Fallen Stars & Fireflies

by Debbie Augenthaler

Summer in the city. Thick air melting into sidewalks shimmering with heat. Harsh white sun glare reflecting from the windows of concrete buildings, blinding vision, baking skin, wilting hair. So unlike the long lazy days of the summers of my childhood before my world cracked. When the world was innocence and wonder and magic. When days smelled of freshly mowed grass and the insect repellent our mother would spray all over my brother and me. Standing in the front yard, our bodies forming a cross of anticipation as she slathered us with smelly spray. A daily dreaded ritual worth it to be free for the day, running from backyard to backyard in the close-knit Marine Base neighborhoods filled with young families. Rows of small square yards connecting at the edges.

Sounds of laughter and arguments and television shows wafting into windows opened to allow a breeze whisper to waft in, traveling through our house on sweet summer air to the next set of opened windows, floating along the compact beige houses lined up side by side by side. Nights of parents barbecuing and drinking and flirting, letting children run free, fireflies lighting up, little sparks falling from the stars. Catching them with our small hands, carefully cupping the wondrous glow. Placing our tiny treasures in mason jars, metal tops punctured with holes from a thin ice pick, so the fallen stars could breath and catch their breath in the dark of our backyard universe. With bellies full of hotdogs and toasted marshmallows pressing on the damp night grass we’d watch, mesmerized, as our carefully caught stars blinked off and on.

Hello, hello, little star.

When parents called out for bedtime, chubby little fingers unscrewed the metal, and sleepy eyes watched little stars float back up to the luminous sky, to their own beds, with mother Moon to watch over them. Over me too, I’d think, falling asleep.

Now, in the days of lost innocence, I go to the ocean, and drink in the crystal air and the ancient sounds of waves, laying in the embrace of warm sand. When early evening explodes with color as the sun sinks down the horizon, and stars emerge and the moon grows brighter in the sky, I remember the magic. I come home refreshed, with memories of magic collected like shells and small smooth stones, until the concrete and sirens and crowds of sweaty tourists and smelly stench of summer trash waiting to be picked up replaces ocean breath in my lungs.

I long for the nights of grass and moon. Since those childhood days of summer, feeling soothed knowing she was always there for me, even if the adults in my life were not. Marveling that no matter where I was in the world the moon was always there, watching and waiting when I’ve lost my way. All I need to do is look up, and she reassures me: “Some things stay the same Debbie. I will not leave you. Don’t forget where you come from, little stardust.”

She’s held me through all the cracks in my life. And, in the seven months I lived in Kauai, she brought me back to nature. She knew how much healing I still needed. She reminded me of my always connection to the expansive open sky, to the waves of an ocean with an infinite horizon, to green majestic mountains sparkling with waterfalls, to the Milky Way sky filled with stars and constellations and galaxies. To the wind, oh the wind I love so. To neon magic hold-your-breath beautiful rainbows, to palm trees with flowing fronds, to the six-million-year-old volcanic earth. My bare feet squishing in the red mud when walking through mahogany forests. My heart paused at the sheer thrill of it all, so filled up I could barely breathe.

Oh, the moon. Marking my time every night and day too. I could see her watching me in the afternoon through the clouds. Like the tide, she pulled me back into myself and taught me how to see the world with eyes of wonder and magic again. Reminding me that child still lives in me.

Twinkle, little star.

Philip Brautigam
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