Sometime during our marriage (I can’t recall at the moment what year it was), Mike had to spend a week in Chicago for a trade show. Since I’d never been to Chicago–and Mike, of course, had–he decided to take me there for a long weekend before the trade show began. I think it was early spring or late winter because I remember it was cloudy and rainy all weekend. But that’s no problem in a big metropolitan city like Chicago where there’s oodles of indoor activity to partake in. We went on a spree of sight-seeing and museums that remains a blur in my memory. All but one: a visit to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
We spent hours at this museum. There was so much to see, from rooms that replicated villages to a room that contained John Deere tractors to a hanger building that contained a full (small) commercial airplane that we could walk within. It was candy for me and Mike, two people who loved science and industry and all the marvels of mankind.
But nothing tops the show we saw at the Omnimax theatre. I don’t recall what it was called, but it was a “choose your own” adventure story in which all the participants in the theatre were given voting devices on their chairs. The story was about a mission to Mars and we, the audience, were the first colonists. At points in the movie, we were given three or four choices for how to next proceed and the movie would continue based on the collective vote of the audience. We learned about and voted on where on Mars to place the colony, the kinds of structures to build on our colony, the method for collecting water, and many other key decisions future astronauts would need to make. In the process, we learned the pros and cons of each choice. It was a fascinating experience.
It was the decision made at the end, though, that always stands out in my head. Five years have passed in the timeline of the movie and the Martian colony has been successful. Now, the narrator indicates, a ship is coming from Earth with new colonists to fill in the positions we–the current colonists–are currently filling. “You can go back to Earth with the ship. Or you can stay on Mars,” the movie told us. “However, the next Earth ship will not be back for five years. By then, you’ll have become so acclimated to Mars’ gravity and atmosphere, that you will not be able to ever return to Earth. Do you chose to stay on Mars with the new colony or return to Earth?”
This was the only vote in the story that was individual since some people would have to leave anyway to balance the colony out. It didn’t matter what you chose because the story was basically over, but it was supposed to be a fun exercise in imagination. What would you do in such a situation?
For a moment, I thought about hitting the button for Earth since I knew that while Mike was into outerspace and would probably enjoy a trip there if given the opportunity, I didn’t think he’d be inclined to stay. He was attached to Earth, as I well should be. But, yet, I couldn’t resist the urge in my head that told me I’d want to stay. Mars is so alien, so different. I can’t imagine that if I were a true colonist on Mars that I’d be so ready to leave it. I mean, I don’t really know how I would handle a situation such as this, but I couldn’t imagine I would so readily go back to Earth when this was the chance of a lifetime.
So I pushed the button representing my decision to stay on Mars. Everyone’s votes for this decision were being projected on the huge Omnimax screen over the position in which the people were sitting. Mars was represented by a red “M” and Earth with a blue “E.” I affirmed that my vote showed a red M and I prepared myself to look to the seat next to mine to see Mike’s vote. I was sure it was going to be a blue E. I was prepared to playfully chide him for leaving me behind.
As my eyes moved from my vote to the seat next to me, I was absolutely surprised to see a red M in Mike’s position. I turned to him, shocked.
“You decided to stay!?” I exclaimed.
Mike shrugged with one of his sly smiles. “Well,” he said. “I figured you were going to stay and I didn’t want to be on Earth without you.”
I know it’s silly, but that moment always stands out in my mind as one of the moments in our marriage that really defined the relationship we had. He got me. He understood me. He was willing to play along. I felt an overwhelming love for him at that moment. His gestures of love for me were never grand; they were subtly sweet, yet they touched my heart in ways something more abrupt never could. Maybe it was because he knew me so well that he didn’t need to over-aim. Like a true marksman, he knew exactly where to send his arrows to get his intentions across.
Now, it may seem like I’m the domineering one in this relationship with him because I’m forcing him to my will. The thing is, that decision was a freewill moment. He could have chosen to go back to Earth even knowing that I would chose to stay on Mars. I could have chosen to go to Earth knowing that he would want to go. But it didn’t go that way. Without even trying, we were in sync with each other. The truth of the matter is that if this were a real situation, a real choice, I would have discussed it with Mike and I most certainly would not have stayed somewhere where he was not going to be or didn’t want to be. What I didn’t express in my voting is that I would have given up Mars for him, had he truly not wanted to stay, just as he would have given up Earth to stay on Mars with me. It was a moment of mutual understanding. And impish fun.
I guess that particular memory just reminds me of how much we understood each other. We didn’t end up voting completely different. When I pushed the button to select Mars, some part of me thought that there was a chance that Mike’s sense of adventure would win out, that he’d also want to stay on Mars just to see what would happen. I know it wasn’t a real choice, that this whole scenario was completely fiction, but it represented something deeper to me. I wonder if it did to him too.