“Do you want to come stargaze with me?” I was already headed to the lake, and my plans were to spend the night under the stars alone. Staring at the twinkling lights imagining what the constellations should be rather than what the astronomers claim they are. I had been thinking of the stars since the moment our group had mentioned camping. About a week ago my group of friends had planned a camping trip to go to the mountains.
My first thought had been about the last time I went camping, which was about four years ago with my father. It had been a few months before he passed away. That night when the sun had set my dad led me up a hidden trail further up the mountain so that we could be closer to the sky. He laid out a picnic blanket for us, and we spent the rest of the night talking about constellations and astrology. My dad liked to talk about light pollution too and how he wished he could see the stars all over rather than only in the mountains. He was passionate for the environment, and always had a vision for the way he wished the world could be. Star gazing had become somewhat sacred for me since then. And it was now a mandatory part of camping for me.
Seeing the stars clearly was the part of camping that gave me the most joy. And made me feel closer to my dad even though he was gone. Staring up into the night sky glittered with balls of gas made me feel more important and vastly miniscule all at once. I loved being lost in my thoughts and in the idea of mattering without mattering. It was relaxing and it was the only time I felt completely comfortable with being alone. Even though I wasn’t. Not really. The stars were the only company I could ever need.
But then I saw him, and his golden brown eyes locked with mine. So the words came out before I could process them. It was an impulse. Potentially a mistake. I thought I had decided to stop asking before thinking. Hadn’t I learned anything from my past decisions? Clearly not. Hadn’t I promised myself to allot this time to honor my father? There was something about him that made me make all of the wrong decisions. But they never felt wrong, because every conversation we had made me feel right. Talking with him made me feel safe. Like I could be myself. He made me feel like I could relax. And nothing bad would happen.
He stared at me. And for a moment I thought I would need to repeat myself. Had he heard me? I opened my mouth to ask him again, but then closed it before the words could come out. Maybe I should not have invited him. Before I could turn away and continue walking, he nodded.“Sure!” His shrug betrayed the enthusiasm in his voice.
We walked together. The vibrant green grass swished between my bare feet. I loved the feeling of the blades of grass between my toes. It was the only time I ever felt grounded. Wholesome. One with the earth. Nothing between me and the minerals of the planet I loved more than life itself.
Our footsteps were louder than our breathing, but I could hear him sigh every few seconds or so as we approached the sand tucked beside the lake. The sand crunched softly under his boots as we reached the space. And his hands brushed against his jeans.
Strangely, the potent silence between us was comfortable. It always was. We never needed words to communicate with one another. I learned that during our first date, which had been a hike.
Even when he said nothing, I could hear him say everything. Sometimes I felt he said more when he did not speak rather than when he did. I could tell what he was saying now. He was happy to be invited to spend some time with me.
I swallowed hard when we came close to the spot in the sand I wanted to lay on. There was something on my mind, I wanted to talk to him about. He watched me as I unravelled the large pineapple towel I had been carrying and spread it out on the sand. Somehow I felt more at peace with myself, having him near me. I felt safer under his gaze, knowing he would protect me from any dangers that might appear in the night. My towel was a family beach towel. Large enough for four people. Too much space.
I sat, then sprawled out on my back on the left of the towel. When I was in a comfortable position, I looked up at him. Then I patted the empty space beside me. Beckoning him.
“Join me.” My invitation sounded more like a question and I wished I could loosen the strain in my voice. Reduce the yearning. He sat down beside me, and looked straight up. It took him a few moments to get comfortable. He seemed nervous for some reason. He crossed his legs in front of him and laid back on his hands. Then he came down to his elbows, still facing the water instead of me or the sky. Again, he adjusted himself to one side. His back to me, and his torso aiming at the water behind our toes. He settled on an upright position, criss crossed and leaning back on his hands.“It’s easier to stare up when you are on your back,” I mentioned. My eyes were fixed on the sunset, but I knew when he looked over at me. I could not meet his gaze. My heart was racing, and looking at him would only make it worse.
“You clearly have plenty of experience with this,” he said, I could not place a name to his tone. I never could. It was always distant and present all at once. Deep and monotonous yet light and interested. It made me feel strange inside. Hesitant but confident. Somehow I knew every word I said to him was heard and considered which gave me assurance, but it also made me slower to speak. More of a listener, less of a talker. I knew that was his character all the time. It was only who I became when I was around him. After a few more adjustments, he laid on his back, maintaining an arm’s distance from me. I laced my fingers behind my head creating a pillow so my neck could relax.
“This is the best part of camping,” I said.
“I disagree,” he told me plainly, shaking his head at the sky.
“Hammocking,” he scoffed, “there is no contest.” He assured me. His passion for hammocks was an entity I wished I could bottle up and carry around for important conversations.
“I’ll take your word for it,” I smiled as the sky faded from a pale blue to a deeper and darker blue. The stars were on their way.
“You still haven’t hammocked?” He noted. I remembered telling him this as we had been hiking Cheyenne Canyon before the summer had started. It felt like eons ago. I told him so many things that day, it had brought us so close together yet pushed us miles apart all at once. I remembered replaying that day in my head, over and over as the summer passed by. I remembered thinking that we could never be together. I remembered feeling so strongly for him, yet nothing at all. He was a mystery I desired to understand more than the stars. Could we ever happen?
I shook my head, teetering it between my fingertips. “Not yet.” I wished he would come closer to me. His respect for me bordered disinterest, and I could never tell his preference. Distance from or closeness to me. Either physically or emotionally. I stole a moment to inch closer to him. Why did I want him so bad? The possibility of us was something I felt I only desired to prove to myself it could happen. What was this? What were we? Friends. I wished this did not suffice as an answer to the question. “Maybe soon,” I hoped, we were still discussing hammocks. Boring.
“You need to,” he advised, scooting closer to me by half an inch. My guess was that he was straining towards my body heat. A cool breeze had danced over us, and the blanket beside me would soon be a mutual necessity. His thin jacket would not keep him warm through the night.
“So I have been told,” by too many people. Friends and family alike. It was an obsession of those who resided in the mountains. Hammocks. What was the appeal of dangling from the air and risking falling to the ground? It sounded more terrifying than anything else.
“Do you not think so?” He asked me. But the stars had arrived, and hammocks stopped mattering. The conversation was something we were using to hear each other’s voices. But I didn’t mind letting it fall away as the stars stole the attention from both of us.
“If you could live in space, would you?” I never had any problem abruptly changing the subject. And I said it before I could think of any reason not to say it. He had a way of removing my filter without any effort whatsoever.
“Like as an astronaut?” He asked, entertaining the idea. “Could I come back to earth whenever I wanted to?”
I shrugged. These were questions that did not feel relevant. My answer would be an automatic yes. Space was serene and vast, full of emptiness and curiosities that have yet to be explored. More important questions to ask would be, where could I go? And how long could I stay? “Yeah, like an astronaut. And sure, but space would be your home.” I answered.
He nodded, and considered. “Yes.” He decided. “Would you?” He countered.
“No doubt.” I said, because it was where I wished I could be now. “Do you believe in aliens?”
He hesitated. “Maybe,” he answered. What I wanted to ask him next was whether he believed in love. Because sometimes it felt like he did not. I was leading up to it. Aliens and space and love on their own seem to have nothing in common. But to me, they are all related.
Aliens are talked about. Written about. Thought about. Seen. Believed in by most. But have not yet been fully proven. Most claim that because they have never seen an alien they don’t believe in them. But how could we be the only ones in this universe? Space is so vast and so hard to understand, but it is all around us. It exists. It’s real. Love is the same. It’s hard to believe in love if you have never seen it before, or if you’ve never really felt it. Love is so vast and all around us. Yet we never think about it, because we all breathe just fine without any thought of it. But if you have never heard of any of it or learned about it. Then how could it be real? How could you believe in it?
I knew he believed in God. We both believed in God. God is love. But romantic love was a species all its own that seemed increasingly difficult to interpret or understand.
The longer I was around him, the less I believed that our friendship could ever become anything more than a friendship.
So maybe he believed in love the same way he believed in aliens. Maybe.
“Maybe.” I repeated. “What makes you unsure?”
He shrugged, turning to one side to face me, he props himself up on one elbow. “What makes you so unshakably sure?” He asks me.
I hesitate, because his question is too cocky. This side of him made me nervous. But I propped myself up on one elbow to mirror him. Our eyes were leveled. I noticed there was something missing in his. When I realized what it was, my heart panged. “Do you really think God would glitter the sky with trillions of stars for one planet? Do you think the whole universe could exist for a species of only a few billion ungrateful human beings? And human beings alone?” I asked him. My questions sounded more like accusations, and I was unsure where my passion was rising from. My uncertain feelings for him might have had something to do with it.
He grinned, and came down to his shoulder, propping his fist under his chin to look up at me. “I’ve heard of crazier things,” he says eerily while tracing a circle with his free hand on the image of a pineapple filling the space between us.
“I doubt that,” I retorted, annoyed by his unwillingness to counter my questions with his own. We had many conversations like this one. But there was once a time when he would battle with me like I wanted him to. Not this time.
“Sure I have,” he said with a shrug. I returned to my back, and returned my gaze to the sky.
“Like what?” I asked him. Still annoyed.
“Like love.” He said. My heart lurched. The word love rolled off his tongue in the same way people say floor. Like it was something too ordinary to get worked up about. Like it was nothing special. Love was nothing ordinary. I nearly gasped.
“You think love is crazier than the potential existence of aliens?” He read my face as I turned to him and then chuckled. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my face to shut up. I was sure my expression had told him exactly how crazy I thought he was for saying such a thing. I hoped he had a profound explanation for his comparison. He nodded at me, still grinning.
“Sure,” he said as though it was obvious. I wanted him to say more. I told him this with a nod and the raise of a brow. Explain yourself, I urged him, with the tilt of my head. Around him, I articulated better with my body language. He grinned broadly and I could tell he was either going to be vague or inciteful. “Think about it,” he started.
If only he knew how much I thought about it.
“Love is so far off and out of reach, and not meant for everyone to find. Everyone likes to talk about it and sing about it. But when it comes time to show it to one another, no one is willing to take a stab at it. That sounds pretty crazy to me.” He told me. “And on top of that, there is hardly any proof that it really exists.”
I’m not sure why, but my eyes started to water, so I sat up and wiped at them. I blinked profusely and stared out at the water beyond our feet, hoping he would not mention my change in demeanor.
“Are you okay?” He asked me, placing a hand between my shoulder blades.“Was it something I said?” He asked. I took a deep breath and shook my head. There was the answer I had been looking for. Yet there was still a question I wanted to ask him. But my words were stuck in the back of my throat. And I was confident I already knew the answer. The tears were still welling in my eyes, and my mouth was dry. At least I understood.
“Can I tell you something?” My question was a whisper under my breath. But he heard me.
“Sure. Anything.” He said. He had moved to sit closer to me. His arm was around my shoulders. He was comforting me the way a brother would comfort his younger sister. I hesitated. I already knew I would regret the words before I could say them to him. But something made me believe that he needed to know. I deserved to tell him. I deserved to understand.
“When we went hiking together, and then you bought me lunch,” I started.
“I remember,” he said. I nodded.
“There were a few times that day when I felt like,” this was the hardest part. Getting the last part out. Being vulnerable. Telling him the truth. A tear slipped down my left cheek, and plopped on the towel. He rubbed my back, as though he could soften the words out of me. It gave me enough confidence to finish. “I felt like I could love you,” I admitted. His hand fell away from my back. I could not look at his face, because for some reason I sensed that I might read a look of betrayal when I had done nothing wrong. He leaned back on both his hands. I knew he was thinking. So I kept quiet. We stayed silent for a while. I took several steadying breaths. Centering myself as I relaxed into the reality of my situation. The moon was reflecting on the water. The water was still and the moon was so bright on the water. It was amazing how two things could seem like they were together. How two things could seem like they go so well together, but be impossible for one another.
I was the moon. Bright and open-minded. He was the water. Still and vast. We were not meant to be. Him and I did not belong together. But if there could ever be a chance, it would be beautiful. We would be magical. Full of possibilities.
“But you don’t,” he said at last.
“I am sorry?”
“You said you felt like you could love me, romantically speaking,” he explained, “but you do not,” he recognized. This was true. He was right. Hearing him say it made me feel light inside. Like I had no reason to be crying in the first place because nothing had gone wrong. I could not mourn the loss of something I had never had. My disappointment was in myself, not in him. I felt silly. And self-conscience. I tucked a curl behind my ear and smiled to myself. I shook my head as it became apparent to me.
“No,” I said. “I guess I don’t, at least not yet. And not in the ways I thought that I could,” I realized. I sounded happy, almost. “Not yet, anyway,” I muttered.
“And that’s alright,” he said with a shrug. He sat forward again, and wrapped his arm around me once more. This time he leaned in closer to me so that our faces were inches apart. If he turned his head in any direction, he would kiss me. “Love is not something you find with every person you meet,” he told me. His breath tickled my face as he spoke. It smelled like peppermint. “Love is sacred and beautiful. And I know from being your friend that you are an amazing woman fully capable of finding and sharing such love with someone special.” He paused. And for once I couldn’t read him. But deep in his eyes, I could suddenly see what I thought hadn’t been there.”When the time is right, you will meet the man you are supposed to love. And he will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.” He turned away from me then. All hopes of him kissing me collapsed in on themselves. “So try not to be sad about the fact that the man you are meant to love is not me.” He finished. And when he smiled at me, I felt like a bird whose owner had just unlocked the cage and beckoned it out. I could spread my wings and fly away. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to dig my claws in and stick around. Just for a moment longer.
“You are such a good guy,” I said, wrapping my arm around him reaching under his arm to pull him closer. My heart ached as I thought of how wonderful we might be. But his words were reassuring and accurate and exactly what I needed to hear. And I would not there to be an us. I did not want him in any other way. This was right.
“Thank you,” he said, and I tucked my head in the crook of his neck.
“I am so glad God gave me a friend like you,” I said.
“Me too,” he said, and I smiled.
Maybe the moon and the ocean could not be an item. But they could cherish the moments they had in each others midst. And the moon always had the stars. And the ocean always had the sand.
Romantic love is a beautiful thing, that totally exists and is not meant for everyone. But platonic love is something that is vastly underrated and in need of attention. And it is just as beautiful. Show your friends some love. Cherish what you have with them.