The evening before the lunar eclipse, the moon hung fat and dusky orange in the sky. It was so close that it seemed I could reach up and scoop it out of the sky and pocket it like a Hi-Bounce ball. Speckled in a line leading away from it were five visible planets- Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.
I’m not usually one to take notice of celestial events, but this felt somehow different- something special. Or, perhaps more accurately, I’ve been keeping myself open for meaningful things. The past year has been a series of kicks in the teeth- Life trying to get my attention, to help me focus on clues and cues as to what is really important.
And, so, at 5am the morning after the “mega-moon,” I shook 11yo O awake to watch the full lunar eclipse. When we got out to the porch, bundled in our fuzzy blankets, there was already a slight shadow on the top right corner of the moon, which now glowed a halogen white-blue extra-bright. Mars was visible, raging red up to the top left of the moon.
Oskar and i chatted about science and the universe, the difference between cookies in the US and Australia, what we would do with a million dollars, and a book the school librarian suggested to him, that he returned and asked her to remove from the collection because of its racist depictions of Native Americans. Over that half-hour, the Earth’s shadow crept over the too-bright moon, staining it a deep red to match Mars.
At 5:30, the eclipse was complete. The neighbourhood was still dark and quiet. O and I sat in the silence of the moment- absorbing the marvel of the night sky- each in our own thoughts. A short time later, we retired back to our beds for a few more hours sleep.
That day, I get a text from my friend, E – a link to a news article. I read that an old friend had been killed in a collision with a tractor trailer. He was 42 and left behind three children. E told me that, only the week before, he had been talking about how excited he was to have closed on a new house for his family.
A was one of the nicest, kindest guys I’ve ever known. I met him and his brother when we were all may 15-17 years old. They used to come party at the gross punk/metal house I lived in. There was always an air of menace surrounding us. We were angry young people- the poor and neglected, the shithouse drunks and paint sniffers, the fighters and bomb builders. But A was always nice, laughing and joking, calming the situation. And I never saw him throw a punch- that’s saying a LOT for our friend group at that time. Maybe I don’t remember everything, maybe I’m painting too glossy a picture of him- there may be other stories, other memories- but these are mine and I choose to trust them. Our paths crossed over our adult years, often at private parties, and he was always as respectful and kind as I remembered him being as a teen.
We have reached the stage on life where our friends have (mostly) stopped dying from their own folly and are now being taken out by random tragedy, illnesses and suicide. There is no more strange “comfort” of having figured it would happen sooner or later. We’re past the overdose years, the drug-deal turned robbery/murder days, the misadventures- falls and train impacts and consequences of all stupid risks we took just because we could. We’re not leaving behind friends who shrug at the news, even when it hurt, but rather those that can’t catch breath at it. Though we hold death as inevitable, we all think we can stave it off just a little longer. The youthful devil-may-care attitude has been replaced with the idea that we made it through our 20s and 30s, so we must be on our way to old age now before we succumb to the reaper.
But that’s not so. And when death happens, we’re all a little dumbstruck.
I searched through all of the photo albums I brought with me to Australia for pictures of A, knowing there must be one- at least one- but I couldn’t find him there. Perhaps he’s in the box of loose photos I left in a box in my in-laws’ attic. Maybe he just somehow managed not to make it into my collection. It nags me to think that there are people from that time that I don’t have captured on film. The best and worst days of my life are becoming a hazy forgetful blur now. Chapel Hill Boot Crew, Bull City Syndicate, and various peripheral social group members are fading into the bog of middle-aged amnesia.
As a child I dreamt of Australia. It was the destination poor Alexander yearned for during his Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was a wild, mysterious land full of adventure and curious creatures- enchanting and deadly. It was literally the furthest point away from the place I had come from, the place I felt so trapped and suffocated by. A place you could disappear in. I hold no illusion that I was alone in this. Nearly every American thinks it was their own special dream to escape to the outback. I, like so many, envisioned a different life down under- one I could choose the framework for, be the self I felt I couldn’t be in my hometown.
Now I am here, trying to remember people and events from there and who I was then. There are things we forget, and things we choose not to remember. Sometimes important information falls through the cracks in between. Other times it is replaced with different important information.
There is a sub-clause in the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads “Fauna Sensitive Road Design Manual” that addresses the matter of lighting on and near roadways. The guidelines restrict the placement, height and luminosity of street lights so as not to disturb nocturnal wildlife in both rural and urban areas. The result is long stretches of darkness come nightfall, punctuated by only the dimmest of lights.
In these pockets of evening, it is easy to see clear to the next galaxy. I stare up again and again at the night sky noting which planets are aligned in the sky, allowing my mind to travel across space and the spaces between.