Thursday night, nine-thirty.
we’re parked at the end of a road called Muffin Place, which is just off Blueberry Lane—really—and which ends about 10 feet from an inlet off the Long Island Sound. the air, which was hot as a dog’s breath all day, is now simply warm and gently rustling the tall grasses and tree branches around us. across the way, the backsides of houses along the water ooze a homey yellow glow through open windows—the kind of light that has always made me feel reassured and homesick at once.
our mission tonight is to see the same starry sky we saw, accidentally, nearly five years ago. we weren’t really together back then, though i guess i can’t say we weren’t not together either. we just were. and we had, once again, hit the road without a destination in mind. we just climbed into the old Explorer and drove. for two people who had trouble living in the moment, we did exceptionally well at winging it on road trips. that dinosaur of an SUV was our bubble, the one place trouble didn’t seem to touch us.
i have thought about that trip a million times since it happened. i kept meaning to write a short story about it, or maybe a one act play, just to preserve it somehow, the details, the memory. but i never did. i think i knew i could never convey in words how beautiful it was—to me, anyway—driving north along Route 1, next to the person i was sure would always own the largest part of my heart, no matter what happened, talking more seriously and more meaningfully than we probably had in years.
it sounds funny to say it now, considering all that’s happened in the intervening years, but i don’t know if i’ve ever in my life felt as safe as i did in that car that night, that crisp, ink-black, early-November night almost five years ago.
neither of us remember how we found Old Saybrook then, only that we wound up there after stopping in New Haven for dinner and some meandering on the campus of Yale. we don’t remember either why we stopped the car and got out on a little side street in Old Saybrook—which is when i looked up and discovered the spectacular sky.
i have this thing about stars. for as long as i can remember, being able to see up into the vast universe has kept me grounded. i am thankful for the constant reminder that i am so very small and insignificant to the world at large. whether i’m gazing at a harvest-orange moon hovering in the treetops or straining to see a few stars amidst the glare of the city, the night sky soothes my soul.
when i saw the stars in Old Saybrook that night five years ago, it felt significant, somehow. as if being able to see so many at once (which i hadn’t since a vacation to Lake Tahoe when i was twenty-three, which turned out to be another subtle but game-changing event in the history of me) reinforced my deep-down belief that the tide was turning, that after so much turmoil, life would start making sense again.
i never forgot those stars.
which is why, when i suggested a day trip to Mystic, Connecticut last Thursday, i pointed out that we could stop in Old Saybrook on the way home. i was feeling down, disappointed in people i didn’t want to be disappointed in and just a little emotionally askew. time with my family is what brings me back to center, always, and so that’s what i asked for.
it was a hot day on Thursday, but a good day. after dinner, as the setting sun painted the sky in layers of peach and pink and gray-blue, we sat by the Mystic River devouring ice cream. a while later, we strolled back to the car, tucked our drowsy son safely into his seat and pulled onto Route 1.
hello, old friend.
it was a new world this time, as we were traveling south rather than north. we veered off at one point onto route 156 and passed through Niantic in East Lyme, which looked magical in the twilight, and continued along the water past Rocky Neck State Park (where a deer galloped across the road and into the woods), wound our way through Old Lyme, back onto Route 1 and then onto route 154, which would take us in a loop around Old Saybrook.
“i remember that,” we found ourselves saying, and, “this looks familiar” about places and things that had been hiding in the corners of our memories all these years. when we came to the causeway, it was like no time had passed. i remembered everything i was thinking and feeling on the night we first found this place. i tried not to look up, i wanted to wait, but my eyes kept darting toward the sky and i could tell already that the stars were not the same.
we rolled down the windows to smell the air and drove slowly, dark water on one side of us, glowing homes on the other. runners and bikers who’d wisely out-waited the sun huffed along the sandy shoulder. i envied them, admired them, imagined what their lives were like, living in such a quiet, tranquil place.
after we made our way back across the other causeway, we pulled off, onto Blueberry Lane, for no other reason than it was the first side street we came upon. then we saw Muffin Place and laughed as we turned down it.
and that's how we got to now—nine-thirty on Thursday night, by the glassy water in good old Old Saybrook. while the baby sleeps in the backseat, we slip out of the car and stand on either side of it, staring up. just as i'd known, the stars above us are not what they were. there are more here than at home, but nowhere close to our November sky. the haze of the day is lingering, the air is too heavy. but it's okay.
i don't need them tonight. not like i did then.
after a minute or two, we get back in the car. there's nothing left to see. the person next to me, the one who has and always will own the largest part of my heart, puts on a song, our song. This Must Be the Place. we are very different on paper, the two of us, but in all the right ways, all the ways you can't put down on paper, or even really talk about, we're the same. this song, this night—this life—proves it.
the drive back is almost three hours. we take Route 1 for a while, grab coffee to keep us going and eventually get back on the highway that will take us home the quickest. even though i know better, i keep glancing up, through the glass of the passenger window, just in case my stars were running late that night. but each time i peek, the sky looks the same.
but it's okay. i know they're there. they'll always be there.