In the dark of the ceiling’s vault above my bed, I see figures leaping and tumbling through the air. There is a pack of them in skin tight superhero outfits that are supple but shield them from the crushing vacuum and radiation of space. Silently, they fly wide arcs across the sky over no land. One colored in red, another yellow, purple, blue. The choreography is flawless, this one pulling the next forward with an invisible torque as her somersault ends and his begins. Their bodies are trim and have no curves; ten, eleven years old, just older than me. More boys than girls. Perfection. Untouchable. When they are too far away to see, I fall asleep.
On bad nights, a different vision replaces this one. In the other, I am alone in space, hovering in the void. Straight ahead, a small pinprick of color slowly enlarges until I can see its entire form. It is a mass, smooth surfaced but misshapen, like a giant blood corpuscle dented and gone wrong. I can feel its density, enormous, wildly out of proportion to its size, enough to warp the space around it. It hurtles forward in slow motion, end over end, toward me. I am a line, a whisper, less than a chopstick or a wire. I am alone and nearly dimensionless. Space wind barely bends around me. I shift left, then right, and when I look up again, the mass has already adjusted course to find me. When it is too close for me to see its outer borders, I hold my breath and my chest is cold. In the very last second with the only instinct available, I flick my line, and the hurtling mass is deflected ever so slightly onto a new trajectory. I straighten and whirl around. It has turned and is coming back toward me.
I told no one about the flyers. But one day that year in third grade, I stayed behind when recess began, and asked Ms. Blount what she thought of the line and the hurtling mass. She took a minute to regain composure. Maybe it means that no matter how daunting something seems, Mai, you are able to overcome it in the end. I went out to the school yard to get in a game of pick-up wall ball in the twenty minutes left. I knew I had overcome nothing. It had overcome me, and it would come back for more.