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The Eagle Nebula
There’s a crack in the wall of my dorm room that snakes from the ceiling to the top of my poster of the Eagle Nebula. For whatever reason, I like that crack as much as I like the poster. It looks like an ogre was having exam-week stress and took a sledge hammer to the side of my room. Of course, this little flaw was probably courtesy of Cheap College Construction, Inc. rather than Tolkien-esque creatures with anger issues.
Hearing my name brought me back from Middle Earth. I looked at the phone I held next to my face and almost confusedly read the caller ID on the screen—Andres. Andres, my boyfriend of nine months. It was Andres who bought me the Eagle Nebula poster as a graduation gift. And now I sat in my bed at Northwestern, thinking about my psych homework and how there were more kids in my psych class than attended my high school.
Yep, Andres and I had been together for nine months—for two of those months we practically lived together at his ranch and for seven of those months we only heard each other through the phone. Skype is not an option in west Texas. Sometimes I thought of our relationship in terms of a pregnancy. And at nine months, we’d come to term. Maybe that explained something.
“Can you see any stars, my love?” I heard Andres ask over the kind of static particular to long-distance cell phone calls. The static that sounds like someone trying to skate on sandpaper.
I didn’t even bother getting out of bed to look. “No, there are no stars in Chicago. Too much light pollution.”
And then there was silence.
“Hey there, beautiful, you usually light up when I tell you I’m star-gazing at the ranch. What’s on your mind?” Through the phone I heard his bass voice screaming (but oh so softly) “Confide in me; I love you and I understand. Just let me know what I can do.” He was the fixer—my knight in shining armor and the trained mechanic.
My knight who I no longer felt anything for.
“It’s just a lot of stuff,” I said vaguely. “I didn’t do well on a psych paper. It’s school and things.”
As if that could keep him from hearing my ambivalence, I bit my lip and also noticed I was listlessly nibbling on my necklace chain. It was the chain that held the ring Andres used to ask me out so long ago.
Nine months ago, Andres asked me out on one of those glowing moon-lit nights, the kind you only find in Texas. Andres and I were in the same circle of friends in high school and on that particular night, we were all getting ready at my friend Mia’s house for the Ring Waltz. Ring Waltz was a tradition in our little Texas town, a sort of hick Quintilian: local teens got all dolled up and those who were taken wore their significant other’s ring on a chain around their necks. I never really liked going to Ring Waltz because I was always the plain-looking but very smart girl with “a great personality” and “spunk”. Least to say, I never had a date.
Then senior year came around and, with it, our last Ring Waltz. As the least girlie of the hens in our co-ed group, I was ready first. So, I left the overwhelming scent medley of Burberry, Marc Jacobs, and Chanel which formed a muddled aromatic cloud in Mia’s room, and headed to the living room where the gentlemen callers were waiting for their respective belles. Andres and his best friend, Bobby, were then the only ones in the living room, but they were standing suspiciously close together by the fireplace in a sort of Sherlock Holmes-and-Watson huddle.
I remembered it well: at the sound of my kitten heels clomping on the hardwood, Andres pivoted to face me and said airily, “Wow, you look really pretty.”
And the first thing out of my mouth was “Well, I’m glad to see your new contact prescription works.”
Yes, like a twelve-year-old boy, I teased the people I liked. Still, Andres laughed, just as he always did at my wit—he said that was one of the things he has always liked about me—but stopped chuckling when Bobby suddenly punched his arm.
“Oh!” Andres jumped a little. “Elle, turn around.”
I raised an eyebrow at them and Bobby told me to stop making my “WTF? Face” as he called it.
I turned around reluctantly, and then the old wooden floor boards of Mia’s living room began to sing their apparent approval as Andres approached me from behind. All I saw was a blur of gold which my eyes focused on and identified as Andres’s Sacred Heart class ring on a gold chain. Andres rested his shaky hands on the top of my bare back, closed the clasp of the chain, slid his hands over my shoulders and held on to my upper arms. He took a step closer to me so that his silk tie tickled my back sensuously and—less romantically—the key to his maroon Mazda 3 poked into my butt like a meat tenderizer. Andres slid his right hand down to caress my elbow and he whispered in my ear, “Will you wear my ring tonight and forever?”
I turned to face Andres and looked into his glistening island eyes, just inches from mine, and saw for the first time his irresistible I-just-want-to-kiss-you smile.
I smiled and told him “For once in my life I’m not being facetious when I say ‘Well, duh.’”
“Is that all?” Again, Andres’s voice brought me back to reality.
For a minute I just listened to the static and was simply content to know that he was on the other end of the interference.
Man, was I dumb. I wasn’t tired of Andres. I couldn’t get enough of him.
“I miss you, Andres,” I said and noted a crack in my own voice. “I miss you. I miss kissing you. I miss feeling your 5 o’clock shadow brushing against my check, though I know it’s not really a 5 o’clock shadow since it takes you like a month of not shaving to get it, but—I miss you. I wish you were here, not just…crackles of static on my phone…or the person who gave me a poster on my wall or a ring on a chain… I’ve got all these ways to remember you, but they’re all…from the past. An isolated past.”
“Elle… I miss you, too,” Andres said with obvious pain in his voice. Then, after a pause, he said, “But, do you still have that poster?”
“Yeah, of course, it’s right here,” I answered. I leaned forward to get a better look at the rainbow arms of cosmic dust. Andres gave me that poster because he said he wanted me to pursue my dreams and reach for the stars, even though it meant we would be apart. “Wait, Andres, you said you’re at the ranch, didn’t you?”
Andres took a deep breath and affected a Southern drawl. “Yeah, your small-town Texas boyfriend is sitting out here under the stars, petting a dog. You know what, little lady, a man and his dog ain’t all that different—”
I didn’t hear the rest. At that point I jumped out of bed and clumsily hopped the two and a half steps to my dorm window. Above the roofs of the other dorms I saw Lake Michigan beyond the university and the reflection of the full moon oscillating with the mini waves.
“There’s a full moon tonight,” I said, trying to choke back tears. “Like on the night you asked me out.”
“What?” Andres chuckled.
“Look up, there’s the same moon —it’s the same full moon over both of us! That’s it, that’s our connection—the past and the present. When we were together in Texas, you gave me that poster and said to reach for the stars. And now, we may be apart, but we still have—”
“The moon reaches both of us,” I smiled.
In Texas and in Chicago.