Celestial Bodies

Celestial Bodies

Celestial Bodies 1920 1440 Ruyi Wen


Pulsars are your kindred spirits. You start emulating them before you can walk. Your baby crawl is no match for a three-year-old’s sprint and snatch. But you soon discover that if you sit on your diapered bottom and spin in circles on the hardwood floor, no one can steal the cherished lovey out of your hands. Your brother orbits you, grasping at the treasure that is forever falling away from him. Eventually, he falls away too, like a castaway planet. But objects in motion tend to stay in motion. You continue to rotate, even when no one’s watching.

You take up figure skating as soon as you learn what it is. You never get good at the jumps; even a single axel sends you crashing into the white asphalt. But your spins are stellar. Laybacks, doughnuts, one-handed Biellmanns. Your favorite is a simple upright. When you draw in your arms, your face and hair blur into each other at five revolutions per second. Anyone who dares get too close in those moments will be sent spiraling into the boards. You wonder if you can jettison the unwanted parts of yourself too, if you could just spin a little faster.

You frequently collapse as soon as you step off the ice, like a sailor whose land legs have gone missing. The doctors blame the spins, talk of burst capillaries and mini-concussions, tell you to slow down or black out. You know it is inevitable. Even pulsars, who spin with the regularity of cesium clocks, throw off so much of their essence that they slow into obscurity within mere millions of years, a blink within a cosmic lifespan.

But like the pulsar, you go on spinning.



At one point in time, your life’s ambition is to go out in a blaze of glory, like a supernova. Dying young is fine, even preferable, as long as your legacy is legend. In your dreams, your tomb harbors a trove of precious metals that spawns a thousand emerging stars. Civilizations owe their existence to you.

But if you cannot manage supernova status, your secret backup plan—which you cannot divulge to others due to social convention, First Amendment exceptions, forum moderators who can’t take a joke, etc.—is to be a meteorite. Destruction is as good as creation, ice as sufficient as fire, as long as you are remembered, revered, feared.

But as you sit in this room of gray-white walls and buzzing fluorescent lights and grim faces, those thoughts are nowhere to be found. All you can think of are the deprivations and excesses you volunteered for, chased after, embraced. All those years you spent betraying your body, bending it to your will, daring it to break.

Now your body is betraying you.

You must have known it would happen sometime. You have been joking about it for years. But only when you get the phone call asking you to return to this room, telling you there is something serious to discuss down that corridor, do you understand what you have taken for granted and what is gone.

You pretend to read a tattered periodical while your foot taps out a nervous plea in Morse code, begging the universe to forgive you your delusions of supernovae. If you could be granted the fate of a dim but steady red dwarf, you would be so, so grateful. . . .

Does the universe answer your prayer? You must do as the name of this room bids you, and wait.



The few people who still come to visit you at the retirement home stare curiously when you describe the half-packed suitcase lying like an open book in the corner of your mind. They shake their heads at your talk of a black hole in your future. You realize that’s a one-way trip, they say, as if you are a simpleton who has never looked into the matter. You are old enough to know that everything is a one-way trip.

Are you afraid? they ask. What do you think the journey’s like? What’s on the other side? They want to know all the spoilers before reading the story themselves.

You smile and reply, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, even though you do. The black hole tugging you forward is not the only one that weighs on your mind. Another one has already started nibbling away at your past, slurping the memories and people from your earliest days into itself. To your (relatively) young visitors, your childhood is as unfathomable as the phantasmic futures of a hundred years hence. For them, the present is all that exists, a brief streak of daylight between two infinite nights. What lies behind and before is visible only through the thought experiments of gothic fantasies or space operas.

The travel literature tells you one of the unique properties of a black hole is that whether you try to run toward it or away from it, you accelerate into the singularity faster than you would otherwise. It is like standing at the North Pole; every direction is south. The slowest journey to the center of a black hole is one in which you stand still and do nothing. You leave your suitcase in its state of perpetual ambiguity and watch as the dual edges of darkness yawn, opening their jaws to slowly swallow you up.

Header photograph © Mane Hovhannisyan.

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