Dear Baptistina

A seashell in the middle of the desert. Or at least, the impression of one. The New Mexico red sandstone remembers, all these years after the Cretaceous.

My kitchen is covered in paintings of chickens. My grandmother painted them all.

“I’m not so sure about this one,” says my dad, taking one off the wall. “It seems unskilled, compared to the rest.” It is her most recent painting.

She moved out to New Mexico by herself a while back. I’d hear stories of her killing rattlesnakes with a hoe, or scaring off bears with a shotgun. I didn’t see her much, but in my mind she was tough as nails. Unbreakable.

One hundred and sixty million years ago, somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, an impact shatters the asteroid Baptistina. Pieces of her the size of mountains hurtle off into space.

I went to visit her once out west when I was a kid. I don’t know where she lived, or when we went. Only a few images remain imprinted in my mind. Tossing red stones into the river. Hail on a green tin roof.

One hundred million years ago, New Mexico was submerged. The Western Interior Seaway split what would become the United States in half. There were sharks in the great plains. Now there are only fossils. All that is left of that sea is a few clues etched in stone.

She comes up to visit more often now that she lives with my grandfather. I don’t know when she moved back in with him, but she can’t live on her own anymore. She probably only remembers my visit to New Mexico as well as I do. She didn’t know that the paintings in our kitchen were hers.

Three quarters of all life on earth disappeared and we aren’t really sure how. It’s hard to know anything that happened sixty-six million years ago for certain. An asteroid hit in Mexico, and then we disagree. Some say the dinosaurs died in a blaze of heat. Some say they died out slowly in a long, dark winter. It either took hours or years. I’m not sure which is scarier.

Eventually, it’s all lost to time. We can forget oceans.

The most heartbreaking sound I have ever heard is my grandmother saying it was nice to meet me.

Dear Baptistina,

I am terrified that on the day you come crashing down I won’t have anything left. That no matter how frantically I dig I’ll find nothing but blank red rocks. That I will be washed clean.

I am terrified of forgetting everyone.

I hope she keeps painting. I hope we hang up every chicken she sends us, no matter how good it is. I hope she’ll see one of my paintings one day and know that she’s been an inspiration. Her art has brightened our walls for as long as I can remember. I hope she knows she’s made an impression.

When Baptistina hit, the debris blanketed the entire planet. No matter where you stand, somewhere beneath you is the thin band of rock she left behind. The earth never really forgets.