When I look up to the stars at night, I can’t help but think about you.
I can see you rolling your eyes already, that familiar snarky comment on the tip of your tongue. “Seriously, do you still believe in all that wish upon a star garbage they feed you as a kid? It means nothing, you know. Stare up at the stars and dream all you want, but in the end you’re just sending your thoughts into a vast expanse of nothingness. Because that’s all that space is. Nothingness.”
You made fun of me for loving the night sky, for drawing the constellations in my notebooks and begging you to drive me and my telescope up to the lookout point out of the city. You laughed when you caught me staring out the window at night. You groaned on the days when a rare astronomical event was happening, and pretended not to care when I implored you to look through the telescope lens.
But I know, deep down inside, that you liked stargazing with me. You liked it when we were alone at the top of the hill, just two tiny humans and the mysterious expanse of the inky sky above us. We felt small, just a speck on a page of the world’s story.
To be fair, we felt small everywhere else. At school, we were content to keep our heads down, not sure if any teachers even knew our names. In the orchestra, we could barely see the conductor from the back of the second violin section. Even in church, nobody paid much attention to the two quiet kids sitting at the edge of the seventh pew.
I liked being ignored, no gazes cast on me and my insecurities. But I know you hated the feeling of being small. You hated that it was just us two. Still, I know there was one place you liked being small, and that was when we were at the top of our hill, looking up into the night sky.
Now that you’re gone, I’m a much smaller speck than I was with you. People pay even less attention to the lone teenager sitting to the side than they used to. They’re happy to leave me with my nose buried in yet another astronomy book.
I’ve learned to do some things without you here. I got my driver’s license, finally, so I could can drive myself to the best lookout point. So you don’t have to grumble about being my personal chauffeur, even if all our best inside jokes came from those car rides. I’ve mastered the art of carrying my telescope in one hand and folding chair in the other, my camera around my neck. So you can stop complaining about carrying all my gear, because I wanted to carry only my precious telescope and keep it safe. But I know you were proud when I called you strong, my favorite weightlifter.
I remember the first time we went to see the stars because you wanted to see them. It was after the diagnosis, and you sat there in your hospital bed, in that windowless room. You glanced up at the strip of LED box lights and said, “I never thought I’d say this to you, but staying in this room makes me miss seeing the stars with you.” I asked if you were allowed to go outside in your wheelchair, and you said no, it was just wishful thinking.
I remember the surprised look on your face when I said, “We’ll sneak out.” I was never the gutsy one out of the two of us, was I? You seemed so exasperated all the time that I was such a rule-follower. But, hey, one of us had to pay attention to the rules, or we’d probably have blown up a whole city with your reckless ideas.
But on that night, the reckless idea was mine. The uncertainty I felt as I helped you from your bed into that wheelchair, and the nervousness I felt as I snuck you all the way up to the balcony on the top floor, it was all worth it when I saw that smile on your face. We must have stayed there for hours, looking up above us, the cold night breeze rushing through your hair. I remember you were only in a hospital gown, and even though I took my jacket off to give it to you, you refused. I kept insisting you wear it, and you kept declining. We shoved that flimsy polyester coat back and forth and back and forth until you finally blurted out those words that I’ll never forget.
“The doctor said I’m not going to make it.”
In our four years of friendship, that was the first time I had ever seen you cry. I cried too, and we stayed there on the hospital balcony, hand in hand, shaky sniffles punctuating a silent night. I didn’t think I’d ever let go of your hand. Until the cold got the better of me, and I let out a sneeze, and you said, “Okay, that’s it, let’s go inside now. I can’t have you catching a cold.”
And so we snuck back into your room, and I helped you back into bed, and you broke into laughter, such free, unburdened laughter. It was almost like everything was alright, like we were just four-year-olds having a tea party in the living room, instead of skirting around the elephant in your too-small, too-sterile hospital room.
Five minutes later, a nurse came into your room and told us that “hey – visiting – hours – are – over – now – I’ll – need – you – to – leave – so – if – you – could – just – say – your – goodbyes – real – quick – that – would – be – great.”
We always got awkward when there were strangers in the room, so I just mumbled a “bye” and heard you say it back. Then I walked past the smiling nurse and out to the parking lot.
I wish I’d known that was the last time we’d get to see the stars together.
“Yeah, because then you’d have at least brought your precious telescope,” I can practically hear your voice in the back of my mind, see that familiar eye roll. You were so good at making me smile when I was sad.
You’d hate me for this.
But now, when I look up at the stars, I’m looking for you. I wonder if you’re the brightest star in the sky now, if you finally have your chance to show the world how amazing you are. Or maybe, you stayed true to form, hiding a dim glow, peeking out behind the edge of a brighter star. Would you have chosen to stay in the shadows where you know I’m comfortable, so that we can be together when I finally join you in the sky?
I’ve aimed my telescope at as many parts of the night sky as I can, searching it for a sign that you’re out there. One day I’ll see that star and I’ll feel the kindling within my soul set ablaze. I’ll know that it’s you up there in the sky, watching me back, knowing that this was the one place I’d never stop looking for you.
“Seriously?” you’d say. “You’re finally free of my complaints, you can finally look at your beloved stars in peace. But you spend all your time looking into that meaningless sky, just to find me again? If it was pathetic when we went up to your stargazing point together, it’s twice as pathetic that you’re still doing it alone.”
And I’d smile back at you, and say, “Hey, but I’m not alone anymore. Whenever I look up at the sky now, I can just look for you in the sky and I’ll know you’re here with me.”
You’d groan, the way you always did when I got all sentimental on you and you became embarrassed. And then you’d hide your face in the collar of your jacket.
But stars can’t hide, and so I’d just watch as your glow became that little bit brighter, as your light twinkled in the sky, knowing that you were there with me.
And when the time comes for me to join you in the sky, I won’t need any of my maps of the sky, or an extra-powerful telescope lens, or even the North Star to guide me on my path. I’ll see you there, in all your radiant splendor. I know I’ll belong right there, next to you, together again in the night sky.