I grasp the banister and begin to climb the damp concrete stairs. Lighting being virtually nonexistent, I pull my flashlight from my pocket and focus its beam onto the dented metal door standing before me. The faded red sign screams "Authorized Personnel Only. Others subject to fines. MIT Physical Plant. Blah, Blah, Blah". Feeling pretty authorized, I make use of all the "training" I have received over the past two years and unlock the door. I place a piece of wood between the door and its frame to ensure the possibility of a later departure, then step over the rim of the door casing onto the pieces of gravel and glass lining the tar-covered roof.
The night air is warm and a bit humid, but nonetheless comfortable. I survey my surroundings for changes since my last visit. Noticing nothing new, I proceed to the opposite edge of the roof and lean over its rim. Several cars speed down the narrow street disregarding the numerous speed bumps. Horns blast, car alarms sound, caution lights flash and somewhere in the distance a police siren screams. I turn my attention away from the edge and begin to search for my favorite chair. Several feet from where I had last seen it, I find the beautiful ragged remains of the school bus seat; its vinyl is faded, dirty and torn. I lean it against the short wall at the edge of the building, drop my backpack to the ground, and rest my body against this old friend.
I tilt my head, leaning it against the cushioned vinyl behind me. Again, a siren pierces the air attempting to invade my space, only to be reflected. Shields are holding, Captain. I gaze into the night sky, past the glow of the Boston skyline. The little guys try to hide, but I know where and how to find them. As my eyes slowly being to adjust to the darkness surrounding me, the small white dots gain intensity and become visible against the blackness of space. Like children who are playing hide and seek when they hear the ice cream truck, the tiny flames jump out from their hiding places revealing themselves to me. "Twinkle, Twinkle little star..."
I have always been intrigued by the stars. As a child I would lie in the grass in my back yard staring into the sky until my mother called me in for bed. I wondered how far away they were, and if on one of their planets someone was staring back at me. I learned the names of the constellations at a very early age, and soon after I could place the names to the stars in the sky. Orion became my best friend as I rode on the back of Pegasus across the blackness of the heavens.
On my eighth birthday my grandfather became my hero; inside the long, narrow, badly wrapped box displaying his name, I found a "SkySearcher(tm) junior telescope with adjustable tripod". It was the most beautiful piece of shiny red plastic I had ever seen. I extended its three stainless steel legs, placed them on the damp grass in my back yard, and didn't come up for air for over six months. When the temperature began to get cold my mother refused to let me sit out in the wet grass, and I was forced to worship the little flames through the glare in my bedroom window. It wasn't the best method, but I took what I could get. "...How I wonder what you are..."
Technically, I always knew that there was nothing physically magical about the bright little flames in the sky. They are simply giant balls of superheated gas, formed from the explosion of a dust cloud, that have been spinning in the sky for over four and a half billion years...Sounds pretty easy, huh? Maybe I'll make one in my dorm room this weekend. Nonetheless I have always been drawn to their mystery, their intrigue, their implied knowledge. Maybe if I learn enough or wish enough they will let me join them. I can dance among the immense sparklers, propelled by their combined consciousness. Their serenade will move my feet as I glide over dust clouds and comet trails. I will finally be one with the universe. "...Up above the world so high..."
With vast convolutions Draco holds
Th' ecliptic axis in his scaly fold.
O'er half the skies his neck enormous rears,
And with immense meanders parts the Bears.
-Erasmus Darwin's Economy of Vegetation
The salt scattered black of the Milky Way contains over two hundred Billion stars, all of which have been in existence at least a couple of billion years. I can't even begin to comprehend the magnitude of a billion. I have only been alive twenty years, and I think I know quite a bit of information. Their knowledge must be immense; they have been soaking up data since the beginning of time. If only I could access their memories, know what happened at the genesis of the universe...if only. They must have seen planets created and destroyed, life emerge only to become extinct, and great civilizations slaughter one another throughout the universe. They have seen it all and probably even created some of it. They are giant spheres of superheated gaseous knowledge just waiting to be cooled into a drinkable puddle, and I am the one to do it. "...Like a diamond in the sky..."
We are all made of star stuff.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to travel among the stars to experience their beauty and wealth of knowledge close up. I will climb into a space shuttle bound for the cosmos someday. It will take me to uncharted territory, a new frontier, filled with wonders never before seen by human eyes. I will know what the stars know; their secrets will be revealed to me, and I will truly be star stuff.
A fire engine siren suddenly yanks my mind back onto this planet and into my sweating body. Captain, we have lost shields. I gaze into the eyes of Medusa once again, refusing to turn to stone this time. I notice Centaurus prancing across the heavens while Leo tends his pride. These are my friends; they have remained a constant throughout my life. Regardless of where I find myself, be it the backyard of a rural farm in Peach Orchard, Arkansas, or on the roof of a dorm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I can tilt my head towards space and see my old companions, my loyal friends.
My own star is slowly beginning its ascent sending its brothers and sisters off to bed. I should probably do the same. With every sunrise a small part of me feels remorse, regret that I did not have more time to spend with my guardian angels. Maybe some day I will be where the sun never rises, an eternal night filled with waltzes and lullabies. Only then will I truly find my place in the universe.
I should not be here when the rest of the world wakes up; a fifty dollar fine for being on an Institute roof is not exactly the way I want to end my night, or begin my day for that matter. I stumble to my feet, head downstairs, and enter my room. The television is still blasting static as the little hand of my clock points its finger at the five. I turn off the static maker, pull down the shade, and set my alarm for sunset.