Tonight, as we gaze up into the night sky, you ask if I can see the little dipper.
We sprawl together across the grassy field beyond your bedroom window, backs pressed flat against the earth. I remember laying here when we were younger, narrowing my eyes just enough to block out the willow branches encroaching upon my view, and then it was just me and you and the stars. I felt as though I could fall right off the face of the earth back then, tumble headfirst into the clouds with your hand in mine.
If you didn't let go, I'd thought, I don't think I'd mind the fall.
For a moment, your question is met with silence. The distant hum of cicadas settles comfortably within the absence of our conversation, the chrip of crickets nestled within the swaying branches of the willow tree. I know if I looked, I would find your head turned to face me, hair tangled up and threaded with fallen branches as it had been when we were eight years old.
I smile. "Why ask when we both know you'll show me anyway?'
You laugh beside me, and for a moment I think gravity really has reversed and thrown us freefalling into the sky. It's only butterflies. When I turn, you're smiling too, long hair splayed out across the grass as the stars reflect in your eyes. "Hey, give me a break!"
"Well," I say, laughing along, "It's true, isn't it? You always loved telling people all about the mythology behind them. Remember that time with my mom?"
You turn away, face burning at the memory. "Oh god, I can't believe she can look me in the eye after that." Shaking your head, you fall back with a sigh. The insects engulf the absence of our voices once again, a cool breeze drifting across my skin.
"Hey," You say, "I know its annoying, but could I still tell you about the little dipper?"
I laugh, becuase the idea of your talks annoying me is so ridiculous I can't help it, and your face twists into a frown. "As if any of your stories could be annoying," I tell you, "You're like, a natural born storyteller. Whoever came up with the original constellation stories would be honored to hear you gushing about them."
"The Ancient Greeks," You say.
"See? There you go. I have no idea how you hold so much knowledge inside that tiny head of yours. You're brilliant. Probably the smartest person I know."
You sit abruptly to stare at me, wide-eyed like you were all those years ago. I catch a flicker of confusion within your gaze before it melts into understanding, into something kinder that I am unable to place. If I were as smart as you, I might call it love.
"So," I continue, gesturing towards the sky, "Go on, tell me as many time as you'd like. I'd listen to you forever if I could, but the sun always rises eventually."
You shot me a smile before flopping back onto the grass. I watch, transfixed, as you raise a hand to point out each star comprising the constellation and connect them together, explaining each story along the way.
Tonight, I imagine the hands of our ancient ancestors tracing the ceiling of this world, passing stories down through the generations in a tongue neither of us can speak. I see the way their fingertips trace each pinprick of light amid the darkness, pulling them together until they connect. Humans, it seems to me, have always been drawn to stars.
Tonight, I imagine us tumbling down into the cosmos to drift among the stars, hand in hand as we had been all those years ago. I imagine someone still standing on earth, fingertips outstretched to connect our constellations.
It seems fitting, to be drawn together like this. It had always been the two of us here among the stars, and I couldn't imagine it any other way.
You dive into another explanation, reciting the stories you have known by heart since Kindergarden, and I smile. Eventually, the sun will rise to chase away the night, and your stories will end, but for now, I close my eyes and listen.
I find your words more beautiful than the view.
The specifics blur with time through my unfocused eyes. I wonder if these memories were traumatic enough for me to supress, or if i've simply forgotten. Either way, fissures still erupt through my heart where you pressed too hard, took too much. It aches.
I apologize and bend over backwards to avoid upsetting people because nothing was ever enough to settle you. The words best friend catch in my throat. I still flinch away from raised hands like a frightened mouse and people laugh like this is funny. Like I don't still break myself to pieces so you can't take that from me, too.
I am nothing but the aftermath, and i'm sure you'd think that's funny, too.
The House Still Burns
I have never endured anything traumatic enough to experience any slow-motion effect, but as September slips into October, I wonder if this is what you are. A rental car racing into a head-on collision at the intersection, speeding, and yet time slows just long enough to catch the bobblehead perched upon the dashboard of the Lexus. A childhood house engulfed in flame, thick smoke curling over the white picket fence like syrup over Sunday morning pancakes.
You are an accident in the making. I watch you decompose over time, devolve into nothing but trembling fingers and empty promises. I am young and stupid and I don't know how to fix this, but I try. I have to try.
The gas station liquor burns the back of your throat like a bed of hot coals and every cloud of cigarette smoke chokes me in tandem with your lies.
"I love you."
"Sorry, I can't help it."
"I just need this right now, you know its been a long day."
I laugh and shake my head because it has been a long day, but its always a long day and its been quite a long year watching you break yourself to pieces like this. You aren't getting better. The unspoken truth of it hangs between us like a physical weight.
You're burning yourself out like a match. Soaking your brain cells in vodka and TV static until you can't think straight enough to hurt anymore. I look away because I love you too and you're breaking my heart.
I didn't understand yet, but watching things play out in slow-motion didn't change the outcome. Vivid details burn themselves onto the inside of my eyelids, melting plastic Barbie dolls sprawled across the burning lawn, red traffic lights caught in the polished surface of the Lexus, fingers curled in a white-knuckle grip around the neck of a bottle.
In the end, the house still burns. The car still crashes. You still break yourself to pieces.
September slips into October, and I learn.
Enjoy The View
I have always felt just on the verge of understanding, hands outstetched to the stars above, fingertips a breath away from brushing the constellations, yet so far away.
Everything spins past at a dizzying pace, people and places, all voices lost to the wind. I can remember hot summer nights and cigarette smoke, but never faces. I remember high heels clicking against the gymnasium floor in time with the music, but never the song.
I often feel that I exist entirely in memory, drifting back and forth within the unconcious mind like a dreamer, like a parasite. My body goes through the motions. When I hover before the bathroom sink brushing my teeth, blank stare fixated on the smeared surface of the mirror, images of the past superimpose themselves over reality. She stands at my side again. Swearing she loves me, spewing hot breath and empty promises like smoke.
I stand long enough to miss the bus before I realize I'm still dreaming and spit out the toothpaste. The icy water bites in the aftermath of mint, and now I see myself trying adult toothpaste for the first time, sputtering and scrunching up my nose against the burn as my father smiles. Stepping outside, I push the memory away.
The drive is drowned out in music and daydream, and much of the day follows suit. I spend hours wading through hypothetical situations and fictional worlds, pushing reality aside until I choke on it. Nothing is interesting enough to hold my attention for long.
When will I feel something real again? Will I ever?
Bad days are spent sprawled across the cold tile of my bedroom floor, unseeing eyes trained on the popcorn ceiling. I puzzle through years worth of mistakes, failed relationships, details missed in the moment. Maybe if I would have tried harder. Maybe if I could have been a better daughter, a better person, a better friend.
I smile through the burn of unshed tears, because at least that feels like something real. When they fall, searing hot against my cheeks, I think back to all those nights curled up in the dark, terror coursing through every inch of me like a virus, like something infectious and foreign. It trembles through my tiny fingers like an earthquake.
Sometimes, a flicker of light will catch my eye. I'll find a bird perched on the windowsill, or familliar faces caught in the golden light, or warm hands wrapped around my own. Becoming lost in the tumble of regret and the need to understand is easy, but I find myself eager to push through and smile at the little things, to draw myself back.
Maybe I will never reach the constellations, but I can always choose to enjoy the view.
I cannot remember what she looks like.
They say it is natural, for the details to fade with time. Receed back into depths where the ghost of her laugh still lingers, where I can still feel the bass pounding through my chest and the unspoken promises behind her smeared eyeliner.
You mean the world to me, I translate.
On autopilot, I drift through the spaces we used to occupy. Every lampshade and ratty inch of this apartment sends memories kaleidoscope-ing across the inside of my eyelids. I see her sprawled out across the matress, I see her rigid and teary-eyed in the dark, I see her head tilted back as she gargles mouthwash before the bathroom sink. She isn't there.
It seems the world wasn't enough.