She had to be strong.
She had to be strong when, two weeks after the wedding, he came home and told her to pack everything she could into a duffle and meet him at the launch station in an hour. They had been chosen, he said, for the Alpha 340 rehabilitation project. Random assignment? Hardly—they knew it was the young ones, the strong ones, the open ones who found themselves stuffed into the long black ships, hurtling through space toward distant galaxies whose air man had never been meant to breathe. She knew it, and she knew it didn’t matter how they had been chosen; and instead of formulating an escape, of calling friends and neighbors and looking for places to hide, she took the suitcases that had been a wedding gift from her sister and began to pack.
She left the wedding dress hanging in her closet. Her daughter would wear it on her wedding day, she promised; together, they would return for it. She never came back.
She had to be strong when he called her from the station three years later, called and said there had been a mistake in his department and he would need to take the next ship back to Earth. He said it was only business and that he would return, but they both knew better. She had heard the other voice in the background of his call, heard the high-pitched laughter and muffled squeal of pleasure as he disconnected. She knew, as his ship left a trail of black in the blue-white sky, that Earth had nothing for her anymore.
She had to be strong in the six months after he left, in the first three months after the birth of their daughter. She heard the doctor explain it, again and again—what was wrong with the air on Alpha 340, and what was wrong with the child’s lungs. She spent long nights in rocking chairs in hospitals across the continent, shifting back and forth and watching comets leave blue-white trails in the black sky.
Sometimes, she rocked the child. She sang softly of blue Earth and black ships and the white dress in a closet somewhere, trillions of miles away, that her little one would wear one day.
Sometimes, she cried.
But she had to be strong. She did not cry at the funeral, or in the face of the reporters’ questions; when she wrote letters back to Earth, damning them for what they had done to her and to her daughter, the ink did not run from tears.
he had to be strong when they dismissed her from the mechanics plant, when her savings dried up, when the old man at the boarding house told her to leave because they didn’t want her kind around. She didn’t know what he meant by “her” kind—whether it was grief or poverty or strength he objected to.
But she knew she had to be strong. She filled her suitcase with tools and found a place far from the city, far from liars and fools and cruel curiosity, and made her own rehabilitation project. It would not abandon her, or sicken, or hate her for her grief. It would not betray her.
It would not be weak.
And with steel and wire, wrench and rivet, she made her own strength.