He’s been up there for just about six years now. For nearly six years, my ex-husband has been a God, and I have gotten to be me.
The transmissions from him are grainy, and the backdrop isn’t grand enough to give off the kind of impression he’d like. It’s too cramped, with duct tape holding the cabinets shut. When he sits down to eat, the food is grey and soft. He shits in a bag. Pees down a tube. In the hydroponic garden the tomatoes are a withering, sickly yellow. Most of this he takes great pains to hide from the public, and all his fans. But I’ve seen it, he’s called me.
The lag in the connection makes it harder for him to seem confident and in control. He’s not the type to ask you to repeat what you’ve said, instead he blusters through a reaction based on a guess. At times he looks clammy and confused. At first I thought it was disgust at me, at what I’ve become, but that’s not all of it. His nutrition is poor, and he rarely gets to stretch his legs. The only person he has to fuck is his secretary. So I get why he doesn’t show what it’s like, or how he looks.
Mostly, my ex-husband makes his grand statements through social media. You still get a sense of what he thinks about all the strikes, and the torrential downpours on the coasts, and the yellow-white explosions off the beach. He can’t get the latest video game hardware up there, but he still has thoughts on the new releases. Just words and quick voice threads, let loose into the void. It’s as if he died but his mind lived on. That used to be my fantasy, not his. I think leaving the world must be a dysphoric experience too.
We used to talk about inventing a way to upload my personality into one of the robotic bodies he had designed. His company developed neural chips that allow you to operate camera drones just using your thoughts. But there’s no way to marry those two technologies yet. So I had to remain a human.
My ex-husband loved the idea of getting to recreate and rebuild me to meet his exact specifications. I hoped that if I escaped my physical form, the deep turbulent sadness in me might finally be soothed. We spoke at night about it, our legs tangled together, his voice hot on my ear, my nipples tingling with yearning as he said that he would be my maker, and I would be his doll.
I really could have been his doll. During his last months on Earth I very much tried to be. Auburn extensions, purple contacts. Soft pink lipstick, a quiet grin frozen on my face. The implants, which nauseated me so much to see in the shower that I nearly tried puncturing them with the hedge trimmers in the garage. He found me curled up on the pavement rocking in place. I didn’t even have the courage to draw blood. So when he asked me to make them bigger, of course I said yes.
I think if I had kept going along with what he wanted, I might have gotten where I needed to be. I might have become so perfect I evacuated myself. I could have been beautiful, hollow porcelain, floating beside him in space.
But instead I had the implants removed.
Everybody keeps picking his words apart and frothing themselves into fights about it. Does he think we should invade Iran? Will the new highway still be built, without him there to oversee it? Who should be President? The thing is, he doesn’t care. He never did. He just wanted attention, and to feel like he was standing on the throne of the world.
I get it. I used to love to court controversy myself. Half of my drunken meltdowns on Twitch were made completely sober. It was a painful relief to make his fans hate me, like ripping a hangnail the wrong direction and leaving your finger slashed open.
They will eat up anything he does. Truly anything. When he posted a screencap from the game Okage: Shadow King to his feed, his followers started showing up to tech release events and political rallies dressed like the game’s titular demonic lord. When oranges ran out on his base and he mentioned drinking watered lemon juice, a doctor with a late-night radio show began extolling the drink’s health benefits. Lemons were already in short supply down here. With one tweet he turned them into a status symbol.
He was once a guy with sweaty feet and hair that stuck up on the sides where his head hit the pillow. Now he’s the emperor of the stars. The markets rise and fall with his breaths. Not that it matters. He doesn’t need much money anymore.
And he has night terrors. Imagine. Signing up for seven months of cold sweats and waking up screaming in a small taupe box where the air and your piss is recycled. To think I had wanted to be up there, with my big jugs bouncing weightlessly beside him.
When he became a God, I became Hades, I guess. A neutral arbiter of the underworld — and of all the people he didn’t take with him. There are more shuttles leaving the planet than ever before. There is less and less land to stand on here, it’s no wonder people want to take off for somewhere more solid. But it’s only the right kinds of people who get tickets. You’ve got to have a Master’s degree or higher, or pass his coding test. You cannot have any chronic health conditions. You can’t be reliant on any monthly medications or injections. No history of institutionalization. And if the AI reads through your social feeds and detects you like to direct blame outward, or are prone to collecting regrets, your prospects are toast.
By his criteria, I’m a litany of red flags. I imagine that in the boardroom as they were drafting the rules, they had a photo of me taped on the wall. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
The house he bought me has sunk into the sand. It doesn’t matter. I bought an RV. I have gas and a water pump and the jewelry that I didn’t donate. There’s canned food in the trailer at the back, and a two-year supply of meds. I’ll survive.
People only talk about me as an extension of him, even all these years later. My beard goes all the way to my scars now, and the womb meant to carry his future within it is gone. But all people care about is how I was jilted at the altar of the future. Every photo of me that runs in the magazines is captioned with my old name, and his last name, though I never officially took it.
When we met I was a social worker with beads in my hair, a naïve little thing with savior dreams and big teeth that almost popped out of my mouth. He was at the benefit for my NGO, and I was effusive with gratitude for the money he’d given us, but also the power that seemed to drip off of him. Influence and invention were in his pores, in his dandruff. Even the disgusting things about him were alluring, I was so shocked I could be turned on by it.
He said I was perfect, the exact opposite of his ex-wife. She was the perfect opposite of the ex-wife that came before. She had been wealthy and elegant, a stick bug with a platinum bob. I was soft, acne scarred, and young, with a mattress on the floor and a broken nose. He made my lips bigger, my tits bigger, my eyes catlike and dark. He told me I was wasting my time working on the symptoms of social problems. He showed me his climate change modeling software. Let me ride on the back of a giant tank his team designed. In my torn up old boots with the sun setting around us, I thought I had found someone to ride into battle with. It was romantic.
I never questioned how good it felt to be made exactly for him. I’d been working so hard for so long, and getting nowhere. It felt good to simply go to sleep. I stood behind him with my hand on his shoulder and vamped for the cameras. I stood beside his piano and ate olives and talked with his friends about biohacking and diets that were customized to your blood type. I bought fifteen thousand dollar dresses made by queer cybersocialist designers who went to private school. I made out with girls who painted their bodies with images of postracial yonic elves and he watched us from his desk. My background lent him a bit of humanity, and it destroyed mine.
I was already complicit in plenty of bad things before he met me. The organization that hired me pushed American interests in the global south. We gave poor women mosquito nets and condoms, sure, but late at night when I scrolled through the spreadsheets, those were never the big budget lines. I watched us drip water slowly into a bucket filled with holes, while continually punching new ones in the sides.
I dreamed of doing something larger, and there was nobody bigger than him. Then he and I were married and I had access to all his money and each dollar was a string connecting me to his hand. And I flinched and danced and smiled with every twitch.
When he came back from his first trip around the earth, I welcomed him into a bath with my tits cut off.
I’d missed the launch and driven nonstop to a surgeon just outside of Vegas, having never told anyone about my intentions. There was no other way to do it. Whenever I floated an idea to him, he popped it before it was even done forming. In bed next to him I could barely articulate who I was and what I believed. In the bathroom alone I would look down at my curves, his curves, and feel my head floating away filled up with hot static. So I did what I had to do.
I thought the triumph of the launch might take the edge off. After every test flight he came home and fucked me hard for hours, immediately, no turning the lights on, no taking our clothing off, just pure release of excitement between my thighs. This time, he had broken through the atmosphere. He was a new man, baptized in asteroids.
I thought he would look upon the new me with wonder, and I’d welcome the new him inside my body, and together we’d create a whole new universe. Instead his face fell when he saw me. His interns used to say you could predict the length of his temper based on his wife’s hem. The shorter the skirt the more easy he was to be around. But when I showed my bare chest to him, his fuse snipped down to nothing.
Oh no, I thought as he stormed off. I will never see him smile at me ever again.
It’s cold in the desert at night. I keep returning here, not far from where I got my surgery, because it is a comfort. It feels like its own planet too, rule-less and coolly silent. I throw open the back hatch of the RV and curl up on my mattress and stare out at the expanse. My shivers fortify me, and I’m comforted by enormity of the big bowl of dust all around. If the sky were clear I could almost watch the trail of travelers heading up to his base. But the sky is never clear anymore. It’s always cloudy, burnt cheese orange, a lattice of rubble and rust.
I took T. Then I got laser, to get rid of the faint hints of beard. Then I gave up and it grew back thicker. I stuffed my bra with rubber chicken cutlets. I leaned over the counter and stuck my ass out at him as provocatively and femininely as I could. I tried to walk the tightrope of him loving me and me loving me. Now I am myself, but I can’t say I love me yet. I loved him for too long. It’s ruined me the way he and the tabloids think the hormones ruined me. I will forever feel his eyes when I look in the mirror, and I’ll always hear the screams of his fans when I open my door.
I’ve given nearly all my money away. My ex’s enemies celebrate me for that. They figure he must have done something horrible and that I’m sticking it to him by donating so much to causes he’d loathe. But the truth is, I know what’s coming, so I know I won’t be needing it.
When I drive out to the desert I share some of what I have with a queer squat that’s set up out there. They have their own little illegal clinic, where anybody can wander up for free hormones, blockers, packers, gaffs, and binders. My stockpile is large so I hand out what I can. Even having given billions away, I am their richest friend.
There’s a woman in a shed here who will cut your hair if you smoke her out or bring painkillers for her leg. She buzzed my head the day the divorce finalized, ashes from her cigarette snowing into my scalp. I cradled a Gatorade of moonshine and we talked about our favorite novels. He loved all the Hugo and Nebula winners but all I ever read was old, frayed books about consumptive Victorian boys. I drank deep and my vision went milky.
The next afternoon, I woke up in the dirt with the worst headache. A man’s name was written in the dust. My name. I’d just figured it out. I turned on my phone to text him, to tell him, and I learned he’d already disembarked for the stars.
The sky is burning every night. It never gets dark. I can never look up and see the planet he fled to. The air out here is cold but it stings like fiberglass going down. You can eat as much produce as you can afford (which is not much) but it never feels like you’re swallowing anything. The body knows somehow. Most evenings, I sit on a stone bench outside the shed and eat cold lentils. It’s all come full circle. This is not far from how I lived at a social worker. He’d laugh if he could look at me without scowling.
We’re not going to last long down here. And I suspect he won’t last very long either. I’ve seen the models. So had he. We all know where this is headed. But I’m going to live out the remaining years as myself.