Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nobody Answers

Oh, the lonely sound of my voice callin'
Is driving me insane.
And just like rain the tears keep fallin'
But nobody answers when I call your name...

Vince Gil, "When I Call Your Name"

A beautiful Kentucky autumn day. Sunlight streams through trees on fire with fall color. A mother and her teenage daughter are driving on a winding two-lane road from Falmouth to Erlanger, a journey that takes just under an hour in real time but can feel like eternity when there's homework to do, and laundry to wash, and daylight to burn.

The family makes this drive often. The asphalt is familiar, the curves well-worn, the landmarks noted. At least one month a year, sometimes two, the mother's husband and the teenage daughter's father checks himself into the  rehab hospital in the center of the small town of Falmouth to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. On Sundays, the mother and daughter visit. The drive down highway 27 in late morning is hopeful; the evening drive back home is funereal. Both women miss their husband/father. Both worry about him--Did he look jaundiced to you? Do you think he's putting on enough weight? But the biggest worries on the ride home will always be unspoken.

Will this be the last time? Can he stay sober? How much longer can we all do this?

And the blackest worry of all: How many more times do we  get to visit him at the hospital following a binge? At what point do we visit his grave instead?

This particular visit, the mother is in her new car. It's a smart, red compact car with a Japanese engine and an American body, like no other car this UAW family has ever had. Its very presence in their lives points toward the new decade ahead and a time of change. The teenage girl will be finishing high school in a couple of years. The oldest daughter in the family recently became a mother to a little boy cherished beyond reason. The mother operates her own beauty shop inside an upscale nursing home and has money of her own to spend for the first time in many years. It would be easy to look ahead with hope.

And yet on the road back from Falmouth, hope is hard to find.

The new car has an FM radio, front and rear speakers, and a cassette tape deck. This is the first family car to have such ridiculous amenities. During the drive down that morning, the teenager first listened to a top-40 station; when that began to fade out, she popped in her Beatles Greatest Hits tape.

On the way back, it's time for the mother to listen to Vince Gil.

The daughter is only listening because she has to. Until the fifth track. As soon as she hears the piano intro and Vince's pure, high voice come in on the first verse, she suddenly becomes interested. She turns it up.

I rushed home from work
Like I always do
I spent my whole day
Just thinking of you
When I walked through the front door
My whole life was changed
'Cause nobody answered
When I called your name.

Something about the plaintive lyrics and the soaring melody and the near-religious fervor of Vince Gil's vocals--the girl feels a lump rise in her throat and tears well in her eyes.It is the first time, but not the last, that she feels so moved by the beauty of a melody that she cries. That song is also how she learns there's a "repeat" button on the tape deck. They replay the song several more times, let that side of the tape finish, then start the same side all over again just to count the tracks until they can hear that beautiful chorus. It becomes a standard on all their remaining drives to Falmouth together. And even after the little red car has been passed on and the mother gets newer, nicer vehicles, she always has to have a tape deck. Because during the most trying journeys of her life, she has to listen to Vince.

Fast-forward many years later.

This time it's a spring day, but sunshine is still breaking through the trees and filling the space with warm light. The daughter sits at the mother's bedside in their final hour together.

It feels like one of those evening drives back home from Falmouth. The same feeling of blackness, of uncertainty, the same lack of hope. A journey has come to an end.

The mother begins to stir. She is there, but she is no longer herself. The cancer has taken away too much. She moans; the nurse comes in and says it's not necessarily from pain and that it's simply a sign that the end is near.

"Shhh, shhh," the daughter whispers. "I'm still here. Let me play some music for you."

On her phone the daughter first cues The Beatles--"Here Comes the Sun" and "Let It Be," two favorites from those days of long car rides on a country road.

The mother quiets. She closes her eyes in half-sleep. The daughter has to leave soon; she has to pick up her own daughter from school and feed her before resuming her vigil. One more song.

As Vince Gil's impossibly beautiful voice soars and fills the room, the mother's eyes open briefly. For just a second she seems to know her daughter is there. The grip on her daughter's hand becomes a little tighter. And as the song finishes she drifts back into restless sleep, something close to a smile on her face.

A short time later, the call reaches the daughter. Her mother is home at last.

Over the next year, the daughter will listen to her mother's favorite song often. It will become a touchstone--when she needs a good cry, when the grief becomes too much. A little over a year after she loses her mom, she will play that song one final time in the kitchen of her childhood home just hours before signing the papers that allow that home to belong to a new family.

As the daughter closes the door, the poignancy of the lyrics take on a new meaning.

Your love has ended
But mine still remains
But nobody answers
When I call your name...

 Rest in peace, Joan. It's been three years today and not a day goes by that I don't think of you. I'll play some Vince for us today and remember those drives and the days when we found comfort in music.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This picture explains everything you need to know about my childhood.

In going through old photo albums looking for inspiration, I found this. I can't get tired of looking at it, you guys. Because, if you look closely, you can see my entire childhood.

Clearly, I'm playing school here in our wood-paneled family room with the awesome chalkboard my dad got me when I was in kindergarten, and which was my most beloved toy for many years after. The Big Yellow Bear and Mouse-a-fee Mouseriddle are not paying attention to my lesson and are engaged in some sort of risky behavior behind me. But I'm wearing my favorite outfit, a hand-me-down from more affluent cousins who wore DESIGNER CLOTHES AS CHILDREN, so I don't care. I'm fabulous and I know it.

Along the back wall of wood paneling, under the picture of Jesus knocking on your door, are two stand hair dryers. My mother was a beautician who sometimes worked from home, and I thought for years that a hair dryer with a hood was just a standard piece of beauty equipment until friends came over and were like, "WTF?"

The blue portable one is sitting on top of an ancient ice cream maker that I can only remember making ice cream in once. I'm pretty sure everyone who ever had one of those ice cream makers only made ice cream in it once. There's probably one of those in every basement in the lower 48, still in the box, full of promise but smelling vaguely of mildew and disappointment.

The closet behind me was the scariest place in my house. The previous owners were DIY non-geniuses who turned their carport into a family room and didn't feel insulation was necessary. In the blizzard of '78 we had 6 inches of snow in that closet and it rained in there more than once. All that moisture and neglect caused a hole to rot away that over time became big enough that a large, angry stray cat once got in through it in the middle of the night and picked a fight with our house cat in the hallway outside my bedroom. It was one of the most bizarre things that has ever happened to me. And my life has been full of some pretty bizarre shit.

Let us not forget the red shag carpet. And that fern whose frond is invading the far left of the picture. It really tied that whole room together. When there wasn't snow in it.

When/if I write my memoirs (tentative working title: No, Really, I Thought This Was All Normal) this will be my cover picture. Because that little slice of off-kilter 80s suburban white-lower-middle-class-life captured on Polaroid film is my time capsule.

Opening it today has been as fabulous as that designer outfit.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Through a glass. Darkly.

I'd like to start by saying...I'm fine. Or at least, I will be fine. Eventually.

If you've been wondering where I've been, well...I've been wondering that, too. After a declaration in May that I was going to get more serious about writing, after fixing up a quiet corner of our home into a writer's nook, after even toying with the idea of taking a year off of my real job to see if writing full-time could produce anything, I failed to write anything this summer longer than a swim-season grocery list. And while those lists are long and include all the main food groups a growing swimmer needs, like Clif bars by the dozen, it wasn't quite the writing I set out to do.

I have excuses, if anyone cares to hear them. Ainsley had some recurring asthma issues that kept us in doctor's offices and pharmacies more than usual. The 11-12 age group in swimming also has a more intense practice schedule than 10-and-under swimming, so I was running to and from the pool and sweating it out in a hot car in the pick-up line more than I anticipated. We had more travel meets this summer, too, meaning not only was I busy every other weekend, I was stuck in a hotel room 2 hours away from home every other weekend. It's hard to write when you're never home, and hard to find something to write about when the only drama in your day was that your young athlete didn't come out of practice on time because she prefers daydreaming in the locker room after practice to keeping Mom from sweating to the point of dehydration in her Pontiac Vibe.

And yet I still could have used the cushion of summer vacation to take that step into writing I'm always threatening to take. But I didn't. I didn't do a lot of things I set out to do this summer, actually. With the bottom line being...I sort of quit. Checked out. Gave up.

You may not have noticed if you saw me this summer. I didn't make a big deal of it, I didn't talk to anyone about it, and I assumed my blues would, as they usually do, lift on their own and melt in the bliss of a Kentucky educator's summer like so much snow.

I'm still waiting.

I tried the various tricks in my bag I reserve for times like these. I did something outside every day. I exercised. I napped. I attempted meditation. I went away on vacation. Sometimes, briefly, the fog lifted. But it always came back, and by the time I started my pre-school-year extended employment days the first week in August, I was like that frog we always hear about who lands in a pot of water that keeps getting hotter and hotter but the poor amphibian doesn't realize until too late that he's thisclose to boiling.

My realization that I was almost boiling came one sunny afternoon when I was headed to the gym to clear my mind and learned that Robin William was dead in an apparent suicide.

Like many with ongoing depression and anxiety, it has been a trigger. The idea that someone as brilliant, as seemingly joyful, as family-oriented as that man could wake up one day and go, "F*ck it, I'm done," hits hard. If he couldn't find a reason to go on, to push through the pain another day, what the hell hope do the rest of us have? I have always assumed that no matter how dark things get for me when I'm going through a depressive episode, I'm always going to get better. Through medication or therapy or self-awareness or all three. Because I always have.

And I would guess Mr. William always had, too. Until that one time he didn't. And that one time he didn't trumped the many times before that he did.

It's frightening beyond blog-post words.

I'm taking steps to get through whatever this is I'm going through now. I acknowledge that a winter and spring that saw me weathering a basement flood, unexpected orthopedic surgery, swine flu, and dental woes culminating in dry sockets (the pain of which I feel is tragically underrated) could get my chemicals out of balance. I acknowledge that some changes in my work environment could have me feeling just overwhelmed enough to magnify everything. I acknowledge that on top of all of this I just turned 40 and have a very active family and probably don't take enough time to do basic things for my mental health like get enough sleep and eat something for lunch with more healing power than a bag of Cheetos and a Snickers.

Basically, I acknowledge that I have some baggage I need to put down. I've enlisted some help. Things aren't so bad that I don't see hope. This, too, shall pass. And God knows I've been through worse.

In the meantime, I'm just not really feeling like writing anything. I have just enough creative energy to say one light-hearted, possibly-funny sentence per day, and while that's awesome for Facebook or Twitter, it makes blogging or starting the Great American Novel sort of complicated. So I'm signing off for a while. (To give you any indication how hard I'm finding it to write, I started this on August 12. And have only been able to focus on it roughly 30 seconds a day.)

I'll focus on getting back on track. I may be back. Or I may start writing a memoir or some essays or, at the very least, a recipe book I can spiral-bind and pass along to my grandchildren when they come over to my house in their flying car and ask, "What is this 'book' thing of which you speak, Mamaw?" Because writing is important to me and I know I'll find healing in it again.

So, you'll be hearing from me again soon. Maybe not on this platform, but somewhere.

In the meantime, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Friends of the Family

For the first time in many years, I cried when someone pulled away from my house.

When I was a kid, I cried every time we had house guests and they left. And every time we were house guests and we left. Goodbyes are hard for me; I can't seem to get over the "I miss you already" part to look forward to the "I'll see you again soon" part. As I get older and begin to lose more people from my life, I've also learned that, sadly, you can't take for granted the whole "I'll see you again soon" part. Goodbye is, sometimes, permanent.

In my adult life, we've had plenty of house guests who I've hated to see go. But the vast majority live a short drive away. I know that, in a year at the absolute most, we'll be hanging out sampling Kentucky's finest bourbon again. When my college roommate and her family pulled out of my drive Sunday, it was different. She lives in Atlanta; it had been seven years since I last saw her in person. We both have younger children and lives it's hard to get away from. It could easily be seven years again.

My tears Sunday night also came from the realization after spending a couple of days back in her company that my friends have become, especially in the two years since I lost Mom, my family.

When you lose that last parent, you so often lose the various threads that tie you to the body of your blood family. I have a sibling, but we are two very different people with nothing really in common except for the genes we share. In times of crisis, I now turn to the group of people who support me by choice, not chance. The men and women who grew up with me, went to school with me, pass me in the halls every day at work, share a side yard. These are now my people. My tribe. They now know me better than anyone else still living on this planet. We've shared laughs. We've shared tears. We've broken bread together at occasions of both great joy and great sorrow. We've climbed mountains and fought in the trenches. Our bonds are deeper than blood.

My college roommate's visit brought back a trove of good memories. Of course we talked about those. But not having seen her in a while, we also re-discovered each other as adults. Adults who, since our last adventure, have lost some of the people we held most dear. Who are raising children in an increasingly scary world. Who balance work, family, and our homes.

We've changed. But we've changed together in spite of the miles. And in just a couple of hours spent catching up on the front porch, we were right back to being two girls who shared a dorm room.

No matter what, we'll always have Danville.

And though we aren't connected by blood, I will always think of her, as I do so many others of my friends, as family. Family who have been there for me when I've needed them the most.

We weren't born to the same mother and father. But my friends are my brothers and sisters all the same.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Other Mothers

"I didn't know I had another mother."
"Of course you do. Everyone does."


Today being Mother's Day, I will, of course, honor my mother. She was a good one, and I owe so much of who I am to her. But I also want to honor my other mothers; those women in my life who had no genetic or societal obligation to me and my raising but who loved me, fed me, and cheered me on even when I was falling over hurdles/singing off-key/making questionable hair and clothing choices.

In this spirit, I want to wish a happy Mother's Day to Other Mother Jayne, my childhood best friend's mom, who did not freak out the first time she invited me over for dinner and I put cottage ham and green beans (the first time, but not last time, that I had that greasy-good Cincinnati specialty) onto one single paper plate which the cottage ham just sort of...dissolved.  God love her, she still didn't freak out later that same weekend when I ate an entire jar of Klaussen pickles from her fridge. Basically what I'm saying is there are a lot of times Jayne should have freaked out on me when I was at her house, which was almost daily. I was not big on social graces at the time. She gave me rides home from everything her daughter talked me into participating in and cheered for me when I ran the last leg of the girls' 4x400 relay in 8th grade, even when every team but ours had already finished the relay before I even started my leg, leaving me to do the loneliest 400-meter "dash" in the history of awkward athletics. She was always patient, always kind, always welcoming, and still looks out for me to this day.

I also want to say "Thank you" to the Other Mother who is, actually, my older sister. Eleven years my senior, she filled in the gaps that my mom couldn't or wouldn't. I didn't realize it until years after I left home, but my mother was borderline agoraphobic. Especially in those early years of our move to northern Kentucky, which must have completely overwhelmed her, seeing as how she had spent her entire life previous in rural small-town one-street-light Appalachia. My sister went to school open houses, spelling bees, school plays, parent-teacher conferences, and even visited my kindergarten class last-minute when my mom bailed on her plans to talk to us about her job for Career Day. (For what it's worth, my classmates were just as enthralled by my teenage sister's description of working the cash register and baking potatoes after school at Ponderosa as they would have been by my mom talking about giving wash-and-sets to ladies in their 60s.) When the UAW went on strike and Dad wasn't working, Joanie made Christmas for me, buying all my toys that year and asking nothing from my parents in return. My childhood would have been rather bleak without her in it.

And finally...Other Mother Kathie. THE Other Mother, from a marriage standpoint. She raised a good boy who turned into a good man who turned into the best father. She made me believe I was pretty--she was the first female I wasn't related to by blood who told me so, and sometimes this made me think it was possibly true. I learned so much from her, everything from the importance of spring cleaning to making milk gravy to grieving with grace. She and my mother were two very different people with two very different personalities, and each balanced the other's world views during my impressionable teenage years. Some women have mothers-in-law from hell and see their significant other's mother as the enemy; I am grateful that mine treated me as one of her own. Like my own mother, I miss her deeply.

The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" has become more controversial than it should be, perhaps due to the politics of the person who most famously said it in a public forum. In my mind, it is absolutely a true statement. No one mother can be everything her children need. Sometimes you have to call in an assist to fill in a gap you either temporarily or permanently can't provide. I am lucky that I had women who stepped up for me those times and in those unfamiliar areas where my own mother couldn't.

After you have celebrated the fabulousness of your own mother today, take some time to remember your Other Mothers. They didn't care for you because you share half their DNA; they cared for you simply because they wanted to. Even when you ate all their pickles.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The force is weak with this one.

There are certain things we wish for our children. Health. Enough intelligence, initiative, and ambition to place them on a solid-enough career path to allow them to eventually move out of our basements and feed and clothe themselves. Self-esteem. Not necessarily beauty, but at least straight teeth. Braces, they be expensive.

Sometimes we want them simply to be a little like us. To share a common passion, to have our same sense of humor, to be good at something we're also good at. It helps assure us that while we can't be immortal in our own bodies, we can live on through passed-down traits from generation to generation.

Which is why it pains me deeply to say this today, on the eve of  May the fourth: my daughter hates Star Wars. Each word a dagger to my nerdy heart. Hates. It.

I have to believe that this hate has more to do with taking a stubborn stand against something the yucky-blucky boys in her class love than with the movies themselves. After all, we can't even get her to sit down to watch the first one. (And, to be clear, by "first one" I mean "Episode IV." I am a purist in this regard, and don't you dare try to Jedi-mind-trick me into believing otherwise.) She decided she hated everything pertaining to the Force several years ago before I even had a 31-inch Darth Vader gracing our hearth or displayed my lightsaber over the mantle. She hates it on principle and in theory, not so much in practice.

This gives me hope. A New Hope. A "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" hope. Seriously. She likes Gandalf, she just may like old Ben, too.

She greatly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy and is suffering, like the rest of us, through The Hobbit (she adores Legolas, so thank God he makes an appearance), so one would think Star Wars would be a natural fit. Her generation is also accustomed to dystopian fantasies and rebellious teens blowing stuff up; they cut their teeth on The Hunger Games. I can't help but think a girl who adores Katniss Everdeen will someday cheer for Luke to get that proton torpedo into a hole roughly the size of a womp rat. Luke and Katniss are cut from the same cloth, really--rural teens who find themselves fighting (and whining about fighting) against a vast and oppressive regime using skills they didn't know they had until called upon to save the world as they know it. Katniss even sports a very Padawan-esque over-the-shoulder braid. Ainsley has to at least feel some cathartic teen angst when watching these movies, right?

I plan to find out. I have been over the moon (I mean Death Star; that's no moon) ever since the fuzzy black-and-white picture of the cast of the new film was released this week. There's Carrie! And Mark! And Harrison! And the impossibly tall guy that plays Chewie! And OMG Andy-freaking-Serkis. My two geek worlds collide in that picture and I can hardly see straight.

So a proclamation went out last night over dinner. As a family, over the course of the next year, we will watch the original trilogy. Multiple times, if necessary. If we have to, we will watch the prequels. But only if we have to. I may not be able to make her love it, but I want her to at least be able to tolerate it. For we have a date. We will go, as the family unit we are, to the opening of the new film when it finally arrives in theaters. We will do this because the best memories from my childhood revolve around seeing various trilogy films for the first time--I saw Episode IV the night it premiered on HBO, I watched The Empire Strikes Back at a midnight showing with my Dad the weekend it came out, and my sister and brother-in-law waited in line for hours to get three tickets to take me to Return of the Jedi on opening night. I have to see this new movie. And whether she knows it yet or not, so does my daughter. If she's going to use her hate, she needs to know what it is she hates. And maybe, just maybe, there's more than a Sand Person's chance in Hoth of her letting her guard down and her prejudices go and liking this epic story of good and evil.

I can't just let her go to the dark side. The dark side being, of course, teen vampire romance movies.

I don't want to force my kid to be someone she's not or like something she doesn't simply because her mother loves it. But the cultural impact of these movies can't be denied, and I want her to at least know about them and make an informed decision. Then, if she doesn't like them, I will accept it. I won't like it, and I'd be lying if I said my feelings wouldn't be a little hurt. These movies were a huge part of my childhood and loving them is a part of my identity and embedded into my DNA. Not my midichlorians, George Lucas. My DNA. Leave the Force the mystery and ancient power it's supposed to be and quit explaining stuff you don't need to explain.

Wait, what? Where was I?

I would imagine that someday my daughter will have children of her own. And she will pass on to them some of her childhood loves--Phineas and Ferb, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent. They will either like it or they won't, and she will have to cope with that. If I am lucky enough to still be on this planet and not be a shadow-y, see-through apparition appearing at Ewok celebrations, I'd like my grandkids to ask their mother why Mamaw has a big robot-looking guy dressed in a black cape on display in the basement right next to a weird light-up sword (and, if dreams come true, an R2-D2 keggerator.) And I'd like my daughter to answer that question with something other than, "Because your Mamaw is a weirdo."

Ideally, her answer to why Mamaw has all these strange things in the basement would begin thus:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reach for the stars

When I was eleven, I found nothing in my world nearly as beautiful as the full-color pictures of the Orion Nebula in the pages of Astronomy magazine.

Always a nerdy girl who couldn't decide between the Barbie Dream House and the Millennium Falcon, I became obsessed with the night sky and with the burning desire for my own telescope when I was in fifth grade. I don't know how it started, but I know that by Christmas of my 6th-grade year I was lobbying hard for a backyard telescope. It took my parents so off-guard that my mother began to ask her hair clients if they knew anything about amateur astronomy. It turns out one did, and before the telescope came I inherited five years' worth of back issues of Astronomy magazine, cast-offs from the college-departed son of one of Mom's ladies.

The magazines, it would turn out, were better than the telescope itself.

The telescope we could afford, purchased at Toys 'R' Us, was a huge disappointment. My dad and I could see the craters of the moon and, with a solar filter we probably shouldn't have trusted (I swear I haven't being seeing colors as brightly the past 29 years), some impressive sunspot activity. But stars were no starrier through the lens of our scope, and Jupiter and Saturn and Mars no more than small bright discs with no detail. The telescope sat in the corner of my bedroom collecting dust until I myself went off to college, when it became the problem of our local thrift store.

But no dust gathered on the Astronomy magazines.

I marveled at galaxies, nebulae, and clusters, and the amazing telescopes, trackers, and specialized cameras that made capturing their images in colorful, detailed glory possible. I wondered what sort of training one needed to have that job--sit at an observatory under a huge reflector telescope seeking and finding the marvels of our vast universe. Years later I found out that the training one needs to do this job actually requires a hell of a lot of advanced math, so I lost interest in it as a career. But I never lost interest in looking through a telescope and seeing the beautiful and amazing universe we live in.

So much so that I majored in astronomy in our state's Governor's Scholars program and lived for the Wednesday night viewings out in light-pollution-free rural central Kentucky, where I first looked through an amateur telescope large enough to allow me to see the rings of Saturn. Seeing that planet through a good eyepiece for the first time, at once both smaller and larger than I imagined, I gasped. It didn't look real; it had the pastel hue and crisp edges of a piece of penny candy someone had dangled at the end of my field of vision. But there it was--a celestial body I knew was so far away its light took five hours to reach my eye, but so close it seemed I could reach out and grab it.

Yet outside of viewing nights, my astronomy major was all math-y and physics-y and involved discussions of the big bang and photons and black holes and the space-time continuum. I was an arts-and-humanities-brained person trying to grasp quantum mechanics. I grew miserable and felt dumb on a daily basis and didn't look through a telescope again for years. But, oh--Saturn's rings. That's the stuff of poetry.

Flash-forward two decades. Two GSP astronomy majors have a daughter who likes to watch shows hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Jason, wanting a high-quality amateur scope without a high-quality pricetag, built a large reflector telescope so good that one of our friends used her iPhone to capture a picture of Saturn's rings through the eyepiece. Let me repeat that, so me at eleven can have her mind blown--I married someone who built a telescope powerful enough to show the rings of Saturn (and one of her moons) at a time when nearly all humans have a high-quality camera on a phone they carry with them all the time in their pockets.

In another plane of existence, in a parallel universe, 6th-grade me just got the shivers.

Last night, to make sure Ainsley's and Jason's spring break fun went out with a (big) bang, we took a family field trip to an observatory. Reservations were made before we knew it would be a cloudy night, but even on cloudy nights seeing a movable observation roof, a giant antique telescope, and getting a lecture on deep-space objects is good geeky family time. Luck, for a change, was on our side--shortly after dark, at the end of the lecture, the skies temporarily cleared. We took turns gazing at Mars, Jupiter with 4 of her moons, and a double star. The detail of these bodies was the best I've ever seen. I was giddy. It wasn't a page from one of those long-lost Astronomy magazines, but it was the stuff nerdy dreams are made of. And my own 11-year-old and my husband were just as in awe as I was.

I burned through a lot of dreams when I was kid. Like many, I dreamed of being rich, of being famous, or being a star. For a while, I dreamed simply of seeing stars. Not with my naked, nearsighted eyes, but in a way that makes this huge and overwhelming universe feel a tiny bit smaller. A tiny bit more accessible. A tiny bit more human.

On a suddenly clear night in April, my family beside me, I finally got to look through a huge professional telescope and see the details of another world. I reached for the stars and grasped them. And it was just as amazing as the Orion Nebula on the pages of a hand-me-down magazine.