My grandfather is a tall man named Sloane who wrote for a living. Skin and bones beneath black suit jackets and reporter cap; a pencil and paper sort of guy.

He grew up in southern Indiana, just north of the Kentucky border near Louisville. God's country, he called it. And God's country he meant.

It wasn't the bible belt, I can tell you that much right now. And my grandfather is not a God fearing man. He never much believed the hype. But it was country beauty, it was nature. It was the edge of something that we never get back, that's for sure.

The weather where I am is beautiful. It rains a lot but you get used to it and learn to appreciate the beauty it brings. I have been to far away places and in no place do I think that the phrase "April showers bring May flowers" is more apparent than here.

This place has always been my home. Oh I have seen Europe and lived on the East coast and traveled throughout the nation. But I keep coming back here. And I wouldn't dream of trading it for any other place of the world.

But my grandfather would trade it all off in seconds. He dreams of Indiana still, I can hear it in faint whispers while he cooks, I can catch it in the ink of his pen when he writes about it. I can feel it in the heat of his breath when he tells stories about God's country.

My grandfather has been my favorite person, always. And this is why.

He went to Korea when he was 19 years old. He doesn't talk much about what he saw there. He wrote articles and updates for the Army to send out to press. He said he kept it basic, never put his heart in it. Wrote what they wanted him to write and compromised the details in order to avoid having it all come down at once to break his heart. Dreamed every day of the day when it was all over for him and he could come home.

Until he met my grandmother, an Army nurse, in the mess hall on a Sunday evening. 1800 hours on the dot, he said. Standing in her civies chatting to her commanding officer about supplies. Love at first sight. He was 22 by this time and she had just turned 20. He claims he walked right up, tapped her on the shoulder and asked to dance, right then and there, in a mess hall full of dirty soldiers and broken hearts. Swept her right off her feet.

So when the war was over and they were sent back to the states, he followed her right back to Oregon. Sent his best wishes to Indiana and kissed it goodbye. Settled down and turned a forest into a vineyard and called it home. Got a daytime job as a reporter for a city newspaper and worked in the vineyard in the evenings and weekends. Loved every minute of the life he was building.

My grandmother gave him a son and two daughters. Andrew, Katherine, and Rebecca.

He will tell you at this point, that he never thought about Indiana again until his youngest daughter was a child. Because it was in her, that he saw himself. Intrigued by details and nature and the wonder of it all. Spent her afternoons playing in the dirt and digging up tiny treasures instead of playing dolls and dress up with her sister. Wasn't even interested in the cars or sports like her brother. Just wanted to be left alone, on the back of the vineyard with her hand shovel and notebook. Already an explorer; already obviously his daughter.

He waited until she was eighteen to take her to see his Indiana. Wanted to wait until she was old enough to appreaciate it. Didn't want to wait too long.

Years later, when I too reached that age, my grandfather took me to Indiana as well. Oh I had been before, twice in fact, both in honor of dead people. But those were quick visits as a young child, only to be escorted back on to a plane and back to Oregon. No time to explore, no time to visualize.

My grandfather and I made the trip by car, across back highways and through small towns. We mapped it out without using a single interstate.

My grandfather's Indiana is different from most people's version of the state. It is not Indianapolis; it is not Gary or Bloomington. It is not highway or interstate and it is not cornfield.

It is tree lined winding roads that small animals like to run out on. It is hay trucks moving slowly. It is old Catholic churches circa 1850. It is sunshine and tiny mountains and back country and people. People, I said, people. That is what God's country is made of. It is pumpkins and fall colors and lordy, and and and. There is so much that my grandfather's Indiana is. In his own words, it is beauty, simply put.

My grandfather, to the best of my knowledge, has not taken another trip to Indiana since the one that he took with me.

He misses it.

My grandfather is an old man now. Old. He writes things down to hold on to them. He thumbs through pictures just to remember. He holds on to the last of his fading memories and talks about them because he is sure that if he doesn't talk about them, he'll lose them. He loses himself. Wraps himself up in the past to protect himself from the present. Inhales deeply the perfume of his wife and remembers her; tastes pasta and remembers his mother. Closes his eyes as if time will stop right there and then, if only for a few minutes, and let him go back.

Remembers the memories to forget the future.

He says, memories are meant to be shared anyway. Listen while you are still capable of appreciating beauty, he says.

He has no pictures of Indiana to rummage through. He only has syllables on old legal paper describing the scenes that he remembered. Even I cannot describe the scenes that he has penned on faded yellow paper.

He asks me to come over on the weekends, and read Indiana to him.

I read for hours, and keep reading the words over and over in my head for hours after I leave. They are the most beautiful and most passionately written words I have ever encountered. They are his memories, his dreams of Indiana.

He makes his children and grandchildren promise, as old men often do, that we will see to it that he gets home someday.

I promise, I say. I promise.
Funny, the way time slows down when you're staring death in the face. The sound of a torpedo striking your deck is incredible. The sound, the light, the heat. Vacuum. Rushing to fill the spaces around you where air was but a moment before. Unconciousness. The calm before the storm. And then... rebirth.

-- and I am falling no not falling flying flying toward the hole in the sky toward the water but the water doesn't have stars or wind or the noise the noise the noise and oh God, they actually hit us, those bastards actually shot us, and they're shooting to kill, you don't shoot the bridge unless you're shooting to kill Jesus help us, and... calm. I have to calm down, the hull is breached and we're all going to die and rust-orange fluid is leaking where the wall used to be, the ship is bleeding, it's dying and it's bleeding like a living thing and oh God CALM, dammit.

If you're lucky, the explosion might kill you. If not, the hard vacuum of space will finish the job. You will be bodily ripped from the cabin that was, only moments before, intact. It's been said that you will survive in the vacuum of space for about thirty seconds. It's been proven that you will remain concious for about fourteen.

Falling, I'm falling, why haven't they sealed the breach yet, grab on to something, anything, oh God was that hair? I think that was someone's hair and a mess, I think it was their face, their face, oh Jesus they were too close, too close to the hull and I'm not going to make it...

Thirty seconds.

Detrius, expelled at speed from its container. An infintesimal speck in space.

There is no God. There is no God, there is no soul, I am going to die out here, cold and broken and alone. Who is going to be left? Who is going to tell my family? Oh God, my family...

Six years ago, that night was... we were swimming. It was cold, yeah, but she went in first and I wasn't going to let her show me up. "Hey Frank, cold?" She was always a tease. "Who, me? Aww hell no." I could barely keep my damn teeth from chattering. Breasts floating above the moon refracted and drifting on ripples. I thought I might love her then.

Twenty-eight seconds.

Ears pop as the pressure equalizes. Air in your lungs expands. If you were holding your breath on decompression, they may rupture, like a pair of balloons that ventured too high into the sky.

When I was fourteen, I lost my virginity. My first time was in the back seat of a high-school senior's car. I thought I was on top of the world until her boyfriend beat me up.

Twenty-four seconds.

Saliva boils in vacuum.

Four months before the lake, downtown Seattle. Stumbling from one dive of a bar to next, always drunk. I ran into her then, I guess. Literally ran into. Knocked her flat on her ass. "Oh, shit! Sorry!" I must have helped her up, I don't remember. I must have helped her up. Saw her eyes. "Sorry, lady. My... my name is Frank." She has this look, she looks right into your soul. She used it then; must have liked what she saw. She dusted off her ass and smiled. "Sandy." I scratched my head and took a chance. "Hey, you busy? Let me buy you a drink." She nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, okay."

Twenty-one seconds.

The skin and underlying tissue begins to swell because of the difference in pressure, though the tensile strength of the epidermis prevents a human being from physically exploding in vacuum.

"Marry me." "Yes." We were wed after eight months, it was maybe the best thing that had happened to me for a long, long time. "You may kiss the bride." And later that night, "There's no going back now, Frank." Straight to my face, blunt. God, I love her. "I know... I know. I think I'm okay with that."

Eighteen seconds.

The beginning of a bad sunburn forms as the skin absorbs unbuffered solar radiation.

Twenty-two years ago. I was eight. I fell out of a tree, broke my arm in two places. Funny, I remember falling, and running into the house after, but I don't remember hitting the ground.

Thirteen seconds.

Unconciousness as oxygen-deprived blood begins to reach the brain.

Drafted. The pirates came out of the asteroid belt without warning and without mercy. By the time the sun rose on Earth the next morning, Mars Colony was a smoking ruin. Drafted. A solar navy was erected almost overnight to fight a new war. The pirates must have been laughing as the first-wave assault died on the beaches of that new Normandy, maybe more ships falling to the hazards of combat in an asteroid belt than to the pirates themselves. Maybe two hundred men came back from that first attack, out of four thousand. I was still in bootcamp.

Ten seconds.

Nitrogen gas dissolved in the bloodstream begins to coalesce into bubbles. Divers call it "the bends."

Sandy... Sandy... Forgive me, baby.

I cheated on her once. Just once. Three days before I shipped out, second wave. I thought I was going to die, we all did. Prostitutes in a sleazy hotel an hour from base. It felt good, I guess, calmed my nerves, but I felt dirty. Never again. Never again.

Eight seconds.

One last phonecall. "I love you." "I love you." "Come back to me in one piece, okay?" "Okay, babe. Be strong." There were no tears. Thank God for that. I probably would have broken down and bawled in front of eight thousand guys.

Five seconds.

Two-hundred fifteen ships launching, one every seventeen seconds. Forty-five more launching from the moon on rendezvous paths. Twenty-two hours to fly over what was left of Mars Colony, just a smoggy blot from orbit. Two days to get into position for the assault.

Three seconds.

Injuries begin to accumulate. The body begins to shut down.

We had a kid, that first year we were married, a baby girl. Sara. She's beautiful. Has her mother's eyes. Her smile too, now that she's older. Another one, a brother. Justin. My babies, my beautiful babies.

One second.

Oh God keep them safe keep my family safe don't let them ever know this kind of life in this kind of God damned war just please don't let me die for nothing, keep them safe, keep them safe, keep them...

I love you, Sandy.


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