The first stars I ever watched probably were those on the ceiling of my first room. I remember that white toy, the shape and size of a mini TV. Made of smooth plastic, its top surface a big light bulb that projected shapes on the walls. Shapes that danced: pink sheep, light blue elephants, chunky yellow stars and moons. All mellow and pastel, swirling around above my crib, filling the cement sky of my little universe as Brahms’ Wiegenlied lullaby played along. My mom and dad would wind it from a switch on the back and give it to me to hold until I fell asleep.
I remember one of them standing on the door of my childhood room at our first apartment, smiling at my pale blue lit dark room. I remember seeing the yellow light of the corridor from behind them. I don’t remember whether that was mom or dad.
I don’t know if this is one of the memories you create out of pictures and narrations, but today I asked my mother and she couldn’t remember any remarkable moment to narrate. Maybe I expect too much of her, and she’s not even a narrator. She’s not a romanticizer. Maybe I expect people around me to speak in my own love language: poetry. When they speak in their own love languages instead, like you, who showed your love by cleaning my cupboards, my mum who shows it by cooking several meals for a single day, my dad who shows it physically, by smothering you in big bear hugs, I crumble and shatter. I feel unloved, until it makes them tired putting in all that effort that goes unrecognized.
That’s why you left me. “You keep undermining my love for you,” you’d said. “I’m tired of having to prove it to you all the time. You demand that I use my words, but you’ve forgotten that not all of us are poets.”
I do have that memory. Both memories. Created or otherwise enhanced, they’re there.
My parents named me Stella, after my maternal grandmother. It was my mom’s desire. In her island, Naxos, parents give the first daughter the name of the maternal grandmother. My dad didn’t want it - he wanted to call me Maria instead. That became my middle name. He didn’t have a particularly positive relationship with my grandmother who took a stance during their two-year breakup prior to their marriage that traumatized my mother and led her to expect me to assign me as her therapist by the age of 15.
I’d get an eerily similar breakup one day, and I still hope that, in exactly two years, you’ll return like dad did.
For mom, Stella is her mother’s name, short for the Christian Orthodox Styliani, prevalent in our island. My grandma and my mom taught me overprotectiveness. That’s how I suffocated you. That’s how I loved you. Words and tears derived from the fears that you might get high cholesterol from your unwise buff-up meal prep. My grandma also taught me religion, which I denounced when I started studying philosophy in uni.
For dad, Stella is a proud neon sign for his life’s honeymoon, his years as a medical student in Genoa. Mum feels resentful of dad’s memories from Italy - “the ghosts of the past”, she calls them. She’s jealous of old girlfriends who never harmed her. Dad never really cared to validate her insecurities. One day she took the photo albums from the shelf and ripped off all of his memories, then unloaded the emotions in an act of revenge by boasting about it to my six year-old brother.
Those insecurities they both hold on to like dear life itself: their legacy for me.
What drove you away.
I have started group therapy to get rid of my fear of abandonment. At the first session we were taught about anchoring. Placing our hand on our heart and associating the sensation to the visualization of a place where we could feel safe. I started off at your bed in Sunday morning, moved to an old library. I had never thought of the crib, with the light blue elephants and the chunky stars dancing on the ceiling.
Almost every time people heard my name, they would ask me: “Do you know that Stella means star in Italian?”
I had to respond, pretending to be charmed, that yes, I’d known all my life.
People always walking up to me, asking me Do you know who you are? Let me explain to you. Do you know what your experience should look like? Let me dictate your life to you.
I came out to my parents as bisexual in the car, while driving to a ceremony for a French contest. My mom said some horrible things, refused to talk to me for days, yet stood up and took photos to show the family when I walked up to the stage to receive my award.
In the following years she would tell me how much shame I bring her, ask me if I can at least try to change myself, curse my friends and my partners for putting ideas in my head. She told me, during a period when my brother used to hit her:
“It’s you and your brother who have kicked me on the ground, at my lowest, thrown me to Xanax.”
A couple of years later I first told you I didn’t feel like a girl anymore, neither did I feel like a boy. You knew trans life better than anyone. You supported me, held me close, kissed in me I’m so proud of you. I will love any change you decide to go through, because it will be yours.
The feminine sound of my given name caused my stomach to clench into a fist. I started experimenting with names. One day I texted you a photo of my Starbucks cup: Sam, and a smiley face.
I would never come out to my parents as non-binary after the fiasco of the first coming out. I wrote poems about my umbilical cord instead.
When you left me I went out with my best friend and we bought luminescent stars for the ceiling of my apartment. I had an amateur tattoo of the phases of the moon done on the nape of my neck, to remind myself of all the cliche connotations that would nevertheless leave me inconsolable.
When my mom saw the tattoo, she couldn’t stop asking me “what does this symbolize?” I know she feared it was some Mystical Logo of the Gay Agenda. My answers about me entering a new phase in my life didn’t satisfy her.
My parents taught me beauty - their own version of beauty, stamping several things with a seal of approval and dismissing everything else as inherently vile. They had me listen to Vivaldi as a baby, bought me my first children’s books about da Vinci that came with a miniature of Mona Lisa and a children’s “art conservationist” kit with a tiny brush and some paint. Today they are appalled at the hair on my legs, which makes me feel more like myself than my grandmother’s name does. They insist that their homophobia and transphobia are a matter of aesthetics. A sophisticated design is a work of art, until it is painted on a wall or on your skin.
During the lockdown for the pandemic I moved to my parents’. I say that our relationship has improved, but really it’s that my mum is making efforts to learn my love language and I make efforts to learn hers. I don’t talk to her about my identity, and I go around the house, repeatedly asking her, out of boredom, with Oedipal fervor and what I sometimes catch to resemble baby talk, whether she loves me. She repeats how much she does, recognizing my obsessive fears of abandonment and maybe silently acknowledging that she may have contributed to them. She holds me like a small child and we sometimes joke as I climb on her bed and she rocks me on her lap. She gently asks me to shave my legs. I tenderly stroke her arm and answer no.
Maybe this is our form of healing, infused with relapses of pathology.
Summer comes and I still haven’t returned in my apartment where I first sought solace to live with you, away from my parents’ suffocating overprotection and lack of acceptance. Mom and I both claim it’s gonna be harder for me to live in an apartment building on my own until the pandemic is under control, having to go to the super market on my own and touch so many communal spaces all the time. We both know that maybe we want each other to spend some more time saying all the “I love you’s” which have been lost in translation over the years.
We sit on the terrace one early summer dusk. The stars are becoming visible, little glints of hope switched on, one after the other, against the violet silky sheet of clarity. We hold each other on the sofa, wrapped in light scarves. She plays around with my name - the name I’ve secretly denounced. I allow myself to linger into the moment. She asks me about you.
I tell her that you called.