5: Liftoff

5: Liftoff

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Liftoff

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

~Les Brown

Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed about going into space.

I grew up in Houston, Texas, about a mile from NASA. On an elementary school field trip, we visited Mission Control and ate lunch in the enormous shadow of the Saturn V rocket lying on its side in a field of grass. A rocket like this one, our teacher told us, had taken Apollo 11 to the moon.

Since that day, I had wanted to be an astronaut. I would imagine myself sitting in a capsule at the top of that huge rocket pointed toward the heavens. The massive thrusters would fire on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, and the countdown would begin in my head.

“10... 9... 8... “

I would flip some imaginary switches in front of me, legs up on the sofa in my living room, ready to head to the moon.

“3... 2... 1... Liftoff!”

Then my imagination would shift perspective, and I’d be looking out a window at all the people I loved. They would be cheering and waving, shrinking below me as I climbed higher and higher until the world became a swirl of clouds around a blue sphere, like in the pictures I’d seen taken from space.

Finally, I would be floating among the stars. That was the favorite part of my daydreams, I would later tell my boyfriend, Drex. Of course, I didn’t believe it would actually happen. Going into space had become a childhood fantasy.

Although on some deep level, I still wanted to be an astronaut, by the time I met Drex my freshman year of college, my career aspirations had become more down-to-earth. As an undergrad, I was premed, and he was a computer science major who lived in the dorm room right below mine. It wasn’t love at first sight, but we got to know each other and then realized, to our mutual amazement about a year later, that we were actually soul mates.

We dated for five years. I started medical school, and he started graduate school. My second year, I got an opportunity to spend a month at a rural clinic in Honduras. Drex said that he would fly down after I was done with my work at the clinic so that we could have a long weekend together. Drex and I decided to go to the island of Roatan in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Honduras. Since I was busy preparing for my clinic rotation and brushing up on medical Spanish phrases, Drex offered to make the arrangements for our getaway.

I felt comfortable leaving all the vacation preparations to him. On his apartment wall, Drex and I had a map studded with pins to mark all the places we’d been together. Through these trips and all the misadventures that came with them, we discovered that we had the same easygoing travel style, which involved minimal packing and planning. I knew we would have a good time no matter what.

We arrived at La Pura Vida Resort on the west end of Roatan. I took a shower and changed into my bathing suit, and then we headed out to enjoy an afternoon at the beach. Drex said that we only had one thing on our itinerary — he had planned it for after dinner that night. I tried to hold off plying him with questions because I have an intuitive knack for guessing his surprises.

After swimming in the turquoise water of Half Moon Bay, followed by lying on the sand doing absolutely nothing, we walked to a thatched-roof restaurant on the beachfront and had bowls of conch soup and plates of fried fish with spicy mayo. Then Drex steered us farther along the water to a wooden dock. On a post, it said: Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration.

Drex explained casually that he had chartered a submarine to take us into the Cayman Trench, a long and narrow depression in the floor of the Caribbean Sea. He had read about Karl Stanley, featured in National Geographic Adventure magazine, who had built his own submarine and now offered underwater adventures to a depth of about 2,000 feet below sea level off the coast of Honduras.

Needless to say, I was very excited when I saw the yellow submarine. It was round with a large Plexiglas viewing bubble in the front, like a giant fishbowl eye where we would sit. We climbed into the hatch on top of the submarine. Drex and I got strapped into our seats behind the Plexiglas bubble, and it briefly crossed my mind that the submarine was somewhat like a spaceship. We were going to be taken into another world. Karl would do the steering behind us.

As we started our descent, I noticed that Drex looked anxious. We were holding hands, and I could feel his racing pulse and sweaty palms. I asked him if he was nervous about the dive, but he shook his head.

Through our viewing bubble, in the bright submarine headlights, we saw unusual creatures like blood-red starfish and walking sea lilies. Karl started playing music — a CD of favorite songs Drex had made for our submarine adventure. Still, I didn’t suspect anything. I was totally engrossed, like Jacques Cousteau, taking in this alien underwater world. It was vivid and surreal.

After about twenty minutes, we began our ascent to the surface. Karl turned off the submarine lights, and everything outside our bubble turned inky black. Then, all of a sudden, we were in a field of stars.

We were crossing a bioluminescent layer of tiny fish and squid that live in the Cayman Trench. They glow in response to the light from the submarine. Staring out from the capsule, I was in my girlhood dream, surrounded by a galaxy of creatures swimming around us. It actually felt like I was suspended and weightless in the darkness, an astronaut flying through space.

Overwhelmed, I barely heard the romantic speech Drex made, but when I saw the ring and heard him ask me to marry him, I said yes immediately. This incredible proposal made me realize that, no matter how ridiculous, unlikely, or out-of-reach they might seem, Drex would always, to the best of his abilities, help make my dreams come true.

~Mitali Ruths

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