By Amanda Bintz
It was 29 degrees outside the first time I saw a meteor shower. I put on a hat, gloves with wool mittens over them, three pairs of socks and boots, and sat on my front porch. It didn’t start to feel below-freezing cold until I’d been still for a while. I could see my breath. I couldn’t feel my toes. I knew when the shower was supposed to start, but I didn’t know what time it was—I had to put my phone away so I could see the stars.
The patch of sky I stared at got darker and darker as my eyes adjusted. The whole sky was a black sheet suspended over a dripping faucet, darkness deepening and spreading as the water saturated. The darker it got, the more stars appeared out of the black. I felt that if I stared long enough, I’d see those stars’ roiling, flaming surfaces. I’d see the milky-white edge of our galaxy, the many-hued clouds of gases and dust brought together by gravity, expelled from exploding stars a billion years ago. From deep within them, I’d see the pure lights shining from the babies in those cosmic cradles as they converted their first hydrogen into helium. It’d all be there, all layered in the same sky, as if I were seeing all the magnifications of a slide under a microscope at once.
We understand the stars as still, just as we once did the Earth.
I still do, deep down, feel like the Sun and Moon revolve around the Earth. It looks as true now as it did when it was fact. None of us can comprehend the motion of the Earth in as real a way as we can the apparent motion of the Sun and the Moon. We can watch the Sun and Moon set and rise with our own eyes in one evening, but we can’t feel the Earth spinning. We know the stars move, but we’ve never seen it happen.
So when I saw what looked like a star streaking across the static sky—blink, and you’d really miss it— it was startling. I knew they were meteors, that meteors are not at all like stars, but through my eyes they looked the same. They looked like feeling the Earth move.
At 4 a.m., when I was pretty sure I had a mild case of hypothermia and frostbite seemed like a real possibility, I went back inside. Or I tried to, anyway. My dad had shut and locked the front door when he came downstairs at 3 a.m. for his coffee. He heard me banging on it and, blurry and bewildered, let me inside before the cold could do me in.
I wanted to run upstairs and burrow under my coverlet, piling on the blankets until the warmth had no choice but to stay with me.
But first, I pressed myself up against the screen door, my nose smudging the frosty glass, and waited for one last shooting star.