Come Trace the Stars with Me
by Maximus Tsou
For my fifth birthday, my father gifted me a telescope. It was an old, rusted piece of junk that had many eyes peer through its lens before mine ever did. The corners of the metals were scratched and the handle was missing, but I loved it all the same. I used it every night before I went to bed. The stars that once seemed so far away were now so closely present in front of me, nearly in my grasp. Each glance through the lens was another story to be written, another adventure to be had. It was a welcome distraction from my world of cardboard boxes.
As an immigrant, my family moved every year to find work. My suitcase laid open at the end of each school year, waiting to be filled once more. My telescope was the only companion I had growing up. In our old apartment up in the mountains, I would spend countless nights staring out the window and into the sky, tracing the kaleidoscope of stars that paint the night. I would imagine flying through space in my ship, exploring each star I came across. In the mornings, I would spend the few minutes before the bus arrived writing and drawing out all the fantastical adventures I dreamed of in the margins of my school notebooks, where words and letters weren’t supposed to be.
I never wanted to leave the dream, to leave the stories that I crafted into existence with nothing more than wood and graphite. I was a god, bending whole worlds to my will, creating the universe out of nothing. So I stayed with the dreams, writing on the bus and on the way to school. I never stopped writing, even when I sat down in class. My teachers thought I was a diligent student, but they knew little of the deity that was contained only by the margins of my notebook.
My fellow students did not share the recognition of my divine will. They laughed at the drawings, calling them stupid. They read the stories and could only see the squiggles and lines that made up the letters. At recess, they’d pick me last for dodgeball. During lunch, no one bothered to sit next to me. After school, I find myself alone in the back of the bus. They were kind enough to leave me alone for the most part. It meant that I could stay in my dreams for as long as I wanted. Writing was the only way to escape this realm of inhospitality called school.
Summer was a time where school faded from existence, and I was left to my own little world; the worlds I wrote in the pages were slowly disappearing. By the end of the school year, all the notes and lessons I wrote down have taken up the entire notebook. Even the outside margins on the pages were no longer accessible. As a graduation gift from kindergarten to elementary school, my parents allowed me to choose whatever toy I wanted from the convenience store. I stared intensely at the shelves of toys, carefully considering my decision, before panning over the shelf across the aisle. There, on the shelf, in bright, bold letters, was a notebook, reading INFINITE POSSIBILITIES with a rocket launching off the ground. A whole new notebook with whole new worlds to explore and a new universe to conquer.
“That one!” I told my parents with proud confidence.
Excitedly, I returned home to begin stories anew. I chose to sit under the tree in our front yard, so when day turns into night, I’d have the stars to look at for inspiration. So I spent the day thinking of all the possibilities at my fingertips, of all the adventures that I dreamed of. Lost in my world, I failed to recognize a ball flying straight into my face.
I looked over across the street and saw a girl, waving for her ball back. She paused for a moment and stared at me in confusion. I glared at her in return. At the time, I didn’t know who she was, but her eyes lit up in recognition.
“Hey, I know you! From school!” she yelled, waving enthusiastically.
Terrified, I ran into the house and slammed the front door shut.
That night, I stared at the blank page of my notebook and struggled to find a story that would fit the margins. In my old notebook, the small space outside the margins, surrounding my schoolwork, was enough to house the scribbles of a daydreaming child, enough to write down ideas, the facsimiles of stories. The problem with a blank canvas was that every patch of nothingness was visible to the naked eye. Every neglected spot became a giant hole on the board, waiting for the stroke of a brush. But as I wrote, I came to understand the struggle of writing itself, the need to create a perfect story. No line was good enough, no idea ambitious enough to fill this new sacred canvas. My mind was preoccupied with a rubber ball and a girl with striking blue eyes. For once, my love for the stars could not inspire me and I closed my notebook in frustration. Summer faded into fall, and the pages of the notebook remained unwritten.
At school, I sat in the back of the classroom, next to the large window with a clear view of the town in the valley below. Here, I can see the clouds and birds in the sky, the congestion of traffic, the winding roads down the mountain, and, if I squinted hard enough, I could make out the figures of people going about their day. There still was no idea grand enough for me to begin writing in my notebook. So instead, I brought with me my old school notebooks, the ones that were nothing more than vessels for schoolwork, surrounded at its edges by the dreams of a child that I hoped to inspire me.
I felt a wad of paper hit me on the side of the head. I turned my head to catch my assailant and was surprised to see a familiar face. It was the neighbor girl from over the summer, though this time we were only separated by a few rows of desks instead of twenty feet of asphalt. She smiled and waved while I did my best to return a glare. But to my horror, she gathered her things, walked over, and plopped her stuff onto the desk beside mine.
“Hi there,” she greeted me.
Thankfully, the booming voice of our teacher entering the room spared me the obligation to respond.
“Afternoon, class. I’m Mr Grelling and I’ll be your history teacher for the year.”
For the rest of the class, I pointedly ignored my neighbor’s subsequent paper wads and focused on the weird history teacher with a cowboy hat.
At lunch, I claimed my usual spot under the fig tree right next to the fences of the schoolyard. It was a place far enough away from the others so I could sit and stare at my notebook peacefully. At certain times during the year, a cool breeze would blow over the whole field. The flowers and grass would bend and curl into the wind, creating a soft blanket over the ground. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine myself in a meadow, someplace far from the confines of a schoolyard. But of course, this little world I’ve created was ruined by the presence of the neighbor girl stomping over towards me.
“You know, it’s rude to ignore someone who says hello.”
I stayed quiet and buried my head in my notebook, hoping that she would go away.
“My name is Luna. What’s yours?”
I focused my attention on a line squigglein the corner of the page.
“Can I see what’s in your notebook?”
That got my attention. “No.”
“Why not?” she huffed.
I looked at the intruder that had barged into my world of distant meadows. Her blue eyes pierced through my facade of disinterest. I was in the spotlight, noticed by another figure and under their scrutiny. I felt the judgment roll off her in waves, as she demanded that I show her my notebook just so she could laugh at it like everyone else.
I returned my gaze downward. She stood there for several minutes, waiting for an answer I never gave.
Because there is nothing interesting here, I wanted to tell her. Because there’s nothing
but squiggles and lines, all congealed into one messy pile. Because I don’t want you
to laugh at me.
She stomped off the same direction she came from.
On the bus, I took my usual spot in the back, away from prying eyes. No one bothered sitting there, so the seats were hardly worn. In the fall, the leather would grow hot, but never unbearable. It’s the same heat on a hot day, one that fills every corner of the car. Sit in it long enough, and one could almost fall asleep. Unfortunately, I was jolted awake by a backpack crashing into the seat beside me.
“Is this seat taken?” Luna asked.
This time, she glared at me.
“Why do you keep bothering me?”
“Because I don’t know anyone here. You’re the only one I recognize.”
I felt a twinge of guilt when hearing those words.
“Fine, you can sit. But don’t talk,” I told her.
And so she sat next to me, day after day, week after week in relative silence. Fall turned to winter. In class, I could hear the scratches of her pencil on paper, abrasive to my ears. At lunch, she hummed to herself under the fig tree, munching loudly on her sandwich. On the bus home, all I could focus on was how loud she was breathing. We sat next to each other and pretended we didn't exist, refusing to acknowledge the other’s presence. Her silence infuriated me. I should have been happy when she ignored me like everyone else, safe from the opinions of others. But when I saw her sulk in the schoolyard at the corner of the fences alone, that twinge of guilt began to gnaw at my stomach. I cultivated a strange desire to reach out and talk to her, to let her know that she wasn’t alone.
At night, I sat and stared at the notebook in front of me. Maddeningly, the empty canvas laid bare, waiting for an artist to fill its cracks. And I tried. I threw words and paragraphs onto the page. I wrote an endless stream of gibberish and didn't stop until I exhausted the entire English language. I saw the edge of the page bleeding the thoughts I could never write down. I stopped to look at the progress I made. It was all incomprehensibly useless. In a fit of rage, I tore off and threw away the entire mess, looking to my telescope for comfort instead.
While searching for a new star to land on, I saw, out the corner of my eye, a shadow creeping across the road. I peered over to see Luna slowly tiptoeing onto her lawn, before spreading several blankets and laying down in the cocoon of sheets. She wore what must have been four layers of jackets and sweaters, alongside a scarf, beanie, mittens, and earmuffs; she looked like an astronaut ready to traverse the stars. She raised her hand, as if to steer a rocket, and flew off into the night sky. For once, I took the time to study her. I watched her eyes narrow, then go wide when the rocket lifted off. The freckles that line her face contrasted beautifully against her raven hair splayed out beneath her, like they were stars against the canvas of space. For the first time in a long time, I put my telescope aside and decided to watch Luna soar into the night while writing about her adventures in my notebook.
On the bus, Luna resumed her usual spot beside me. She brought a book with her this time, presumably to fill in the silence. For a few minutes, we continued the facade of nonexistence, each contained in our own little world. The silence was uncomfortable. My world suddenly felt too small, too constrictive, too little. The feeling of guilt was now overwhelming and the only way to stop it was to leave my world entirely. I stepped outside the bubble and offered her an invitation.
“Would you like to see what I write?”
Surprised, Luna turned her head to me. I imagine it must be hard to understand the motives of an awkward twelve year old boy who hasn’t spoken to you in weeks, only to suddenly talk to you out of the blue. But I knew what loneliness felt like. I knew how it felt to have no one to talk to, to be alone when gazing up into the night sky. Carefully, slowly, hesitantly, she nods and accepts the invitation.
“Show me,” she smiles.
And so we sat next to each other, day after day, week after week. Winter turned to spring. In class, we passed each other notes and drawings from our notebooks, traveling through space together. At lunch, we put together our small pieces and began to form ideas for the greatest space adventure movie ever made. On the bus, we discussed which movie stars will be in our films. We would always agree that it could be no one else other than Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. And she never once laughed at my stories.
The pages of my notebook no longer seemed to mock me. Lines and spaces were filled with fervorous intent; I couldn’t write fast enough. There weren’t enough stars and planets in the universe to transcribe the adventures I wrote. But it wasn’t just about space travel. The focus shifted from galactic explorations to terrestrial affairs. Scenes on a spacecraft became scenes on a mountain somewhere, with the night sky as a backdrop. Aliens meeting each other for the first time transitioned into a boy and a girl, sitting together on a bus sharing stories.
My telescope now laid dormant in my room, hardly used on a nightly basis anymore. The tool that once fueled my nightly explorations now felt useless, meaningless, when I had another explorer by my side. Its purpose of creating meaning for the stars I uncovered has been replaced by Luna, and her ever colorful imagination.
I awakened one night hearing a thumping sound in my room. Given that I lived on a mountain alongside a host of wild animals, freak weather patterns, and old rusted buildings, I naturally deduced that there was a monster stalking me. Thump. I heard it clearly, coming from the window. Great, the monster was outside and was about to break the glass. Thump. A small object hit the window pane from the outside. This time, I became less frightened and more skeptical. I got out of bed to open the window, and of course, found Luna standing on my lawn with two bags and a pile of pebbles.
“Hey, are you awake?” she asked with a toothy grin.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was bored and wanted to hang out with you.”
I stared at her with utter disbelief.
“Come trace the stars with me,” she pleaded.
She took me beyond her house’s yard and into the forest. We stumbled over tree stumps and old roots before reaching a clearing at the edge of a lake. She dumped the two bags she’d been carrying and ripped them open. In each bag was a mountain of jackets, sweaters, blankets, sheets, and every fabric that ever existed. We bundled ourselves up, layer by layer until we could feel nothing but the sweat that clung to our pajamas.
We spent all night staring at the sky together, tracing constellations and ruminating the site of the next scene of our film. We found the star she first soared off to. We talked about building a bridge to the moon and blowing it up just to see which way the pieces fall. We conspired that the United States government could already travel through space and were hiding the truth at Roswell. Together, we spawned whole worlds and civilizations with nothing more than our minds. The universe wasn’t big enough to contain all of our ideas.
“So what have you been writing about?”
“I know that, silly. I mean, what are we doing in the stories next?”
Truthfully, I didn’t know. All my stories in my notebook were nothing more than the present moment: our ideas, our adventures, our hopes and dreams. I had never considered anything beyond those realms. The future was a vast, black nothingness, a void waiting to be filled with the imprint of my hands. To ask a child what they planned for the future was to ask for a list of infinite possibilities, but to travel and paint that black nothingness alone was perhaps the cruelest fate I could imagine. Out of all the infinite possibilities, there was only one I wanted; there was no future I could imagine without her.
Coming to the mountains meant starting over again. In a small, close, tight knit community, it meant that I was always the odd kid out. The other students could only see my differences, the label of outsider, the mark of a foreigner, but Luna has never made me feel that way. With her, I am accepted, free to share my world with her. For the first time in a long time, I can share the stars with someone.
I told her this. I told her all the stories that I’ve written about her. I told her of all the adventures that we’d go on. Not just about space. I told her about imagining my life with her. That we’d play pretend and raise a family. That I’d work hard to get us a nice house with a large window on the roof of our bedroom. That we’d spend forever looking at the stars. And that I would map out her freckles as though they were constellations in the night sky. I shared my first kiss that night under the tree and with the stars as my witness.
Summer rolled in with the heat and the end of school. Summer meant freedom from time and worry, the ability to spend the next three months believing I had forever in the palm of my hands. It also meant that my notebook was once again filled, and I needed a new canvas to explore new worlds, and this time, a new future. My parents agreed, but instead of buying me a new notebook, they told me that we were moving away from the mountains.
“We will have a better life out there,” they promised.
I watched them stuff my telescope into a small cardboard box.
“When do you leave?” Luna asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied softly.
We were sitting under the tree in the front yard of my home, staring up toward the stars in the sky. A bowl of figs between us, each of us taking turns and picking the fruit from the bowl. It was a moment of bliss, a perfect world, one that I wish could last forever. It was a world where I could pretend the empty husk of my house was still my home and where I had forever with Luna.
“When you look up to the stars, wherever you are, think of me. Remember me.”
And who am I to refuse her?