The first time that I saw a sky full of stars, I was six years old.
My family and I were in Mammoth Mountain and had walked around a few hiking trails that day, gone out to eat, and then quickly retreated inside, because the air was too thin and the breeze only brought hot air.
We unpacked a big plastic box of snacks and food we had brought, and my brother and I settled into the couches with some in hand to watch Hairspray.
All of us watched a few more of the DVDs we had brought with us, and we killed the rest of the day like that, only going out once more to get drinks from the closest 7-eleven.
At some point, my brother and I had passed out and my grandparents had gone upstairs. We only slept for a few hours before my dad woke us both up.
“You guys gotta come see this,” he whispered with a smile.
He grabbed my hand, my brother already scooped up onto his shoulders, and lead us both out to stand next to my mom.
The usually pitch-black black sky was scattered with small yellow and white specs. There were so many more of them than I thought were possible to exist. It looked like someone had taken a paintbrush, wet with water and paint, and flicked their wrist until the sky looked full enough to pour over. Some of them would fly past every now and then, and each time they did, my brother and I would gasp and giggle.
We were used to Los Angeles suburbia, pretending that every blinking airplane light or faint tower bulb was a star, all of them few and very far between. But this was the real thing, live and in action and right in front of my eyes. Not in pictures on the cover of National Geographic or in the seconds of a time-lapsed movie transition scene.
Quiet and overwhelming and ours. Just the four of us, in the silent streets of a place we never went back to, on a night I’m slowly starting to forget.
A few weeks later in a Target back home, I found a box of glow-in-the-dark stars on a shelf and ran them over to my mom.
“They won’t stick to the ceiling,” she said. “Glow-in-the-dark-stars don’t stick to stucco.”
stars a second time. and a third. and a fourth.
I never got my glow-in-the-dark stars. I never got a smooth enough ceiling, and after the world turned its back on cable tv and the “As-seen-on-tv” product explosion along with it, I forgot about them altogether.
Until I watched Superstore.
In the very first episode, Jonah joins the store team and immediately comes off as a condescending elitist jerk, earning a spot on Amy’s bad side. He spends the whole day trying to backtrack and have fun while encouraging her to “find moments of beauty” and do the same. Amy works through frustration and annoyance until she retaliates, and eventually pushes him and the shopping cart he was racing in, into a parked car.
When she comes up to apologize, Amy tells Jonah that every year for back-to-school sales, she puts the glow-in-the-dark stars up on the shelves, and then takes them down to put up the Halloween decor, then Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and on and on and on, until she circles back around to having to put the stars back up, like she has been for ten years.
“It’s a good job. But tomorrow is gonna be just like today, and I know that, because today is just like yesterday. So…sometimes…it’s just kinda hard to find those moments of beauty.”
Hours later, at store closing, the lights are shut off because a store-robbery-turned-marriage-proposal leads the assistant manager to believe that her employees are going to be shot, and the entrance is lit up with millions of glow-in-the-dark stars. Amy and the others stare up at the stars in wonder, while Jonah just stares at her.
“Moment of beauty?”
I was ten when I went to science camp and saw stars for the second time.
The dining hall windows were huge, and the lake was calling but we were never allowed to answer. We had a camp counselor who would sing us Disney songs to help us go to sleep, and who introduced us to poetry and soft-spoken secrets.
We spent every night under the stars, getting bug bites and working on the skits we were assigned.
My group was made of my best friend, my playground buddies, and three girls I had seen in class but had never spoken to. It was the first time in my life that the boys had deemed me a girl, and they collectively decided that that was inexcusable, reason enough for exile. But I pretended not to care, and the three girls quickly turned into their much prettier, better-smelling replacements.
Every night, for three nights straight, we sat in the outdoor theatre and worked on our skits. And every night, we spent a good amount of time staring up at the sky and searching for shooting stars.
For most of us, this was the first time we had seen stars at all.
When I had come back from Mammoth Mountain, I spread the word to my friends about the skies I had seen like they were the new gospel.
Sharing in one with all of them felt electric. It was like we were all worshipers of the sky, tiny new things with their eyes glued up, excited to see something so bright in something so void.
We performed our skits, ate our dinners, and walked our first lone trails underneath those stars. Eyes glued up, each and every time.
I was eleven when I saw them again. This time, I was in Catalina, with my best friend and her family.
I was a last-minute addition to the trip, since her grandpa couldn’t go and, at that point, we were close enough to be sisters.
We walked along the coast and played in the sand and got scared when her step-dad told us that the water was dirty and infested. We took a bus tour of the island and took pictures and videos of everything we saw since we were both gifted our first phones the Christmas before.
It rained for almost the entire trip, the first time in months the bus driver had told us. So we spent most of the time at the hotel, in the pool, ignoring warnings from her mom that lightning could come down and hit the pool and kill us all.
On the final day, the rain cleared up long enough for us to watch the sunset and witness the small island come to life. Before we got on the shuttle that took us back to the hotel, we took a moment to look around us, then right above.
And there they were. Stars of all shapes and sizes, none of them the same, like snowflakes.
There were a trillion shooting stars that night, but no gasps or giggles, just silent wonder and her mom whispering to her little sisters the stories and folklore about what stars meant and where they came from.
I locked eyes with my best friend and smiled at her and said, “These are just like the ones we saw at science camp. But better.”
She nodded before looking back up to watch them some more.
We grew up, and apart, after that.
The last time I saw a sky full of stars was when I was twelve, at leadership camp in seventh grade.
It wasn’t until the last night that we were there that we truly soaked them in.
Just two years before, I had made the decision to go to a middle school that was outside of my hometown, but still in my district. No one from my elementary school was going there, and I would be going completely on my own, but I decided that it was the right decision.
It was time to try something different, something new.
Now, here I was, laying on the floor with my arms linked to girls I had turned from strangers into friends, giggling and gossiping and looking up at the same sky of stars, a completely different person.
I was a grownup, a full-fledged adult with hopes and dreams and plans that, if the want was still there, could actually be in action within the next few years.
We were only silent for a split second, closing our mouths to listen to the chatter around us, from other ASB members making smores and confessing crushes and sharing obsessions.
But in that split second, I thought about every single moment of beauty that those stars had given me.
With my parents when there was still four and not six and I didn’t know that stars could move like that. With my playground buddies and that camp counselor with the curly brown hair and pretty voice. With my best friend and her family that felt like my family. And on this Malibu cliffside, back on dirt and my arms in the arms of my first true group of girlfriends.
The real stars that hung from the sky and shot from side to side, across each other and below their friends. Not some picture or movie screen.
I cherised those moments of beauty, past and present.
And I thanked the universe for not allowing glow-in-the-dark stars to stick to stucco.