“I am still my teenage self. If you think that we all step through a door marked Adult, or that we sign a Grown-Up Document, you’re quite wrong. We remain as we always were, and that, alas, is one of life’s many nasty tricks.” Morrissey, Rookie Mag
Ad astra means, “to the stars.”
I fell in love with the sky sometime in my fourteenth year, getting books about astronomy and spending time with a dinky home telescope. We were blessed to live in places with very little city light and thus enjoyed full skies stocked elegantly with glittering stars, so many it seemed impossible to name or even to see them all. As a young person through the years, I strung obsessions together like strangely colored glass beads on a string, moving from horses to the X-Files to astronomy to sailing and flying planes, with a thousand forgotten obsessions in between. The two that have stuck have always been movies and boys, naturally. I loved movies fervently and I’ve always been just as thoroughly obsessed with boys.
I recently saw Upside Down, a science fiction romance wherein two people with separate gravities attempt to find one another and navigate a life together. Jim Sturgess plays a man from “down below,” even as Kirsten Dunst is a woman from “up there.” The director said that he had a dream, of twin worlds close together, and a man bound to the lower world, a woman walking above. An entirely succinct summation of the difficulties of love, and an astounding image that stuck with me, these twin planets sailing through the galaxies, stars and heavens, these two people bound up in co-existence, never quite being able to reach one another.
I graduated high school at 16 and went on to attend a junior college until it was time to go to regular college. The junior college experience was tremendously important to me as it introduced me to the glories of design classes, the difficulty of failing (I failed college algebra twice before giving up), and most importantly — introduced me to a film class that decided irrevocably that I would major in film production, with the intention of making movies for a living.
I wish there were more photos of me at this age so I could show you, since I remember it all wrong, I’m sure. This I do know: dark hair, green eyes, probably glasses, good teeth, a strange personality not yet tempered by disappointment and time, a huge love of concerts and far too much interest in books, movies and music as arbiters of taste in others. I was not “cute,” being a bigger girl (a normal size 12 that I would kill to be at these days) and boys did not like me, try as I might to catch their interest.
Movies taught me a lot about the interactions between men and women, what women were supposed to be like, how to be flirtatious or interesting, what the rules were for dating. I’d never kissed anyone, never really been on any proper dates, and all I had were books and movies to outline what went on. I knew most of it wasn’t real, but there were a few on-screen relationships I valued (Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill made me cry! Gone With the Wind expanded my horizons and wildly confused me!) and in my secret heart I had so much wondering about love.
I had seen him before, but we sat near each other in Astronomy class when I was 17. He was the only one who understood how to do the complicated math required to complete the class projects, though he was only 18. I thought he was beautiful, dark hair, pierced lip, quiet personality but seemed funny. One time someone brought up Robert Smith, and eager to make a good impression I said “Oh yeah, the lead singer of The Smiths, I love them.” and he looked confused and said “I think you mean Morrissey.” I died inside of embarrassment, naturally. One February night we began making small talk as class let out at 10pm, and we talked until about 2am, sitting on the cold concrete outside the school, neither of us wanting to leave the small campfire-like glow of excitement in finding another person who you just might like, a lot. He asked me to do something on the 14th, and only later did I realize that was Valentine’s Day, adding another layer of stress and intrigue to the entire affair.
I went over there that night, and he had bought me a fake rose which struck me as thoughtful but chintzy and dumb, too. We went to the movie store and I picked out Spirited Away for us to watch, an odd choice for Valentine’s Day, I think, but I just wanted him to see it so badly, as he’d never seen any Miyazaki films. I remember walking into his house and his parents simply nodding to us as we walked to his bedroom, something my own parents would not have been cool with, at all. In fact, they didn’t know where I was, I had made up a story about visiting a friend. We sat on the bed to watch the movie, my heart racing the entire time, until it was quite late, the house was still and dark, and we lay on the bed. I’d never kissed anyone and he waited for me to make the first move, which I did.
In the intervening years, I’ve very nearly forgotten so many kisses from different men. But I remember the thrill of that first kiss and the ones that immediately followed, the absolute palpable magic of kissing someone you really liked, and that insane voodoo as they kiss you back. I remember the darkness, the strangeness of the entire matter, how alive I felt, how crackling with energy it all seemed. I was too shy about sex, it obviously never went beyond making out, and for some reason, after we were done kissing some hours later, I made him sleep on the floor as if to prove I was a good girl, a request which just feels silly now in the harsh light of adulthood. But I was changed, there was life before and there was life after that.
In the following few days, someone who knew him asked me about him at work one day, and, as I’d been trying to impress this other co-worker Shane for months, I downplayed how much I liked this other boy. The leveraging that would never leave my mind began then, the slowest beginnings of a cheater’s heart being molded, always angling for something better. The inevitable happened, and he found out from a mutual friend that I had said I didn’t like him very much, that I had acted too good for him, and dealt with it poorly — simply stopped talking to me. We made out one more time a few weeks later before never really speaking much again. He was drunk and I asked him why things didn’t work out. He told me that most things never do work out, that’s why it’s so strange and wonderful when they do.
Movies don’t always tell you the truth about how to be, what it is to be a good woman, or how to live your principles when faced with difficult decisions. They get the highs of romantic love occasionally right, the fleeting sense of immortality and sovereignty that comes from love, the shiny penny newness of a new lover, but they don’t always tell the whole story of the enormity of what exists between two people striving to step in sync, struggling to understand vast, new, as of yet unexplored worlds.
Ex astris, scientia means, “From the stars, knowledge.”