Buzz aldrin what happene.., p.37
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       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, p.37

           Johan Harstad

  “Do you know my name?” I asked.

  “Yeah, yeah, but fucking hell, we’ve got to stick together, old classmates and all. What are you up to these days?”

  I could have said anything, it made no difference.

  I said:

  “We weren’t in the same class.”

  “What? Of course we were. Come on, man, what are you doing these days?”

  “I’m in the French Foreign Legion,” I answered. “I’ve exterminated whole villages. If you only knew.”

  He staggered back and forth as his brain decoded the information. “Right. There a lot of money in that?”

  “Do you remember my name? Do you realize we’ve never talked before?’

  “Why are you going on about that all the time?” Then he pondered for a while. Time passed. He grew an entire beard. He’d been found out. He jabbed a finger in my chest. “Thomas? Right? Huh? That’s it, isn’t it?”

  “Yes,” I said. “Thomas from the Foreign Legion.”

  A taxi came. It was my turn. Geir grabbed me again, his last bit of hot dog slopped down his shirt and landed with a plop on the asphalt in front of him.

  “Shit! Wait!” He leaned forward and scooped up the remains, then clambered up my jacket, returning to a more or less upright position. “Maybe me and Oddgeir can bum a ride. Where you going?”

  “A long way away,” I answered, slipped into the back seat and slammed the door, the driver took a U-turn and drove in the direction of the Atlantic Hotel, I gave him my address and smiled, I was one big smile as I sat in the back seat there, because I’d truly succeeded, there wasn’t one trace of me left in this whole city now, I was the snow that had fallen last year, or the year that so much had fallen everyone lost count, and we drove up over Madlaveien and swung off onto the motorway, past the house where earlier that evening Jørn had told me Helle and Mats lived now, and I could have sworn I saw her at the window for a second, and that she looked happy too, and lifted a hand and waved and I lifted my hand and I’d have waved back but didn’t get the chance before the car swung off the main road, and I had to turn to see where we were driving and check we were going in the right direction.

  Was it a rash decision?

  Was it cowardly? Like migrating birds, ditching the whole program at the first sign of winter?

  No. There are times we simply have to go. Times when we have to burn all our bridges and take the sea route instead.

  And only captains who fear for their reputations go down with the ship.

  I was ready to go in the lifeboat. To go back to the Faroes for good.

  I staggered into the living room that night, gripped tightly to the door frame and crawled over the floor to the sofa, pulled myself up onto the sofa and sat there and stared at the books still neatly piled on the coffee table. I laid my hand on the top book. Buzz Aldrin’s autobiography.

  Read until my eyes were sore.

  A lot had gone wrong for Buzz Aldrin too. Things had gone downhill quickly and in the end his was a steeper decline than anyone could have dreamed. But it had begun tentatively, sneaking over his shoulder only weeks after the space trip with Gemini 12 in 1966. He’d felt tired, drained, had barely managed to crawl into bed and laid there for almost a week before getting up, he and his wife both felt it was natural he should be exhausted, he had, after all, been in space, had trained so much, it had all gone so fast. It was obvious there’d be a price to pay. But it would pass, surely. But actually it was his nervous system sending out faint waves of warning, but nobody saw them, they were written too small, and he got up on his feet again, returned to work, and the new Apollo Program was set in motion, men were going to land on the moon before the seventies, there was no time to lose, Aldrin was told he’d have a place on Apollo 11, and he started training again, alongside Armstrong and Collins, but behind closed doors he told Joan that given half a chance, he’d have pulled out of the later expedition, so as to have less attention on him, so he’d be more involved in pure research work, but he could say nothing to anybody. Not a peep. Because nobody had ever pulled out of a mission before and if he’d made that decision, the other two astronauts would have been removed from the posters too. So off he goes. To the moon. And back. He gets to watch the American flag keel over slowly in the Sea of Tranquility and to whisk up the dust as they lift off from the surface and start their homeward journey, then comes the flood of attention on their homecoming, everybody wants to talk to him, to congratulate him, to ask questions, what was it like on the moon, what did you think, what did you feel, what’s it like to have been on the moon, but their reception isn’t always positive, the astronauts are bombarded with tomatoes on university campuses, because the moon landing cost twenty-four billion, 1969 dollars, that could have been used for other things, it’s the middle of the Vietnam War and nobody can agree on anything, nobody has perspective, but Aldrin finds himself pushed onward and upward, and before he knows it he’s on a plane together with Armstrong and Collins and their wives, traveling from the USA to the rest of the world on NASA’s massive promotional tour, he hasn’t asked to be dragged along, quite the opposite, he’s felt pressured by NASA, and just the thought of being a salesman for American space exploration terrifies him, but he goes, reassuring himself that if it’s too bad he can always pull out, vanish into the Apollo Program, escape the publicity. But putting the brakes on a world tour is not easy and the going gets tough, there are too many people, they’re crushed in the crowd, strangled with attention, the press spews out unverified and inaccurate articles about him, claiming he has lunar sickness, that he fears a virus from the rocks they brought back, Aldrin and Joan have a hard time, but they survive as best they can, smile, accept the keys to various cities, greet people, give speeches, the tour doctor gives Aldrin some pills to calm him down, but the panic doesn’t ease, it only gets worse, and it seems that in Norway, of all places, it finally comes to a head. They’ve arrived in Oslo as their only destination in Scandinavia, they’ve eaten lunch at the palace with a jocular and blustery King Olav, they’ve been paraded up Karl Johan with the public standing cold and unenthusiastic on the pavement, clapping and waving mechanically, at least that’s how he’s experienced it, and it depresses him, he has ancestors from Sweden, this isn’t how it should be. They’re taken by helicopter to an old farm up in the mountains, and it’s here, during the evening, that the bubble bursts. He fails to come down to dinner, stays in bed, and when Joan returns, she tries, but can’t comfort him. They drink whiskey. They talk about how things can never be the same again, he feels like a counterfeit of himself, everything’s spinning out of control, Joan is his emotional Red Cross, but it’s no good, the hours pass, there they sit, Mr. and Mrs. Aldrin, in a quaint peasant-style bedroom in Norway, getting drunk on whiskey for the first and last time during the tour. And they cry. Aldrin cries, he doesn’t want to go on, wants to go home, to vanish and never be found again. And that night they sleep like two frightened children, clinging to each other and keeping the wolves from the door. But they go on with the tour, they get through it. Behaving as though nothing had happened.

  Now things get really hard.

  Crisis time.

  Because he’s been to the moon, and nothing will ever be the same.

  Difficult times. Dreadful times. The specters close in, and Aldrin creeps into bed, only getting up to watch TV, his moods swing unpredictably from moments of euphoric excitement to long periods of paralyzing misery, depression tightens on him like a vise, only his family know, and when the family doctor tells him he needs urgent psychiatric help and medication he decides to foot the bill himself, so NASA won’t find out, he is treated with Ritalin and continues holding lectures, until one afternoon he breaks down, sobs in a hotel lobby immediately after a banquet appearance. And that’s when Buzz Aldrin stops. Everything stops. He continues going to the office in the mornings, determined to get his work done, but he sits in his chair, looks blankly out of the window, for hours, before he gets up and le
aves, gets into his car and drives to the beach, walks for hours until he knows everybody’s gone to bed, and only then does he come home to sit in front of the TV, drinking whiskey, and gradually more evenings are spent this way, until they all are, and he sinks deeper and deeper into despair, stays awake all night afraid of sleeping in the dark, and all he wants is to stop feeling anything at all, and he gives a damn now whether NASA knows or not, he just wants somebody to help him, before things go dreadfully wrong, and his psychiatrist understands the gravity of the situation, agrees to send him to San Antonio, and Buzz Aldrin tells his father he’s seriously ill, but his father refuses to understand; how can this man, who’s always been so successful, think so little of himself now. And his father suggests he wait, not bring NASA into it, wait, not take sick leave, so long as he maintains the mask he can have any job he wants, and Joan screams at Aldrin’s father not to interfere because Buzz is ill, and she is prepared to stand in anybody’s way who tries to stop her from taking him away, physically if necessary, and she also tells the psychiatrist, with Buzz Aldrin sitting passively at her side, that she’s considered separation, but that this is no longer an option, not while he’s so ill, maybe afterward, when they can sit down and talk things through properly, but while he’s ill she’s willing to fight this one through, even though it’s only tolerable at home when he’s away, and she says all this, with her husband sitting there, hands calmly folded in his lap, staring into the carpet and hoping that some one will come and put the brakes on for him.

  And then one evening, when Joan and the psychiatrist have finally arranged his appointment in San Antonio, they pack Buzz Aldrin’s suitcase as he watches on from the doorway, puzzling over what these people are doing, and how it involves him.

  Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., is admitted into Wilford Hall Hospital, Brooks Air Force Base on October 28, 1971. He has therapy sessions twice daily and is treated with tranquilizers and the antidepressant, Thioridazine, gradually things move forward, the doctors ask Aldrin if he thinks he might attempt suicide, his mumbled reply is that he isn’t even in a state to choose a method, this is a man incapable of lifting a hummingbird without getting tired, but things move forward, with each conversation with his doctor things improve, and above their heads astronauts are walking around on the moon or floating in orbit and from their perspective the earth looks uninhabited, as if no wars were covering large areas of it, as if there were no buildings, people, problems.

  And it’s three years now since he walked on the moon, and he’s been admitted into Lackland Air Force Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, he stands by the window and looks up at a perfect full moon and it’s here that he decides to begin afresh. Buzz Aldrin stands in his hospital pajama top in front of an open window and talks to himself. You have been on the moon. You did it. First. It can never be done again, not by you, not by anyone. So get the hell out of here and live the life you’ve wanted for yourself.

  It was a long journey.

  The melancholy of all things done.

  The Apollo Program is closed down early.

  NASA is on the decline and Aldrin has resigned from his job there.

  He leaves his work as leader of the test pilot base in Texas, after more than twenty years in the Air Force.

  And Buzz Aldrin is forgotten, gram by gram. Disappears into the confusion.

  He’s sad. And the passing years don’t improve matters.

  He drinks. It all comes to nothing, things don’t go well.

  Things couldn’t be worse.

  And his family is torn apart. Joan Archer walks out of the door and never returns.

  And nothing is as it might have been.

  And yet it couldn’t be any other way. Everything is in its place.

  And I’ve searched and searched for that moment, but failed to find it, though I know it exists, that particular second in which he realizes it doesn’t matter at all, that he’ll never travel farther than he already has, that it’s of no significance, that he’ll never get out of this corner like this, that every drink gives him a slap around the face, rather than what he’s hoping for, that it should reduce him until he’s so small, so microscopic, that he could vanish between the threads of his own coat and evaporate. I try to trace the moment when Buzz Aldrin finally pulls himself up by his bootstraps and dares to think the thought to its conclusion:

  It takes vast willpower, luck, and skill to be the first.

  But it takes a gigantic heart to be number two.

  Which is why you will also come back from nothing, Aldrin, there will be easier days, everything will get easier, all of it, because one can be all right even when nobody’s watching, one can be smart even if one isn’t remembered, and you’ve done your part, done important work, the big cog so many forgot, and so, little by little, things improve, and you stop drinking, start working again, in small ways to begin with, then things build up, you get remarried, you do what you can, work on great projects, hold lectures, you want to send us all back into space one day, so we can see for ourselves what you saw, and for that, I think, you’ll have good times again, everything will be forgiven, because there’ll be a protective hand held over you as you dive for coral off the coast of California with your family, with your children, as you sit and watch TV, when you wake up, when you take your new wife in your arms in the bathroom in the evening.

  I went on working for Gunnar, but he could see that I was already preparing to leave. I was restless. We’d agreed that I work for him until the end of September, but when I started talking to him about the situation, he quickly saw where things were. He’d have preferred me to stay out the year, he said, but there was no way of convincing me. So I was free to go when I wanted. I started preparing myself. And then I noticed how I’d begun to miss people again. But it wasn’t Jørn I missed. I missed Havstein. Carl. Anna. Palli. I missed the sense of having something in common with somebody. And I missed Sofia.

  I felt bad about Jørn, and every morning I’d decide to call him after work. But never did.

  Because there was no longer any reason to stay.

  I thought a lot about Jørn, in fact, the things we’d done, things we’d talked about. They’d been good times, as he’d said, hadn’t they? Yes, they’d been some of the best, they’d been the days when you grow up, and Jørn had dragged me by the hair through so many of them, the best friends you could have, Jørn, Roar, Helle, and I. But it felt as though I’d been away for light years now, nothing was the same. I might just as well have been in another galaxy. And I was suddenly frightened about what Father had said on the Faroes, that I’d been ill before, that I’d fallen ill again. Did Jørn know perhaps? Did Helle? Had they known all along, walked on eggshells around me, treated me like a patient? How long had it been going on, had it spiraled during this last year, after Helle had left, after Karsten had gone bust, or had it been that way all my life, since I’d been small? Because something had happened that evening Father and I talked, hadn’t it? Something had changed in me, and I could no longer remember how I’d been before that moment, it was no longer possible to process that film.

  And then one night the panic finally grabbed me, the panic about everything I’d ruined. It came spilling over me like the noise of cheering in the world’s biggest football stadium, except, of course, nobody was applauding. No, it was more like the Normandy landings, flames raging all around me, sounds of catastrophe and turmoil. I couldn’t lie still, had to crawl out the veranda door and into the air, into the wind. Stood there, feeling fragile, on the veranda like a fool, and I think I cried that night, or maybe I was only on the edge of tears, and I remember thinking I had to do something, because if only I could make myself useful now, the accounts would be rebalanced, the poles would right themselves and the birds would be able to reorient themselves and find their way South when the time was right, so I rushed down toward the shore, wrenched rocks out of the ground, lifted boulders and carried them down to the beach, laid them out in a big square, and then into the squar
e I shoveled more sand, filled it up, worked until my hands were raw and morning came, worked through the night as the massive transport ships passed each other out on the horizon, and I remember I was convinced that as long as I finished before light, no ship could collide, there would be no shipwrecks, and I went up into the summer house for an iron bar and rake, walked farther up into the field, rolled three of the biggest rocks I could find down the slope to the beach, then using the bar I levered the rocks inside my stone square, then raked the sand into perfect patterns, watching all the time for passing ships, and there were no collisions, not a catastrophe to be seen, then I relaxed, put down my tools and lay in the center, slept inside Jæren’s only Japanese rock garden, dreamed of Kimono-Magnusson and outer space, and in my dream I was an astronaut, I’d gone astray, didn’t know where I was, but went further and further out, until I found a planet that was unmarked on any chart, or maybe it was just a star, and I landed softly on the outskirts of a town where nobody lived, and when I got out of my ship, I noticed how weak the gravitational force was, I could almost fly above the town, and there was nobody around, not a soul, but there were houses, and cars parked in the streets, and then in a side road I met somebody, Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca in Star Wars, and he was carrying his hairy costume under his arm and gave me a hesitant nod as I passed, smiled and said I was welcome, and I asked whether he’d ever felt sad that nobody knew he was the man that played Chewbacca, that nobody had ever seen him, and he answered I never worried about those little details, and then he pointed toward a building farther down the street, and I went there and I went in a restaurant, drew myself a beer at the bar and sat down, and I thought here, here was a place I could live.

  I was woken by the rain and by sand in my shoes. It was cold. I looked up. Darkness. Then a face came and placed itself before me.

  “Mattias, what are you doing out here? Are you all right?” Gunnar looked worriedly at me.


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