Elizabeth Paige Elkins


Elizabeth is a sophomore at
the University of New England
working towards a dual degree
in biology and criminology. She
wants to work in forensics upon
graduation. She spends free time
writing, reading, enjoying the
outdoors, and drinking lots of
good coffee.

The Stars I Thought Were God


by: Elizabeth Paige Elkins

As a child, when I couldn’t sleep, I would sit in the living room and look through the big windows at the stars and moon. I would get lost in their infiniteness. The streetlamp reflected the snow in the dead of winter in the cul-de-sac, giving the stars an added brightness. I sat in the chair that faced the windows but wouldn’t grab a blanket so that I didn’t fall asleep on the
chair. The only sound was my dad’s snoring from downstairs. The piled-up glistening snow hushed everything else outside. The stars pulsed with a brilliancy that begged curiosity. I would ask the gods what happened to the dinosaurs. Now I ask the stars if there are even gods among them.

Dad would wake us and drive us to the top of the mountain to watch the Northern Lights rip the sky in strips of greens and purples with hints of yellows and pinks vibrating in the numbing January air. I thought I wanted to be an astronaut.

Then I grew up and picked a degree and career I could attain. I stopped watching and questioning the stars, but I still stayed up at night. I’d watch the moose pass through the cul-de-sac in the evening, pausing in the front yard to eat my stepmom’s strawberries, sauntering to the neighbor’s yard through the green belt, head heavy, to eat their flowers, then follow the trail
back down to the river. I’d watch the sun peak out behind the mountains on a rainy day; notice how it made the clouds glow warm and reflect off the wet pavement. Listening to the wind whip the oak trees and the commuter rail pass by, rattling the windows of my mom’s apartment. Hearing the drunk college students wander back to their dorms, yelling and laughing about the ridiculousness of life. Evenings spent reading on the beach when my roommates, once again, leave me out of doing something. Late night writing and chemistry studying under my eye blinding non-halogen desk lamp, pictures of family and dogs on the back of my desk. Green Day blasting in the background.

I used to sit in the car seat in the back of Mom’s white Ford Expedition eating vanilla bean scones from Starbucks. She’d take my siblings and me on trips to Target, and all I did was eat popcorn and drink slushies from the Pizza Hut that every Target used to have. I’d mix the cherry and coke flavors. My sister always got blue raspberry. Sometimes she’d let us get
pizza. She’d take us to SeaWorld with all the other homeschooled kids, but never let us sit down by the pool because she didn’t want us to get wet.

When we moved from Texas to Alaska, Mom would take us to the reindeer farm and we’d feed them and listen to the clicking of their hooves. She’d take us hiking and we’d go tromping through the snow on neighborhood trails. In middle and high school, she’d take us to the local
coffee shops on Fridays before school, if I got up on time.

And then it got dark. Then it got cold.

Earthquakes wobbled homes and lives, breaking the ice on Eagle River and damaging the bridge that was the only way to get home.

And I had to move. Somewhere foreign but still known. Somewhere where I was unknown. I had to grow. Leave the sheltered life I knew as a child. I didn’t know my dad almost became an alcoholic when he got divorced. I had to watch as my grandparents manipulated my brother into being baptized into a religion he didn’t even care about. Mom sat in an empty apartment in a new city on the other side of the country by herself for Christmas. No child should know those things. See those things.

I was no longer a child. I was eighteen. Legally able to vote a new president into office. Able to buy a Powerball ticket to increase my luck in winning the lottery. A grown up.

I have real responsibilities now. There’s tuition to be paid. A gas tank to be filled. Physics homework to be done. A necessary coffee trip to Dunkin’ Donuts to survive the day. A job I have to show up on time for. Rights for equality and basic human autonomy to be fought for.

I still stay up at night. The LED glow of the computer screen reflects off my green transparent glasses. The click-clacking of my keyboard and Noah Kahan playing in the background. The vast sunset over the Saco River illuminating the sky with screaming oranges and pinks; cormorants airing themselves out on buoys as sailboats pass by. Lobsters scuttling below. Late
night Bruins and Celtics games on the dorm TV.

And after all that, it’s quiet. The ghosts keep me company at night. The leaves in the trees rustle as the Atlantic Coast wind scares them. Rain glitters off the pond as I walk to my sociology class. Tufted titmouses chirp morning greetings.

But good morning 8 a.m. general chemistry and good morning 8 a.m. criminal justice class on the other side of campus. And a big fuck you to my roommate who woke me up snoring. Again. And on the fucking weekend too. “A pot of coffee will make all things better,” my mom says when I call her on a Tuesday morning, as I try not to have a mental breakdown before my 8 a.m. lecture. So I make a pot of coffee, listen to the geese fly to their breakfast spot, and whisper a silent “fuck you” to get the day started.

A long hot shower at night; letting the water wash off the overwhelmingness of life itself. Wiping mascara off only to look like a racoon. When you want to cry but the tears just don’t come and you can’t try to force yourself. Burnt out. “You got this. Just power through.”

Deep breath.                   Hold.                 Exhale.

I remember seeing the stars in Maine for the first time in the backwoods behind the university. Hunting for owls on Halloween night, dressed in a twenty-dollar unicorn onesie I’d gotten at Target. Someone pointed out Venus to me, then Mars. The Orion and the Dippers. And I was filled with wonder. With awe.

How could I forget?

If only I could go back to sit in the living room and ask the stars I thought were God about why the dinosaurs disappeared, as every curious nine year old does. When life was full of childish simplicity and innocence. When my only health concerns were the amount of sleep and playtime I got. When binge reading the Hardy Boys became Hannibal Lecter and
homicide case studies. When I thought I was just like everyone else. When I didn’t know the government was trying to control my body. When white supremacists weren’t shooting up churches and schools. When I didn’t have to buy groceries and five bucks bought me a My Little Pony toy. Twilight Sparkle is still my favorite. And thank God Trader Joes is cheap. Friends sitting in the car post-birthday dinner reminiscing rap songs they listened to in high school, wishing they could go back to that simple time.

Some things have remained the same: I’m still watching UFC on Saturday nights. I still get excited over cheap Mexican food, Mom’s chocolate chip cookies, and Dad’s potato soup.

Some things I’m rediscovering: my love for the beach and the salt water and warm sunshine on skin frozen by the East Coast wind.

Some things I’ve let child me take with them to the past. The idea that God will provide all for me even though he never did shit. My perfect worldview.

Adult me has learned how awful the world is. War crimes against innocent people, women fighting to be seen and heard, glaciers melting and forests burning.

Adult me has also learned how beautiful the world is. Autumn sunsets with neon orange trees and snow-ingrained mountains where you can see every ancient crevice; city skylines with bustling people all working together, supporting the common good.

Child me has grown up, despite her best wishes. Despite the fact she wanted to experience some grown up things. She wanted to have her driver’s license. She wanted to decorate her body with permanent art, against her mom’s best wishes, with her stepmom’s encouragement. She wanted to go to college and get a big degree or two. She wanted to start her career. She wants to experience life with newfound perspectives.

But she will always be the little girl that bested the boys in fishing and had a better shot than them. The little girl that gutted fish with her blue painted fingernails. The little girl that got grounded for reading too much in middle school. The little girl that made mud pies in her grandma’s backyard and used to act like her uncle chewing tobacco, spitting in the dirt. The kid that went to the doctor’s office with an ear infection or an injured ankle, more times than anyone can count. She’s still those things.

But she’s become the grown girl who is trying to make life decisions even though she can’t yet buy herself a drink to ease the stress. The grown girl trying to find her home in a new place even though she can’t afford to strike out on her own yet. The grown girl—who’s still technically a teenager— trying to do what she wants but still within the respects of her parents. The grown girl drinking coffee almost like it’s water. The grown girl reading bigger books four at a time. The grown girl helping Dad skin the buck she shot in the field and writing a professional email with Mom’s help.

The practically-an-adult woman reminiscing about gazing up at the stars as a child. Asking them if they were God and if he was even real and what the fuck actually happened to the dinosaurs.


bridge 2024