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On Constellations as Crutches

by Talia Nicole 14 days ago in Short Story
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my imaginary stars and safety

On Constellations as Crutches
Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash

I will never forget when I was a kid and my grandmother fell down a flight of steps and fractured her hip. The previous Wednesday morning she read her horoscope in the newspaper, mostly because it was above her daily crossword. Her horoscope, though strangely specific in the black print of her local paper, read that she should be careful walking down steps that week. That Friday she fractured her hip, and now she reads her horoscope with more religious fervor than she ever devoted to a church.

As Earth spins, the sun, holding hands with the moon and other planets, travels through what is called the ecliptic. The constellations in the ecliptic, from our perspective on Earth, are each zodiac sign—the basis for horoscopes. Based on your time and season of birth you are tied to a specific zodiac constellation, a clump of dust lightyears away. For years, the link between people and stars has influenced our personal fates.

I didn’t start reading my horoscope until after him.

I’ll call him Bobby because he reminds me of the Bobby Womack version of Sinatra’s “Fly Me to The Moon.” I listened to it on repeat during those short months starting in September, when I gripped his fingers under a drunken sky. I hated couples, I hated the idea of something serious. I had a history of clinging to the wrong people when my life started going to shit. Bobby wasn’t serious though, he was all smiles and laughs that echoed in night air.

Fly me to the moon. The lyrics made me want to spin around stupidly. I listened to the song for days. I was enchanted with the way the R&B jazz version stole all of the household, nostalgic familiarity from Frank Sinatra’s bellow, replacing it with nothing but trumpet and promise.

Fly me to the moon. My favorite memory of Bobby was walking beside the iron fence snaking along the train tracks. Our breaths were making smoke in the cold air, tendrils of it, mixing with our laughs. I imagined the fading human noise floating up in the sky, creating turbulence for the stars. A heavy arm rested on me as we walked, our hips bumping into each other. I lifted my face to the sky trying to squint and make out the individual stars like they were all moments, and I needed to find the brightest one, the one that would stick. Womack was still in my head singing—Let me play among the stars. I caught my Bobby looking at me, then shifting away. From the corner of my eye I admired the smile on his profile and was surprised how much I liked it, disappointed at how happy I had let him make me. You are all I long for/All I worship and adore. I opened my mouth to speak, only to be drowned out by the abrupt rattling of the train shaking our footsteps. In other words, please be true.

Stars are formed from dust, just like the archaic belief of people: from dust we came and will again return. Dust to dust. Looking up at the black and blue bruised sky, we romanticize the clutches of fate controlling the alignment of tiny dots insurmountable miles away. All formed by dust. To dress up dust we say things like Orion Nebula, a common cloud in space that collapses under its own chaos kissing gravity—forming a hot, gas fueled core that births stars.

We look at stars from down here, on Earth, knowing how insignificant we are but forgetting how insignificant space dust really is too. We imagine lost loved ones up in the sky, perpetuated in the stars. We wish on balls of gas and dust, and hope that they will wink back down at us. Telescopes frame the stars in constellations that we name after Greek and Roman heroes, and study to predict things about ourselves.

Bobby became real and solid and undeniable when I was looking at the stars on a balcony covered in smoke and spills. It was a night that stuck in my mind, even though it followed the pattern of so many others. I didn’t feel like staying, but I didn’t want to go either, so I settled for a red hammock in the corner where I could see the sky. It didn’t take long for Bobby to come follow me, and I perked up at his interest. I had met him a while ago through a friend, his interest was unsettling and comforting all at once. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but wanted badly to come off indifferent.

I shut my eyes, my legs crossed as I swayed. The scratchy cloth of the hammock came up around me, wrapping me in an almost suffocating way.

“You comfortable?” Bobby asked, leaning against the railing. I nodded. I watched as a nameless boy wearing a Radiohead t-shirt in front of me was nervously turning over a bottle cap between his fingers. 1, 2, 3 times, he kept going. It bothered me. I started chewing on my finger. I could feel myself being undressed with Bobby’s eyes as I laid there and let it happen. He kept talking to me but instead of listening I kept counting in Radiohead’s direction. 6, 7, 8.

“Hey?” 11, 12, 13, 14.

“Hey? Are you listening to me?” 21, 22, 23. He laughed and grabbed the hammock so it stopped moving. I turned my head.

“Yeah, sorry what did you say?” I looked at him.

“I asked if you wanted to go inside.” He was looking right into my face, his pupils big and round. I felt like he had carefully manicured his current expression, practicing in the mirror to use on girls.

I frowned. “Not really, I think I wanna’ go home.” I grabbed his hand and he helped me up.

“Don’t leave yet!” He was doing a bad job of covering up how hard he wanted to sleep with me.

“No, I really think I should go.” I made the move to leave.

“Fine, how about I walk you then.” I bit my nail.

“Alright, let’s go.” I figured there could be no harm. I made eye contact with Radiohead on the way out, and he looked like he wanted to stop me.

When the biggest stars die, they run out of gas and start to turn red. After a while, they explode in what we call supernovas. For about a week, a supernova is the brightest star in the whole sky. After it fades, all that’s left is a black hole. Nothing can escape from black holes, they are always there ready to suck up any collateral damage being tossed around by all that black gravity. The rest of the left-over stardust from the explosion sprinkles through space and forms other stars and planets. Some things stay and others evolve, there’s no real pattern.

Not terribly long after Bobby and I had decided to be together, we unraveled like it never happened. I sat outside my building and had my gaze fixed on the black of the sky, darkness freckled with a pathetic splatter of tiny stars. I felt awfully itchy sitting there all alone, like the annoying fabric tag on the back of a shirt you’re too lazy to cut off. More so, I was restless like something dead tossing on water. Unable to be still, but also unable to move willingly. It had been an hour since I threw Bobby’s clothes at him, and with undeniable dramatic flair, the bouquet of red roses at the brick wall behind me.

When I heard what happened I didn’t cry. A friend who knew the guys Bobby hangs around told me. The way he spat Bobby’s name with distaste made me squirm, if not entirely wince. It was hard to accept that I had invented so many parts of him in my head. The blind faith I put in him was an investment, you are stupid to think you have complete control of your assets.

I invited Bobby over. He showed up at my door with a big ass smile, “Hey babe.”

I steeled.

“Is it true?” I demanded, surprised at how forceful my voice was. My heart dropped straight through my rib cage and beat uncomfortably behind my bellybutton.

“Is what true?” His eyes widened, and I thought about how he let me animate his empty words, let me decide how much he meant things he said. He asked for exclusivity drunk, he only said he loved me drunk.

Once I was writing a paper and one of my roommates called me from a bar and put me on speaker, Bobby was stumbling around telling anyone who would listen that he loved me. I remember my smile and the color that came to my face as I sat at the little table in my disastrous kitchen. He was absolutely outrageous, we had been dating for probably two weeks then.

The only thing Bobby would ever say sober, though, was how attractive he thought I was. He used to watch me do my work in the library, grazing his leg against mine. He never asked about what I was doing, we never had intellectual conversations. Yet he always made sure to tell me he liked the way I looked, and probably something thrown in to make me laugh.

I looked at him then, how pathetic I felt. How pathetic he looked standing there so blatantly unbothered. The way he so easily shaped his lips to lie. I lowered my gaze, “You cheated.”

He denied it at first.

So, after he was gone I sat and looked at the stars and thought of my life with reckless abandon. I hated them. Every single star above me. I chewed on my fingernail. If I squinted hard enough, the stars would disappear and the sky was a big black lid, closing me in. I was more comfortable with the idea of being sealed off in space. I imagined the air clean and pure, gravity the only thing that had ever touched me, wrapped me in its arms like everyone else. I imagined no ambiguity, no lies, no constellations to interpret. What happened wasn’t a reflection of the sky or something bigger, maybe it was just myself, thinking I had control. Maybe it meant nothing at all.

Remaining a heap outside the brick building I looked at my white sneakers. The bottom of the shoes were stained red. I had stomped on flower petals, breathless and dumb, under a romanticized night sky. My friends huddled in my kitchen after I wordlessly came into the apartment, calmly gathered all of Bobby’s things and walked back outside to end it with him. When I came back they knew I wouldn’t cry, so my roommate suggested we destroyed the last thing we had of him: the flowers he gave me the weekend before. They all helped as we tore them apart in the cold air, we must have looked manic—foolish maybe; we laughed. Then they let me alone, and just like that he was gone.

When I told my friend, a mentor more really (a senior, two years older than me—almost a real adult), about what happened with Bobby she gave me a hug, ripped him to pieces, and made sure to let me know I was an idiot with the people I chose to sleep with. I couldn’t deny it.

As the conversation went on, I stared at my bare toes on the hard wood, trying hard not to laugh. The way my friend spoke was always absolutely animated, it was like every pair of sentences was a set-up and a punchline. Her curly hair was bouncing and her nose twitching as she told a story about being abroad.

“We,” by which she meant her boyfriend of four years, “broke up for three months, and in that time, I lived in a different country, dated a French man, and discovered I was bisexual!”

I nodded my head, mocking seriousness. I was acting sarcastic yet I was somewhat envious her. The way she could just let go, and come back with someone waiting for her. “You did?”

“Uh huh, I dated this girl, she was one of the most incredible people I had ever met.”

“What was she like?”

A memory tugged her lips into a smile. “Well the most notable thing about her is that she believed she was a star seed.” I raised my eyebrows. The dust illuminated in light from the window was swirling around her curls. “It means she believes she’s a star, or came from them. Orion’s belt. She’s from the sky and her soul was incarnated to help people evolve and heal. Her mission is predisposed from the stars.” I scoffed at her as she wiggled her fingers in jazz hands as she said “stars” that last time.

Our conversation carried on, but I couldn’t stop thinking of that girl who believed that somewhere up in space there is a reason for everything she does. The control is out of her hands and so high up you can’t even see it when you squint.

I was lying in my suitemate’s bed when everything was still fresh, a blue light dimly glowing. I had downloaded one of those apps I usually made fun of that gave you a daily horoscope. It was even one where you had to put your exact time of birth. Earbuds were plopped in my ears, I hadn’t cried since it ended with him. Instead, I couldn’t stop listening to every song about stars that wasn’t the Bobby Womack one. “Star shopping” by lil’ peep, “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis, “Lost Stars” by Adam Levine, “Starry Eyes” by Cigarettes After Sex, “Moon & Stars” by $NOT, even “City of Stars” from that movie that won all the awards. The latter especially made me feel like I was losing myself. I melted into the covers, the talking around me sounded like far off whispers.

I opened up the app, rolling my eyes at my advice. Your main challenge right now is to allow things of the past to fade and allow the future to be born out of their ruins. Life is hard. Moodiness is understandable. I pulled at a loose string on the comforter and stared hard at the wall where a bunch of glow in the dark sticker stars were stuck. I unfocused my eyes so they blurred in and out. I wondered why they were that shape, all perfect and five points when real stars are round and unpredictable. Maybe the luxury of arranging the stickers in whatever pattern you like is supposed to be some sort of metaphor for something. I shut my eyes and tried not to think about Bobby wanting other people who weren’t me.

I had taken a screen shot of my horoscope one day in the months following Bobby. It read: Your Moon in Scorpio is the source of your fear of losing control. Your arrogance prevents you from being seen for who you really are. It’s a waste of time to dwell on the things you can’t change.

Two other heartbreak separates me and Bobby now. I have relived the length of our relationship several times over, but every now and then I have a surge of confused fondness for the way he made laugh. That happened earlier today when “Fly Me to the Moon” by Bobby Womack came up in my shuffle of music.

It’s been long enough that I have the perspective I was blind to. The part where Womack’s voice draws out Please be true washes over me, and I bite my fingernail. It didn’t work out with him, but there is nothing I can do about it. It’s hard to get over feeling stupid and oblivious, but I couldn’t control what he meant to me. What I wanted him to mean to me. I can control not answering him when he calls every now and then late at night.

I had showed Bobby the Womack song once, in my mind it was already synonymous with him and how he made me feel, yet we had never listened to it together. He had been smoking on a red leather couch, in an off-campus house. I was sitting crisscross applesauce facing him. I asked to play a song. I smiled as the familiar sound soaked into the walls, the couch.

He ashed his joint on the dirty table surface. “Come on, I give you aux and this is the best you can do? The original is better.” I darkened for a second as he changed it to the Beatles. I heard the energetic intro of the drums and the familiar voice She came in through the bathroom window. I didn’t have a long time to be insulted because he pushed me back on the couch, to which I relinquished a protesting shriek of laughter. It darkened outside and Bobby’s music got louder until our lips were layered together, and his hands were on me.

Though she thought I knew the answer. We blurred into the dirty red couch, the material rough on my bare skin. The music shaking my vision of lingering smoke, I was melting and bleeding into the shocking familiarity he had become. Well I knew what I could not say I shut my eyes, still completely ignorant of all the things he had done. Didn’t anybody tell her? I focused on his touch, wanting to remember the way he made me feel. In the moment it was perfect. We were breathing the same breaths alone in the dark room, on the red couch, and I soared through the misty security of my imaginary stars and safety.

Short Story

About the author

Talia Nicole

Freelance writer and JD candidate in early twenties.

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