The sky is at the door.
It presses. Wanting in.
I keep my eyes lowered in case I accidentally look up and see the horizon. Seeing the horizon would open me up to massive volumes: above me, around me, within me. I have to be careful.
Which is ridiculous.
All six planes of my orbiting box-like room are solid. There are no doors, no windows, no gaps of any kind. I’m the one that designed and built this retreat from the sky. I’m the one with computer screens for walls that show only the composition of my air, its pressure (0.31 of an atmosphere), the supplemental oxygen flow rates, my orbital trajectory, the angular velocity (7.72 rpm) to maintain artificial centripetal gravity (9.80 meters per second squared).
Look up at the sky in any direction. You’re looking directly into the abyss. You’re seeing the pit of the unknowable past. Who can wrap their intellect around all that infinity of depth and time? Truly?
In here though, I’m finite. I see finite distances. I have a clear and present understanding of everything in my vicinity at all times: I know the exact dimensions of the room and the precise location of my furniture within that volume. They are where I designed them to be, they are immovable and constant. The entire fabrication being made in one process, extruded within the same matter printer, using the same elements, with me in the middle. Nothing can get in, the whole spacecraft nothing but a closed life-support loop to keep me alive and the sky out.
On Earth, I could no longer stand being at sea-level and at one atmosphere of pressure. All those kilometres of air above, in the sky, pressing down. I couldn’t endure it any longer. I had to go up, get above it all. It had to be space, it had to be vacuum.
But even within an orbital vacuum you cannot escape, the sky is there, even though I have no door. The door to the sky is in my mind. The knowledge of what is out there beyond my carefully fashioned solitary confinement acts as a psychic crowbar. It exerts its own kind of pressure.
I lie on my bed (ten millimetres clearance from the walls, point four meters high). The ceiling (one point seven meters above my head) is plain and unadorned. Nevertheless, I can see cirrus clouds fly across the moon; I see the reddish orange of the sunrise; I see the drama of cumulonimbus and thunderstorms. Eyes open or eyes closed it makes no difference. The sky is there, always there, wanting in.
There is no escape. How could there be?
By seeing it, imagining it, I let it in. I am powerless to stop it.
The sweat beads on my pores, my heart rate increases until it feels as if it is going to shatter my ribcage, my breathing (long, short, fast or slow; it matters not) leaves me light-headed and dizzy. If I were to pass out, the last defence of my egotistical will would be gone, and I knew that without it, I could not win. It was merely a matter of time and evolution. An evolution played out beneath billions of years of skies, woven deep within my genotype.
I had sealed myself inside an orbiting box with the objective of living where the sky couldn’t get to me, where the expanse of vistas were blocked. And it was here where I had an epiphany that unearthed knowledge that had been buried beneath my selfish horror: I needed the sky. To stare up. To face my fears and lose myself in the majesty and vastness of it.
And so, with the sky at the door of my mind I reached out to let it in. I believed it would be my final act. I was convinced that I would be lost and consumed.
The door opened and the sky flooded in. It filled me from the inside out.
And then it washed the fear away.
I thought I needed the fear and the dread. I thought the fear was what kept me safe. But with it gone, I am glad. The fear had been holding me prisoner.
I’m not lost, I’m free.
I bask under the warmth of a blue summer sky and no longer know what I had been so afraid of.
I am free from fear and doubt and from self-inflicted terror. I am freer than the birds that squawk and glide around me in the boundless sky. I am one such bird, my arms wings, my hair feathers.
My cawing screams echo off the solid featureless walls.
In the sky, I dive, wheel and soar.