Do you remember that day, in the desert? It was probably the longest day of my life.
I could never understand you. To the others it probably looked like neither of us understood each other, but I know you knew me better than I knew myself. We were probably the most unlikely match in the entire school. You remember. I was the brooding Gen-X kid with no friends. I liked alt rock, didn't care how I dressed (in retrospect I should have cared a little more about hygiene, too). If I was outside of class you were most likely to find me with the earphones of my Walkman firmly lodged over my head, holding or reading an obscure book, or writing something on a pad.
Everybody liked you because you liked everybody. Always a smile, always a kind word, a nice gesture to everyone. You despised the politics and the cliques as much as I did, but no-one could've guessed, not even me. They couldn't see that your kindness was as much a fortress for you as my misanthropy was for me. But it wasn't a facade. You really liked everyone. If intelligence is the capacity to extract the relevant information from a situation, then you had the intelligence of goodness, the intelligence of beauty.
I'll always remember the time you first talked to me. I don't know how you sat next to me, I was too absorbed by my book to notice. You politely waited for me to be done, because you know how irritating when someone asks "What'choo readin'?" or "What'choo doin'?" You talked to me, and I looked up. I remember everything. The light, how you were sitting, your jeans, your blue knit sweater with the U.S. flag, but no matter how hard I try I can't remember what you said to me. It's like trying to remember the details of a dream. But it doesn't matter because the words you spoke have nothing to do with what you really said. Here's what you told me :
"I know you. I've seen you, I've looked at you before and noticed you. I know who you are, I know what you're like. I know your kind, smart and secretive. We are very much alike even though it doesn't look like it. You have true riches inside, even though you hide them, and I want to get to know you. We can't not get together."
Afterwards we had a class together and we sat together at the back, remember? I never laughed so much in my life. Afterwards, I was still cracked up, you pulled me to somewhere no-one could see us and you kissed me and you left before I realized what had happened. It was my first kiss, you know. I stood there for what seemed like an eon, lost in the awareness of my lips, the touch and the fluids and the taste you had left.
We made such a great couple. I quickly fell in love. We were inseparable, do you remember? When we were together we probably looked like a yin and yang, me with my rumpled jeans and shirts and you with the bright clothes, me with the dirty dark hair styled à la Kurt Cobain, you with your beautiful, beautiful Irish red hair and the freckles to go with it, light and dark. I wore my brood like a mask while you kept grinning and laughing and smiling. Your eyes were grey like brushed steel and I would lose myself in them. No matter how fascinated I was by what you were saying your eyes would mesmerize me and I would lose all sense of reality.
But I could never understand you, at least not until it was too late. I couldn't understand how you could always be so happy. I couldn't understand how you could always be so optimistic, always so happy, always so cheery. You remember how much I was into politics? I would get into Harvard Law School (which was the only reason I put out what little schoolwork I did), become a lobbyist, and try to change things from the inside. Every minute of my life was about resisting a perpetually renewed assault launched by stupidity and pettiness. We live in a shitty world, I said, remember, and it's our fault. It's because we do nothing that everything sucks so bad. Every news item, every world event was a pretext for me to rant and drone, whether it was about the Conservatists, the environment, the right wing, the Christians, and this would go on until I would be out of breath.
When I did this you would simply look at me with a bemused smile. Even though you disagreed I think it made you love me more. You would always subtly point out the good things. Or you would just shut me up with a kiss. And all the while I could never understand how you could not see the bleak world I lived in.
And you remember, I could never understand why you loved astronomy so much. Who cares about the stars? How can we bother trying to spread ourselves to the stars if we haven't solved the problems we have right here. Stargazing was the most pointless thing I could think of at a time when I thought that the biggest problem of the world was that we didn't face our problems. All that we could accomplish by going out into the stars would be to contaminate the rest of the universe with the plague that is mankind, like we already did with Earth. Do you remember how many nights I spent in your backyard (I understood why you were forced to be so happy when I looked at your unloving parents) looking at you looking into your telescope. You tried to teach me the constellations, but I never could learn anything. What a stupid idea, I thought, naming patterns we think we see in the sky after greek gods.
Remember, one time I did rant too much and you got angry, the only time I saw you angry. This time I remember the words "Maybe you're right! Maybe you're right after all! Maybe the world is shit, maybe the world is a fucking shitball, maybe we're all assholes!" You were starting to cry, your voice got all squeaky, a ball of ice formed in my stomach, it was like being on the edge of a precipice all of a sudden. All I could do was grab you, hug you. I squeezed you so hard, I was afraid I'd break something, but I squeezed harder anyway, remember? "Don't cry" I said. "Don't cry, or I'll have to cry too." I said between tears. You put your face in my shoulder and cried, I could feel my Soundgarden shirt soaking with your tears. You told me about your real father the deserter and how your stepfather resented you. After a while you said "Maybe the world really is a gutter. Maybe we're all in the gutter. But at least I'm looking at the stars." and you laughed. And we laughed, an honest laughter between our cries, your makeup was smudged and we were sniffing. Instinctively, I told you that I loved you. I didn't think. I knew that I loved you but I hadn't dared to tell you. You kissed me. Since then, whenever something would drive me crazy you would just look at me, flash that smile of yours from which all of the goodness of the world cascades, and say "Look at the stars." And I would smile and shut up.
But no matter how hard I tried I couldn't like astronomy. The stars were just white dots on a heavy lid over this beautiful place that we had made all ugly with our selfishness, our pettiness, our stupidity. God knows I tried, but I couldn't, and you saw it. So one morning I was walking towards the bus stop and your dad's car screeched to a halt next to me. You popped open the passenger side door. "Get in!" I did and asked where we were going. "In the desert." and then you blindfolded me, wrapping a long medical band around my head, I couldn't see anything at all. I didn't know you were into kinky games but all right. I'm guessing you drove hours east into the Nevada desert. You rolled down the windows because of the heat and told me I would have to wear the blindfold all day. Even though you were kind enough to take tapes of good music I was bored senseless. We couldn't talk over the wind rushing in, but if we put up the windows the heat soon became unbearable. When we got to where we were going—the middle of nowhere—you set up a tent and brought me into it. I asked what's going on and you said I would see. Tonight I would see the stars. After a day blindfolded my eyes would be extremely sensitive. And out here in the desert there would be no light pollution ("Light pollution? What about real pollution?"). So we would just wait the day out and once it would be nice and dark, you would remove my blindfold and I would see the stars. I probably should've been angry or simply annoyed that you kidnapped me, made me skip class, blindfolded me and took me to the middle of nowhere just to look at the stars.
But no. For some reason I loved the idea. No matter what we did, the blindfold made me get bored, like it reduced my attention span. I learned a few things. The first one is how much we depend on our eyes in our daily lives. The second one is every square inch of your body. I'll always remember. That was the first time we had time and leisure to spend on sex instead of sneaking around to have it. I spent what felt like hours studying your body's topography with my hands as eyes. Later we talked and talked, and laughed. It must've been a strange sight, a car parked in the middle of nowhere, with a closed tent next to it, and two naked (except for one blindfold) teenagers inside. Do you remember? You thought of everything, you had an icebox with sandwiches and water in it. I remember. I remember the taste of the chicken and the mayonnaise. I remember your body against mine, both too sticky with sweat, and I told you this blindfold made me realize how much our country discriminates against blind people, how one day I would change that. I could see your amused expression. How did I look with the blindfold?
Then came the night. You dragged me by the hand, still naked, in the cold desert night, sat me down, and slowly unraveled the piece of fabric around my eyes.
Whenever I think back to what I saw, the only words that my mind can summon are holy shit. The sky was a very dark blue, so deep it seemed like you were looking out into infinity. So many stars, it was like a silent explosion, like billions of diamond flames. For the second time with you, I cried. There are some things you really cannot describe and the stars are one of them.
I often wondered why it didn't surprise me that you left. Probably your parents, instinctively I knew you couldn't stay much longer with them. Or this whole suburbian town, if we have one thing in common it's that we were too big for it. But when you left, there's nothing I wished more than for you to have taken me along for the ride. I would've left with you—and now I think that's why you didn't tell me anything. But I hated myself for years, for not being good enough that you would make me a part of your escape plan.
But I did get on with my life, and I even fulfilled my childhood dream. I studied law at Penn and got a job as a Supreme Court clerk. Now I live in D.C. with my fiancée Charlotte. We met in grad school and are very in love. When I have the time (which I rarely do, I work like 14/6) I look at the sky with my 10" reflective telescope, I bought it last year of high school.
And you, how are you?
One night I googled you and found out about your novels and your poetry. You have no idea what I had to do to get your info from your agent, but these days people are more afraid of lawyers than they are of mobsters. I decided to pay you a visit since you haven't returned any of my messages. You have a really pretty house. Your biography on your website says you live in Manhattan but upstate N.Y. fits you a lot better. When I realized you wouldn't be coming back today I started to write this. Sorry for the outpour, but you won't return my calls, so you had it coming.
Please meet me.
I'm not in love with you anymore, but I still love you as a friend. When I read I Can See the Evening Stars it felt like being with you all over again, and I want to be with you again. Call me. Have coffee with me. Do you really want to hide out here in a house in the middle of the woods like a female J.D. Salinger? Call me.
Please call me.
This has been a delightful nodeshell challenge by grundoon.
This is a work of fiction.