Night Lights: An Essay of Sorts

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In America, I live in a house on a hill. The hill is one of the few in my town without street lights, and without the fluorescent glow of the lights you can see the stars. I have lived in this house, in this neighborhood, for more than nineteen years. All I see is stars. The back of my eyelids mimic the dark expanse of sky, the perfect canvas for constellations when I close my eyes. I look up into the night sky, and all I can see are bright dots in the sky—like a kid took a needle to the sky and poked pinholes of light into it. I never took an astronomy course, but my gaze snags on the Big and Little Dippers easily.

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In China, I’ve seen the stars. Once. It was back in Beijing, when the afternoon sky was a breath-stealing blue and the sun was something real and unhidden. I’m in Chengdu now. I see lights in the sky, and they are blue and red and green. Sometimes they move around like fireflies, but they mostly remain fixed to their haphazard constellation. They are attached to something besides gravity—a string. I watched an old man, back bent with age, throw a kite into the air. I watched the kite rise, rise, rise, until it was the size of a stamp. Then it rose further.  “Surely,” I thought to myself, “this can’t be legal.” Because, ‘lo—the kite had all but disappeared, presumably sharing the same air space as airplanes and helicopters. All that remained, besides the taut string, was a single bright light. It wasn’t a star. It was a kite light.

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This isn’t an essay about smog, fog, or air quality. This is barely even an essay. This is about seeing a physical difference between America and China, and the wishy-washy feeling of homesickness (and the sort of lack thereof) that follows. The lights were the first thing I noticed were missing. Oh, I had noticed a dozen other things before that—the signs, the incessant honking, the lack of birds, the amount of strays, the spitting—but the lack of stars unsettled me, if distantly. The night sky is my baby blanket, something I wrap myself into to feel like I’m at home. Sometimes I miss the softness of my mother’s hug, or the solidness of my father’s.

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But mostly I miss this.

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When I look out of my window to look at the scenery, there is no sky. There is a haze and only the blinking, flashing lights of the hotel across the way pierce through it. Some days I can’t even see that, the gray descends so. I had let go of my teddy bear and baby blanket by the time I reached college because I thought, subconsciously, I would always be in reach of my stars.  This semester, I’ve had to look within myself for newfound stability. Perhaps this is what “coming of age” talks about—letting go of things (material or otherwise) to make room for the bigger, better stuff.

So, that is where I’m heading. I’ve lost the stars, but I’ve gained something else. Self-reliance, for one. The ability to look within for my own stability and happiness, for another. I am, after all, an independent, 21st century woman.

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It’s still weird–expecting the regular white-yellow shine of a star and instead having those glittering greens and reds and blues. It’s as beautiful as it is unsettling, this new sort of sky.

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