“Oh, look! A shooting star!” Jess squeals with giddiness.
“Jess,” I begin to laugh, the good kind of laugh that’s fueled by tequila and comes from deep down in your belly. “We’re in Boston and you’re drunk. That’s an airplane.”
I join my friend and roll over onto my back to stare up at the night sky. It’s nearly eleven but the light from the skyscrapers makes it seem like dusk is just settling in for the night. I can’t tell if I find the never ending brightness exhilarating or a waste of an electricity bill.
The two of us are laying down in a small patch of grass that could only be ever called a “park” by urban standards. It’s a humid mid-August night and the alcohol is making my blood simmer. I can’t tell if the beads of sweat on my forehead are from the former or the latter, but the salty seaport breeze gives my skin the slightest reprieve from the summer heat.
If we were back home instead of Boston, we’d be laying in a real park, the kind that has a playground and baseball field. Instead we’re surrounded by concrete and chaos. In the land of suburbia, laying down in the grass would result in a symphony of peeper frogs engulfing us on all sides rather than a cacophony of clashing voices. And when we look up at the sky, it would be clear and pure so we could easily find the Big and Little Dippers.
But this is Boston, and trying to find a single star is more difficult than any Where’s Waldo picture book.
Until then, I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing the stars. After living here for four years, you start to forget the sky in most places is not solely dark, blank, and sad. Most places have constellations or the northern lights or maybe a real shooting star if you’re really lucky. When I was younger my mother used to tell me that every star in the sky was the soul of someone who passed away. But only the brightest stars were the souls of our family—only the most radiant ones belonged to us.
“One day,” my mom would tell me. “One day, I’ll become your North Star. You’ll always know where I’ll be, all you’ll have to do is look up.”
We could spend hours in the front yard, sitting on the stone wall and staring into the glimmering abyss, appointing stars. Over the years, the glistening collection grew. Searching for souls in the sky became easy. That one belongs to Grammy, this one to Grampy. That one over there? Belongs to Nana. One for Aunt Laurie and Jimmy and even one for the old family dog. Everyone that has ever loved me is a star.
It’s hard to tell if they’re still watching over me when disguised by the city lights.
Do they miss me? I miss them.
The city always makes me feel energized, but never quite reassured. Leaving the suffocating confines of my hometown has always been what I wanted. I don’t regret any of it. I love the bonds I’ve shared and the connections I’ve made. But Boston has never completely felt like home.
Home is the cul de sac where Grampy taught me to ride a bike and the gardens where Nana would play hide and seek with me. I can’t help but think about the strangers surrounding me and how sad the souls in the sky probably are because they are blinded by pollution, unable to watch the ones they love. A thin layer of smog wafts over the city, hiding us in plain sight.
I’d like to be somewhere with an open sky when finality comes for those closest to me. I want to be able to have the best view of my people up there. I like to think they want that, too.
I don’t want to miss out on the North Star.
“Okay I swear I found one this time, look.”
The sound of Jess’s voice snaps me back into reality. Cocking my head to the left, I tilt my chin up to meet the direction of her finger. I stare up into the sky. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing… oh wait! Something! I squint as hard as I can and when my gaze focuses there is the slightest sparkle of a star attempting to outshine its artificial rivals.
“Who do you think it is?” I ask.
Jess pauses before saying, “What the hell are you talking about?”
I laugh and explain it the same way my mom did to me all those years ago. She looks at the sky inquisitively before confidently affirming that the star is in fact her beloved pet tortoise.
She turns to look at me, softly this time, as though all the alcohol has evaporated from her bloodstream.
“That one over there though,” she says. “I think that one’s my grandfather. We called him Bumpy and he was pretty great.”
We continue naming the stars, each one harder to find than the next, until we are absolutely completely positive there are just no more stars left in Boston.
© 2020, Riley Simmons