11AM, July 28th, 1999 was special. It was the day Lance McClain was welcomed into the world. When he popped out, he was met with hugs, squeals and tears of joy by his family. The picture they have to remember that day is of Lance wrapped up in a blanket with sunglasses much too big for his face, titled “Fresh Out the Womb”.
July 28th, 2004 was just as special. Lance was now 5 and the most talkative member of the family and the most adored. He was always at the center of attention. “Ask and you shall receive, mijo,” his father said to him a couple of days before. When he blew his candles, the blue tricycle he mentioned rolled into view. He couldn’t stop saying thank you.
July 28th, 2008 was a day to remember. After touring NASA’s space center in Houston and other sights, they sang him Happy Birthday back at their hotel room. He’ll never forget how his eldest brother smushed his face into the cake and how he made the same wish twice that night: once on the candles and another on a comet he mistook for a shooting star yet wished on anyways.
I wish for every day to be like today.
July 28th, 2016, was a birthday unlike any other. A melancholic wind blew throughout the city, scattering the missing posters Lance’s mom was still trying to put up. 3 cadets have been missing for a month. On the streets, under the flickering light of a broken lamppost, is the first time she allows herself to grieve. She shouts at the sky looking for answers, asking for when he will come back.
I need my son.
She can’t remember the last time she saw his smile.
July 28th. 2017. 11PM. Lance retires to his room after a day celebrating in the castle. His friends did all they could to make him feel loved and he did. He was thankful. That of all people he could have been stuck in space with, it was them. He wouldn’t have chosen anybody else to go to hell back and forth with, as they’ve already had. Bunch of times. Struggling externally just as much as they have internally. But always together. And they’ve always made it out alive one way or another.
There used to be days his homesickness overwhelmed him but not anymore. They were his home now.
Before Lance lays to rest, he pulls out a picture of his family and kisses it softly. “One more trip into hell and I promise I’ll be back soon.”