Seeing the Stars

Sarah asks, When was the last time you looked up at the stars?

Actually, April 6. This year.

It seems weird to be able to put a date on that. Seems like it should be the sort of thing that’s recalled in a purely sensory way, tied together with memories of air and fading light and sound or lack of sound and togetherness or solitude.

We made a campfire for the kids on the night they came home from their spring break in Michigan–on April 6. We had some marshmallows going stale in the cupboard. Some graham crackers. Even some chocolate. Hashtag, s’mores. Hashtag, all you need to do is make a fire.

I like building campfires. I was a camp counselor when I was 18, the summer after my freshman year of college. I started the summer with no idea how to build a fire, but when you’re solo-counseling out at Teepee with a bunch of middle school girls and you’re expected to cook campfire breakfasts, you learn how fast. You learn fast, or you get to have an audience for your repeated failures.

Husband and I build our fires in a fire bowl thing–one of those fancy deals with the lid and the side with the hinged door on it, y’know, so you can throw things in the fire without donning an oven mitt and swinging off the huge black lid. We got it from my husband’s grandfather, after he passed away. It sits on our patio. It is a constant presence.

We didn’t need to buy firewood. Somehow, every time we want to make a fire, we find something around to burn.

So we made a fire. And we got all joyful and made s’mores and our kids smiled at us and we were all happy to be back together.

After the s’mores, after enough darkness had settled that the kids didn’t really have any choice but to believe it was bedtime, husband took them into the house and I stayed outside. I slouched down in a chair. Stared at the fire. Thought about whether or not I should stare at the fire. Pulled up a vague memory of a story in which the characters stare at a campfire and by doing so, release some kind of demon-spirit-thing from the flames. (Always wondered if my staring would do that. Decided to risk it.)

Then the sound came, a loud humming sound, the kind that fills up your whole head in an instant, somewhere in the sky above me.

I got up from my chair because I wanted to see what was coming at us. That if we were going down–if this was some kind of asteroid descending, or some alien spacecraft–I wanted to go down standing. Facing it, whatever it was.

I find it strange that my fight-or-flight instinct is nearly always fight, because I hate confrontation. Yet, when it seems like sh*t is going down, I want to SEE it, even if while I’m seeing it I’m shaking and scared out of my mind.

A helicopter was circling in the sky just above my neighborhood. I tracked it as it passed over my house, then turn south. Came back around. I watched it for several minutes, and when the pattern became predictable, I stopped watching.

And then I noticed the stars.

The sky was loud again when I did, even after the helicopter had flown away.

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