Star Struck

One night when I was fifteen I was hanging around with David, John, and Con. They were all older than I by at least three years – David, in fact, was already attending Brown University. Con and I had been friends for two years, and I was bit intimidated by him. He had taken third place in a National Poetry contest, his father was a well-known journalist, and he could grow a beard. He was also a heavy weight wrestler, and in size and demeanor he had always reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. On this particular evening we were doing what we did most often – nothing, which meant wandering around Providence bantering. We paused in our doing of nothing, and Con stared up at the clear night sky. “Stars are amazing, aren’t they?” he said.

I looked up at the stars. I knew that as a would-be writer I was supposed to be inspired by a sky full of stars, but at that moment I really didn’t care. I could not summon my awe on demand. Plus, I thought I sensed something disingenuous in Con’s voice. Was this just a poet’s pose?

“Yeah, they’re fine,” I said.

“Shut up, Bill” he snapped. “You don’t know anything. I know. I’ve read your writing.”

That was almost it for Con and me.  I turned away, as close to tears as I would ever want to come with my friends. John, who had dabbled in poetry, joined Con in his star-gazing, but David found me as I wandered away.

“I don’t really care about the stars either,” he confessed.

I mumbled some unkind things about Con, but I already felt better having an ally. Soon Con and John were done with the stars and we were all more or less friends again. But Con’s remark stuck in my side like a bullet fragment for the rest of that night and for many, many years afterward. If he were right, I ought to quit this thing before I embarrass myself.

Sometimes I find myself beneath a clear night sky and discover, thirty years later, I am still reluctant to acknowledge the heavens’ awesomeness. To do so would be to admit Con was right about that and everything else. But what can you do? To deny stars are awesome on some nights would be like denying I love to write. I don’t know much, but I do know that.

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