For as long as she could remember, Chris had been trying to escape gravity.
She was the kid in the cast who had thought she could will herself into the air from the roof of her house.
She was the track and fielder who cleared her hurdles with room to spare. Who seemed to take that bit longer to come back to the ground.
She was the youth who thought she might have discovered some truth about flying with her first love:
It comes from the stomach.
When they caught each other’s eye in Bio. Brushed arms walking between classes. Brushed lips on her rusting childhood swing set.
It all happened in the stomach. A lift. An untethering in your gut.
Bernoulli’s Effect was all well and good, but even in the freefall of parabolic flight, where dreamers and thrill seekers climbed into metal birds and launched themselves into the sky like thrown balls, it all came back to the stomach.
And Chris thought this might be a truth to living things. Plants had roots not only to nurture, but to keep their grip on the earth. All other living things had stomachs and belief in their weight; this was their tether. Even birds, who fight gravity when it suits them, always settle back to earth.
If Chris could discover her own tether, perhaps she could free herself of her own weight.
She could do it, she thought—forget her own weight. It was a person’s tether to the earth and their place on it that made astronauts lose their lunch in space. Or her father, who couldn’t stomach the rise and fall of all the roller coasters Chris had ever dragged him to. It had to be.
In college, she studied advanced physics. Astronomy. Calculus. String theory, quantum theory, any theory that tried to understand gravity.
Gravity was a reality. Gravity was an illusion. Gravity was emergent.
She wondered at plants in an introductory course on botany. Then Human Anatomy, to contemplate the stomach.
She told no one of her conviction in the earthly tether she had so frequently felt tug at her guts.
When she would begin to forget, she braved the fall of love.
But love always was just that: a fall. An apt metaphor, Chris thought, because if you weren’t falling in it, you were falling out of it, and once it wasn’t there to buffer you, you were bound to come back to earth with a crash. With gravity.
Chris ended up with a degree in Religious Studies. Her sophomore year she had taken a class that spoke passingly of tethers. How they come in material and prideful attachments.
She had switched her major the very next day and shed whatever attachments she thought she could spare. But, for all she could find, her new course of study had about as much to say with certainty on the subject of gravity as her old one. By the time she could be certain of this much, she had shaken the dean’s hand with one of her own and received her degree with the other.
We were all hurtling through life in the dark, as far as she could tell—gravity, perhaps, merely the inertial side effect of speed and ambiguity.
It was a bleaker thought than any single one she’d had in her young life, and in the instant following this ideation, Chris knew that gravity would fail to drag her down through either speed or ambiguity, for she would teach herself to rejoice in them.
She searched out ambiguity wherever she went and applied this new categorical unknowingness whenever she could. Ambiguity was curiosity, so she asked, “Why?” and admitted, “I don’t know.” It was helplessness, so she surrendered. So, too, was it laughter, and so Chris laughed.
Speed was ever-present in the way the days slurred into next days. It made itself known as months slid by.
Chris climbed and fell, flew then crashed, and still gravity would not release her. And yet, she rejoiced.
Chris found love again, amazed not to fall into it, but unfold it, uncover it, pick it up and choose it. Ambiguity was love, and so she loved.
She reconnected with friends lost to her college days of emotional asceticism, because attachments only dragged one down for fear of their potential demise. Potential was speed times ambiguity, so Chris taunted gravity with attachments and delighted in them.
Speed carried Chris in all her love and revelry toward the only certainty anyone could seem to agree on: death.
Ambiguity was death, however, so Chris shrugged and laughed and surrendered to it and was amazed.
Ambiguity was beauty, and so she swam in it.
The only certainty beyond uncertainty that Chris ever managed to hold on to was that she would one day escape gravity.
She rejoiced so readily now in the face of speed and ambiguity that she told people of this child’s dream, tempting speed to take them away. Some laughed and walked away. Some laughed and stayed. Ambiguity was not knowing who would do which, and so Chris surrendered to it.
And speed found a higher gear.
Ambiguity was potential and it was death, and Chris’s mom grew sick.
Speed found a higher gear.
Ambiguity was accidents, and the dog died.
And speed found a higher gear.
Chris’s love left her, wishing Chris could have been sadder, for each gear-shift had sent its grief through Chris much like a shockwave: in, through, and out the other side, diminishing until it was muffled by softness. Until it was gone.
Speed found yet a higher gear.
And Chris tried to revel in it, but joy was not always easy. Nothing was always anything; that was the certainty of ambiguity.
Her shockwaves of grief had left behind an accumulating residue of uncertainty. Uncertainty as to whether or not she was sad enough. As to how she should continue.
As to the utter inescapability of gravity after all.
Uncertainty could be bitter.
Maybe she would never be free of gravity. Maybe she couldn’t.
With an easy reluctance, Chris finally let go of the certainty with which she had known she would fly since that rooftop morning of the broken arm.
It was on an average day of indeterminate speed that Chris decided this. She was on her knees in the garden tending the strawberries, not knowing if they would fail to fruit again this year. She relinquished herself to renewed grief—for her sick mother, her dead dog, her lost love—while the sun pleasantly baked the back of her neck.
As she exhaled on this conclusion, the invisible tether binding her to this earth, worn thin from years of laughter and letting go, snapped.
And Chris felt something shift in the region of her stomach.