Like booster engines emptied of fuel, my limbs become disposable, useless tanks as the blood rushes from them. I adjust to the flighty feeling in my stomach where the blood pools, flooding the organs that keep the whole alive. There are laws to be respected, protocols to follow. The things I studied for years in training my body knew all along.
I’m a little bit taller than when I left, a little more hollow in the cheeks, but otherwise externally untransformed. As I take my first step on dry land, my foot hits the pavement with a fleshy thud. With each heavy step rattling my cartilage, every particle realigns at gravity’s suggestion. I wobble above the ground, my hands reaching for railings where there are none, more afraid of falling from this height than from 249 miles above.
Weeks later, I stand in my kitchen. It’s the darkest hour of the night, the air still, and I’m awake. Sleeping securely to the ground now evokes the sensation of settling into a grave—so much so that I’m considering the hammock in the backyard a promising alternative. I fill my glass with water from the tap, mostly to watch how easily it flows. Observing the glass at rest on the counter, I still suspect magic is at work. It’s on these kinds of nights I feel most out of place.
Studies show your muscles adjust last. Having atrophied in space despite daily three-hour exercise regimens, gravity puts them back to work. But I have a theory it’s the mind that adjusts last. How long after landing will the neurons in my brain forget the luxury of floating? I look out the window, the lawn where the sky should be, and wonder where we’re more unnatural. The mind isn’t easily convinced.