On the day my daughter died, the stars smiled down at me, in their beautiful but sad way. I asked myself how the stars could look so happy on such a sad day, and looked up. It was almost as if they looked back at me, the way a mother looks at her child, comforting, loving, and quiet. The stars kept me going through it all.
Even as a young child, I had always loved the stars and how they twinkled in the sky, formed pictures, told stories. I loved how whenever I was feeling down, I could tell myself, “Look, Orion. The stars will come out tonight, and they will listen to you.” I would talk to the stars because they seemed to listen in a way no one else could; they didn’t judge, they didn’t ask. They simply listened as I and so many others poured their hearts out to them. That’s why I always told my daughter that she was my shooting star. She was the light in my life for so long, even after my wife, my parents, my friends had gone. Her name was Astra, or “of the stars”.
When she was little and her mother was still here, Astra would always beg to go outside, in the backyard, and dance under the pale moonlight. Astra loved the moon, while I love the stars. Her eyes shone like stars when she smiled, and twinkled mischievously when she was thinking about something. My wife would always come out and join us, so of course I was worried when one night, she didn’t. I told Astra, “Stay here. The moon and stars will keep you safe,” and went inside to see what was the matter. All I found was a note saying, “I’m sorry the stars couldn’t keep us together.”
Astra was only eight at the time, so of course she was confused and sad when I told her her mother wouldn’t be coming back. “Why?” she had asked me. I told her that I didn’t know. She knew I missed her as well and comforted me the best she could. I’m forever grateful and loving to her for that.
Astra grew up into a beautiful teenage girl, though unaccepted by her peers. They found her strange, and excluded her from their groups and activities. Me? I blindly thought she was accepted, that she was happy. I was wrong. She wasn’t.
As Astra fell deeper and deeper into depression, I was faced with the fact that my daughter was no longer happy; not with school, not with anything, not even herself. Except the moon. And me. Her eyes began to lose their special twinkle, and I had to watch as my lovely Astra was destroyed from the inside out.
The day Astra died, I was at work, packing up to leave. I had been wondering how Astra was doing, if she was home yet, when my secretary walked in. “Mr. Byron… it’s for you.” Before I could ask her who it was, she ran out of the room. I reluctantly put the phone to my ear, uttering a timid “Hello?”. The response made me collapse to the floor.
“Mr. Byron, this is the Cumberland Public Hospital… your daughter was hit by a car while crossing the street. By the time we got there, she was gone. There was nothing we could do to save her,” th receptionist said. I couldn’t breathe. Astra… gone? After a seemingly endless pause, the receptionist murmured into the phone, “I’m sorry for your loss.” And with that, she hung up.
I quickly rushed to the hospital, running until my legs burned, until my lungs gasped for air. And even then I kept going. Astra. Astra. It was all I could think as my legs mechanically swung back and forth, propelling me forward. Right, left. Right, left. The hospital was in view by that time, a concrete slab of a building, fault of city funding. Bursting inside, I rushed to the desk. Before I could even say anything, one of the receptionists, a short, stout woman, said, “You must be Mr. Byron. Please, follow me.” Her voice had sounded familiar, but I hadn’t realized why until we were walking down the hallway. That was the same woman who called, I had thought as the last pieces clicked into place. I was so lost in thought that I nearly walked past the door to Astra’s room and the receptionist had to yank my arm, forcing me out of my thoughts.
“We’re here,” she said. Her lips smiled but her eyes betrayed her sadness. Swallowing, I stared at the door as the receptionist slipped away to help another poor soul like me. Slowly, I opened the door, dreading my next sight. Stepping in gingerly, I looked at Astra lying on the table. Apart from a small streak of blood down her freckled cheek, she looked asleep, peaceful. Nothing like a person whose last sight was the car that knocked the life out of her.
“Astra… if you can hear me… I love you.” The words barely made it out of my mouth, my throat choked with all the things I wanted to say to her, right at that moment. Tears dripping from my eyes, I looked at her. The deep blue eyes partially open, the lips smiling lightly… I couldn’t help but feel as if she were smiling back at me for the last time. Squeezing her hand, I stood up, and just before leaving the room, I looked back at her one more time. Her dark, silky hair shone in the fluorescent light of the room, like the night sky filled with stars. With that sight, I shut the door.
I think back to all of this now, looking up at the sky. The dark sky, shining bright with twinkling lights. It always brings back Astra. I never got to say goodbye to Astra. But, what could I have said, anyhow? I think this often, as I’m dreaming, in the office, in every waking hour of the day. What would I have said? Well… Astra… if you can hear me… I love you. I miss you. And you will always be my love. My hope. The brightest light in the sky. My shooting star.