them back up.  The squat, hairy boy who races cars a lot says that they should all get naked and they all tease each other, saying they will, saying they aren’t scared, but of course nobody gets naked.  Pussies.

Martin lets them all go off by themselves, back in the trucks, back up Camp Road by the pipeline, stays by himself.  Joint is all gone now.  Horizon turns grey and when he moves his eyes from side to side, the greygreen tree-line bucks up on the ends, just enough to force him to blink it back in place.  Time gets down real slow, till his head clears up a bit.  Then he puts on his hat, takes the rope and swings out over the water, not dropping in, just swinging out over it.  He doesn’t lean into the swing, just lets it rock smaller and smaller till he’s barely circling at all, more from the slow breeze than anything else.  He stays like that with his face on the damp, coarse rope till the sun is going down, or rather, until he notices the sun is almost gone, till he’s almost fallen asleep and the dope is done making the horizon buck.

He dips down in the water trying to make no splash at all.  He had heard once that the Indians who lived on this river long ago could do that.  They could jump in the river and not make a splash.  But he can’t do it.

Swims across to the other side, climbs out of the mud, tennies digging in sloppy, and walks across the thick grass watching the smoke come off his skin.

Barely light out then.  Enough to see a good distance, but not enough to last, and by the time he walks the whole four miles back to the house it’s dark—Texas summer dark, as inviting as home.  Fireflies are stretching and yawning in quick circles along the pipeline a ways from the gravel road.  He watches them as best he can, trying to bring back the stoned feeling, but he can’t do it.

Around the sharp curve, he comes up on the tank farm.  Last stretch home.  The big white elephant tanks squat on the ground, behind the fire-walls—round ring humps of dirt circling the great white beasts.  Behind the tank farm, flares from the petroleum waste lick out little blue feathers against a darker blue sky.  He is sober now.  He is walking the gravel road home in muddy shoes, wet cut-off jean shorts cooling in the twilight. Sober thoughts come to his mind:

I am bigger than those tanks.  Bigger than this road.  I will not die in this Goddamn town.  Just a few years from now I’ll be gone.  They will not remember me and I will not remember them.  This road will make me cry one day, remembering it, one day when I’m gone, when I’m in a city or a foreign country.  A foreign place that will seem like home.

Boston On That Very First Day

1988. Autumn. Boston.

Martin arrives in Boston on a perfect day in August of 1988. This is the first time he has ever seen the campus. The year before, he had decided to spend the next four years of his life there sight unseen. Hubris works both ways: good and bad. This would turn out to be one of the very best decisions of his life, and he made it without really thinking at all.

Miles Standish Hall. The taxi from Logan Airport drops him off. There, in front of this beautiful, historic-looking building (all the buildings in Boston look historic to him) he and several other freshmen board a small, charter bus that will drive them down Commonwealth Avenue while an upper-classman gives them a guided tour of Boston University.

Something in his belly—no, in his solar plexus—yes, something in his solar plexus begins to burn. He feels himself coming alive. By all rights, he should be frightened, or at least wary. But look at him. There he is: all of eighteen years old, straight from nowhere (for he truly thinks of Sweeny, Texas as literally nowhere), all alone in the great big city of Boston, where he knows not one single person, and despite all this, his eyes are alive with excitement as he looks directly into the eyes of his fellow students, his fellows—and his eyes say Yes, I am with you. I hear you. I know you. Because I am one of you. And without even thinking about it, he accepts this new reality. He becomes one of them. No, that’s not quite right. He becomes aware that he is one of them. That he has always been one of them. On this first day away from that little nowhere town, that insignificant blank space on the map just south of B.F.E., this first day away from the only world he has ever known for his entire life, within a matter of minutes…he sees that he is home. And so what is there to fear?

Years later, as much older man, say about 40, and living back in Houston, maybe one day as he’s looking out the window of his Heights home that he shares with his perfect, beautiful, loving wife and their two perfect, beautiful, loving Pugs, he will wonder to himself: Why that bus? Why does the memory of that bus ride stand out? For he can, in his 40s, remember very little at all about that very first day in Boston:

  1. Waiting at Logan airport for his bag, he saw a Japanese girl so captivatingly beautiful that he actually prayed she would be going to B.U.
  2. Getting on the T at West Campus and asking a couple of young ladies if he needed exact change, and the leader of the two didn’t even answer his question, but instead dove right in with her own:

YANKEE GIRL: Are you from the South or somethin’?

—and he was caught! busted! red-handed! redneck-throated! so he laughed it off and boarded the train and made a promise to himself, then and there, to destroy that Texas drawl—and while he was at it, why not tell everyone he was from Houston? yes, that’d be best, wouldn’t it? yes, it would save him, when asked about his origins, from needing to elaborate on geography and biography, yes, best to just decide to be from Houston, which isn’t even really lying, right?, because that was in fact where he was born—and people from Houston do not speak with that backwoods, dumbass, racist, hick-from-the-sticks, Texas drawl—Houston is not Texas, Houston is part of the real world, just like Boston.

  1. Meeting his roommate for the very first time—Christopher Hamilton, a total white-bread boy from the East Coast, a pot-smoking suburbanite, a ruddy faced trombone playing music major whom Martin knew immediately would be easy to get along with, but never really be a great friend.

And that’s it. Myriad other moments are still there in his mind, looking out that window onto Louise Street, but of all those memories, those that can be honestly verified as originating on that first day: only those three.

The Girl From Alphabet City

1994. Autumn. Manhattan.

She has a tattoo of a dolphin on her ass.  She’s always talking about dolphins and how they’re spiritual and more intelligent, more pure, than humans.  Shit like that.  Later, Martin won’t really remember much of what she says because he never really pays attention.  She talks way too much.  No way he could get it all.  Plus they’re usually drunk.

She lives in a “theatre space” down in Alphabet City—a big room on the ground floor, lofts and makeshift bedrooms wedged in around on the other floors.  Maybe it was once a firehouse or something, but the bohemians took it over and converted it into a place to live.  Sort of.

The name of the place is Collective Unconscious. Ave. B and 2nd St.

The first time Martin meets her she’s working the door at an open mic night—buncha freaks reading poetry and singing songs and doing monologues from plays they’d never finish.  They almost all suck.  But Martin and Dan need a space and these bohemians have one so Martin and Dan go down to check it out.

She’s sitting on a stool with one foot (in a Doc Marten boot) propped up across the doorway, her leg showing skin all the way from the boot to the bottom of her cut-off jean shorts.  Martin makes a vaguely sexual comment and she laughs.  He pays the cover and she lifts her leg like a drawbridge and he moves past it.

He doesn’t remember now how it first happened that he was in her bedroom.  It was probably after his show.

Having performed Mona for a few years by this point, he has decided that he’s just going to do the show to pick up women and he isn’t going to feel like a whore anymore.  Or if he feels like a whore, he isn’t going to let it bother him.

(This change of heart comes remarkably easy, it should be noted.)

She likes to smoke in bed. While fucking. She’s on top of him one of those first nights, grinding away, and he’s holding back, dutifully waiting for her to come—which isn’t difficult, thanks to the condom—and when she reaches her peak she laughs triumphantly and settles herself into an upright position, with him still inside her.

She leans over and grabs her purse off a cardboard box that doubles as a nightstand and book shelf. Candles are burning around the room. The temperature is barely warm—the kind of warm that feels dry and uneven; the kind of warm you can tell is coming from the radiators, pushing away at the constant attack of cold air coming from outside, the way it always feels on a winter night in New York or Boston.

She takes a pack of Camel Lights and tosses the purse back in the room, almost knocking over one of the candles. She lights up, takes a deep drag, inhales, and lets it out slowly, as if she had just devoured a 16-ounce Porterhouse steak. She looks down at him. He looks up at her. Neither of them move.

A still moment.

Dangerously still.

He has had lots of moments like that with women. Those moments are dangerous because it’s still early in the relationship and you’re both asking yourselves, Is it okay that we look at each other like this? Are you okay with it? Am I okay with it? Am I going to let myself love you? Could I love you? Could you love me? Could this become a love that bears out quiet stillnesses like this one? It’s also dangerous because the answers remain unspoken—perhaps one of you is thinking Yes while the other is thinking No.

Martin can tell she is thinking Yes. He can tell by the glimmer in her eyes. By the way she lets her lips part to take a breath—breathing, not into her lungs, but into her heart.

Martin makes himself look like he’s thinking Yes but he’s really thinking No.

Martin’s good at that. Too good. It’s a terrible, terrible thing to be good at. He doesn’t do it anymore, of course. He doesn’t know why he ever did it. He thinks maybe because he wanted to love her. To love her and all the others like her. If he didn’t love them he just kept trying to. He liked the act of falling in love. When a woman is falling in love with you it feels like a thousand angels taking flight in your heart. When a woman looks at you with the glow of new love, hopeful love, love that sees the future opening up before her, it fills your bloodstream like a drug, a pure clean opiate—you know it won’t last but that’s okay because you can always get more.

She looks down at him like that.

And she starts to grind.

He takes the cigarette from her, drags deeply, hands it back. She holds it in her mouth, the smoke streaming up, and takes each of his hands in hers to balance herself. She grinds harder, leaning into him, putting weight in her arms to push back harder and faster with her pelvis. He looks up at her and thinks to himself, There is nothing else in the world but this. I am here inside this strange and wonderful woman. New York City. 1993. I am 23 years old. My life is full and I am still hungry.

Thinking that makes him come. When he does, he sits up fast, buries his face in her chest, wraps his arms around her, holds her, shaking gently, as if to say to her, That wasn’t just sex, that was something more. Or more specifically, That started as just sex, but somewhere in the middle it turned into something more. Something surprising that scares me, but I like it.

She takes the cigarette from her mouth and strokes his back. He looks up into her eyes. Another dangerous still moment. He kisses her soft and carefully. When he stops kissing her, he doesn’t pull away, he just holds his lips against hers, his cheek close to hers, his quivering heart close enough to hers for her to feel it.

Dangerous. Still.

He doesn’t really love her, but he’s trying to. He wants to. He wants her to love him regardless.


Everything goes on like that for a few weeks, then one night the two of them are out with some of his friends and she gets too drunk and embarrasses him. They speak on the phone once after that. They can’t officially end it because it never officially began. When they hang up, nothing is settled. His mouth tastes bitter.

A week later her house burns down.

Martin gets a call from Dan.

DAN:  The Collective Unconscious burned down and we aren’t going to be able to do the show.

Martin is relieved to know that they won’t have to do the show, but he doesn’t say so. He doesn’t say anything. He’s hungover. He had been up all night doing blow and drinking vodka, so he’s had only a couple of hours of raw, after-coke sleep and he’s more annoyed at having to answer the phone than shocked at the news. Dan senses this.

DAN: I just found out. I thought I should let you know.

And the way he says it sounds almost like an apology—but more than that, it sounds like Dan is incredulous that he has to apologize for this, incredulous at Martin’s lack of concern, at Martin’s annoyance, at Martin’s hungoverness, at Martin’s everything. Which, of course, Dan is. And which, of course, Dan has every right to be, what with the way Martin has been acting for the past, oh, year or so. Martin grumbles out something.

MARTIN: Of course. No. Thanks. Yeah. Wow. So.

Dan realizes that Martin is an empty sack of detoxing cells and wraps it up without hiding it.

DAN: So. Okay. That’s it then. Sorry to wake you.

Martin goes back to sleep.

(This guiltless sleep comes remarkably easy, it should be noted.)

A few hours later, he calls the theatre. One of the half-dozen other people who live there answers, speaking into the phone as if he had been fielding annoying calls from people like Martin all morning—without so much as a “hello,” he just picks up the receiver and says:

ARTSY GUY ON PHONE: The fire burned half of everything and the water destroyed everything else. The theatre is closed. Nobody got hurt.

And just as abruptly, the artsy guy hangs up.

Martin is free. He’s off the hook. He can’t even call her. She will have to call him.

She never does.

He can’t even remember her name now.

It might have been Crystal, but he’s probably wrong.

Prologue: Floating in Space

How I came to be here—marooned on this space station that is floating helplessly away from Earth—is not important right now. It’s important. Just not right now. If I start my story with that, it will take over everything—it will seem more important than everything else. And it’s not. It’s the same amount of important as everything else. So you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that I’ll get to it when the time is right.


For now, here’s what you need to know to put your mind at ease:

My name is Martin Reales.

I’m in a space station that became unmoored from its orbit.

I am not an astronaut. I’m a passenger.

I am alone.

All the other people who were here with me went back to Earth.

They did not abandon me. No one is to blame. It’s no one’s fault.

Mistakes were made. Choices.

I am floating in the dark vast of space and I have no control over my trajectory.

There is no one to rescue me.

I will not be saved.

I will die here.

But that will take a long time. Years, in fact. I have plenty of provisions to last me the rest of my natural life, which is about half-over anyway. At least I hope so. Barring any unforeseeable calamities (there are no celestial obstructions in my current path, at least not for several thousand years), I will eat and drink and live the next half of my life for about as long as I would have if I had stayed on Earth.

I’ll just be doing it alone.

The only people I have to keep me company here in my floating home are those who may be found in the books and films stored in my computer library—which is no small number because I have thousands of them—maybe hundreds of thousands.


Someday, long after I’m dead, this space station, along with my story that I am writing here, may be found. Or, it may never be found.

It will not change the importance of my story either way.

My story needs to be told. It does not need to be heard. I hope it will be, but it does not need to be.

It is the same amount of important either way.


No story is more important than mine. And mine is no more important than any other.

Not in “the grand scheme of things.” Because there is no grand scheme of things.

“God’s eye view” is just another vantage point—another center of the universe in an infinite number of centers of the universe. Maybe even infinite universes.


One more thing:

This story is true. All of it. None of the names have been changed because by the time anyone finds this, they’ll all be long dead.

Long dead.

That didn’t actually hit me until I wrote it just now.

Man, that fucking hurts. Goddamn.


Well, it’s too late now, but I need to say something to them.

To all the people I knew in my life. All my friends. All my family. All my acquaintances.

To all of you whose paths crossed mine in the map of my story, of our stories, I say this:

I loved you.

I loved you more than you could ever know.

Every single one of you.

Everyone who shared a piece of his or her life with me in Texas, in Boston, in New York, and all the other places along the way.

Everyone. Every piece of each and every life–no matter how small.

Each and every piece was precious. Perfect.

You meant more to me than you ever knew.

I carried each piece of you with me every day for the rest of my story.

I carry each piece of you here with me now, into the dark vast.

I only wish I had told you when I could.

But maybe, hopefully, you knew anyway.