It was 1955, and she was twenty-three, living in Sydney and selling dresses in a department store. She had realised that she didn’t have the money to finish her medical training, and, after a year working in various hospitals, that she didn’t want to be a nurse.
Nevertheless, she was bored with selling dresses; she had started taking books about astrophysics out of the library, one after another. She began taking notes. If she ran out of paper, she turned up the hem of her skirt and wrote on the underside of it. Sometimes the notes came out in the wash, and sometimes not. It didn’t seem to matter which. After she had been doing this for some time, she asked herself, What am I doing? And the answer came: I am becoming the moon.
She had no notion of why such a thing might occur. She had considered reading science at university, but the girls she knew who did science subjects had all ended up as teachers, rather than research scientists. People said that teaching was something to fall back on, but she had no intention of falling back on anything. Though they lived in the sky the planets–the asteroids, the comets and moons–did not, after all, fall. They only flew.
Because she wasn’t professionally trained as a scientist, she thought that if she were to become a moon it would have to be metaphorically, poetically. But she had no talent for making things up; it seemed to her extremely unfortunate that she had to make things at all. Her mother had been a maker of things: cakes and dresses and marriages. And look at all the good it had done her.
At this point, everything in her life had fallen apart. The marriage she had entered into at twenty was ending, she was very sick and in pain much of the time. And she was becoming the moon. Of these three things, there was only one that she had any real interest in.
She decided to go abroad, and applied for a volunteer position in Zimbabwe. “It was a freezing night, the night I left,” she said. “As the plane took off, I was looking at the patterns the ice made on the outer window. I remember thinking that I would never see my husband again. And I shed three tears—but that was all. I didn’t know what would happen once I had become the moon, and I had no idea what it would be like, to begin my orbit, but I thought: I will never be sick, or in pain, again.”
She put her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. She could hear the earth, its thousand voices, singing her into the sky.