I stepped out into the backyard, closing the door behind me, and pulled a chair out into the center of the small lawn.
Curled in the chair, my arms wrapped around my knees for warmth, I tipped my head back and stared up at the stars. They were just where I expected them to be.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my life looking up at the stars. My children are stargazers, too. Maybe that’s one thing I did right.
When they were small I held them and we looked for the Big Dipper or gazed up at the full moon.
Later, we slept outdoors, camping on weekends and vacations, in places where the sky hung over us like a blanket of stars.
Once, on the occasion of a big meteor shower, we woke the children in the wee hours of the morning and drove to a viewpoint. I poured cups of cocoa from a thermos and passed out granola bars. We stood there shivering, calling out each time another shooting star passed overhead. Driving home, just as the sun was coming up, they dozed in the car and we put them back into their beds for a nap before school.
When we came out west, where the sky is so big, we moved into a house just outside the city.
Our nights there were painted with stars.
Last year, before we sold that house in the suburbs, I stood in my kitchen beside a stranger. I hadn’t expected to be there when the woman arrived but her real estate agent was late. We were both uncomfortable, so to break the ice, I showed her the roses I’d planted. Some were gifts from my children.
“Roses are a lot of trouble,” she said. And I agreed.
But I loved those roses.
Looking up at the tall pine trees that ringed the big backyard I told her I loved the way the wind whispered through them.
“I don’t know about those pines,” she said, shielding her eyes from the sun and squinting up at the tall trees. “What about fire?”
Desperately wishing her agent would hurry, I told the woman that each day deer – usually a doe and her twin fawns – walked by the window and occasionally stopped to gaze at us with eyes so deep and still you could drown in them.
“Deer!” she gasped. “Do they have ticks?”
I wanted to say I’d never been curious enough to check, but said only that I had never seen any on the children or the pets.
Miserable, I nattered on about quail and pheasant and owls that called to one another from the stand of pines in the backyard.
She wasn’t impressed by me or my house. She didn’t trust either of us.
When her agent arrived I fled.
The other night, alone with the stars, I thought about the woman. There was one thing I didn’t reveal as I showed her around the place that had sheltered my family.
I didn’t tell the woman about the happy hours my children and I spent staring up into the night, giggling and whispering, wrapped in blankets against the chill, swimming in stars, canopied by the Milky Way, serenaded by the whispering of the tall pines. We traced satellites and marked the space station as it flew over us.
I kept that secret.
Sitting quietly in the dark, I was content. Years come and go. Children grow up and away, but the familiar stars are always there.
It crossed my mind that the woman, wherever she is, probably isn’t the kind of person who looks up for the pleasure of it.
When I see a shooting star, I make a wish.
I’ll bet she thinks the sky is falling.