When Terrence married my mom, he gave me a room with plastic stars stuck to the ceiling. His daughter had put them up there years ago when she was afraid of the dark, and when she moved out, she left them there for me. They weren’t much, but she had arranged them in constellations so that the Big Dipper was right above my head, Cassiopeia was to my left, and something that looked like Justin Bieber was to my right. They were soft and calming, glowing faintly enough to let me close my eyes but shining brightly enough to let me know I wasn’t alone. And as I got used to sleeping in my own bed instead of on the mattress my mom and I shared in the old apartment, I needed the company. I was happy for my mom, I really was. She had struggled for years on her own after my dad left, working two jobs, juggling money around to buy me new shoes, focusing on paying bills instead of dating guys. That is, until she met Terrence, who had a habit of combining the two. She deserved a break and she deserved Terrence and everything he had to offer. But now it wasn’t just me and my mom, it was me and my mom and Terrence. And Terrence wasn’t that interested in me. Sure, he bought me a teddy bear when we first met and flowers when he proposed to my mom, but once I was under his roof, I was nothing. I guess he just thought I was a step in the process to get my mom to marry him. The worst part was that he was right. From then on, it was him and my mom and me and my plastic stars.
Years went by, and I was way too old to have plastic stars on my ceiling but they still reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Especially when Terrence and my mom started fighting in their room, the room next to mine. Their shouts and their arguments seeped through the walls and into my room and then into the rest of the house because then wherever I turned, there was an argument. In my room because I’m not supposed to be wearing shorts that short. In the kitchen because the dishwasher wasn’t unloaded. In the living room because Terrence can’t sit and watch TV all day. In the office because my mom spent too much on the credit card. In the garage because who just dropped my mom off from “work” at 9 o’clock at night? Everywhere I went, their anger either bounced loudly off the walls or hung silently in the air, and everywhere I went, it was unavoidable.
So I spent a lot of time with my friends. I went shopping, partied in basements, and dated more guys than I can count. I was invited to summer homes, lake houses, hotels in Hawaii, and rich uncles’ European mansions. But at the end of the week, I always came home to my galaxy of plastic stars on the ceiling and a chorus of shouts coming from the next room.
I was excited to move out for college. I was ready for the independence and to be free of my mom and Terrence’s sphere of influence and constant yelling. I still came back in the winter and in the summer, and no matter what the season, the stars on my ceiling stayed exactly the same. I’d lay in bed, staring up at those fake stars and wondering what it would be like to see the real ones. I had lived in the city all my life and had never seen a sky full of stars, even on the many trips I had taken with friends. I couldn’t imagine a sky with an actual Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, and without Justin Bieber. But as my mom and Terrence began to ignore each other in stony silence instead of engaging the other in passionate arguments, I wondered if maybe plastic stars are as good as it gets sometimes. Like maybe some people are made for fake, plastic stars and other families deserve the real stars, the real deal.
I believed that throughout most of college. I believed that that was all I was cut out for. I graduated college, bought my own apartment, and stuck new, plastic stars onto my ceiling. I covered my entire ceiling, shaping the stars into constellations, words, and designs. It was about as cool as plastic stars could get. So once again, it was just me and my stars. And I was happy for a long time.
Until I met Luke.
We met in the most cliche way possible. He saw me from across the coffee shop. He walked over to where I was sitting. He tried to talk, but nothing came out. He tried again, and there was only a cheesy pickup line to save him. He tried to start a conversation with me for a week straight, and when he finally did, he asked me out. He was as persistent as I was resistant, so after another week of asking me out, I went out with him.
I didn’t expect much. Relationships don’t work in my family, that’s just how it goes. And Luke, he was too eager. He’s one of those people who believes in love at first sight, that a kiss can save your life, that fairy tales come true. So I was surprised when I found myself agreeing to a second date, and then a third, until eventually we started dating for a week, two weeks, a month. He was such a goofball, a complete dork, and I was such a realist, but we made it work.
He came over one day as I was getting ready for our dinner at a nice restaurant downtown. He asked me about the plastic stars covering my ceiling and I told him they were just nice to look at and they kept me company. He gave me a hug as I put my earrings in and told me about the stars he’d see when he went camping with his dad as a kid. I told him I had never seen a sky full of stars before. He was surprised, and he seemed to stay surprised the entire ride to the restaurant, dinner, and dessert. He kept asking me how I’d never seen the stars before, and I finally told him that I had just settled for my plastic ones.
Luke didn’t drive me home after dinner. He drove for two hours to a little outlook on the edge of a forest in the middle of nowhere. He made me close my eyes as he opened the door, helped me out, led me to a small bench, and told me to lean my head back. I did. He told me to open my eyes. So I did.
Stars. Everywhere. There were stars everywhere. The Big Dipper was up there, Cassiopeia was over there, and Justin Bieber was nowhere to be found. Luke pointed out the North Star. Keeping my eyes on the sky, I reached for his hand, and for the first time thought that I never want to see my plastic stars again.