I went outside three times last night, trying to get a glimpse of the annual Perseid meteor shower. First, the little girls and I went out at 10:30, lying on the sidewalk, watching the sky for meteors (or shooting stars – they preferred that very prosaic term). At 7 and 8, they swore to me that they had never seen one, and the added novelty of getting to stay up late and lie on your back in the front yard made for some very excited shouting when one appeared.
After everyone went to bed, I went back outside and laid on a lawn chair in the back yard, thinking about the last time I watched the Perseid in the New Mexico night sky in August. It was with my friend Elaine Quarles – she came into my coffee shop, breathless as Elaine frequently was, full of great ideas, and said, “We need to find someplace to watch the meteor shower. Tonight’s the night!”
Viola volunteered their up-on-a-hill out-in-the-country house, and we carried bottles of wine and blankets out there after dark. The meteor shower wasn’t spectacular that night, but the company was, with Elaine and Kent and Viola and I on sleeping bags under the stars, telling stories of people we remember from Amistad (Elaine’s high school days) and Nara Visa and Logan (our high school days). She told the story of how she and Ed met and then eloped; Viola told the story of how her sister threw the history book at her after she found out Viola was going out with Kent. We laughed, we talked, someone would say, “Whatever happened to Dee Dee Fuller?” and Elaine would laugh and say, “Boy do I have a story about her!”
It was relaxing, easy conversation – like that talk before sleep that you get on a sleepover, when lying in the dark makes it easy to tell tales you might otherwise keep to yourself. We stayed out until after 1:00, so last night I was determined to do the same – I wanted to watch the meteors to pay my own little personal tribute to Elaine. I miss her – I miss her great ideas and conversation and her spontaneous way of saying, “Let’s try this!” (like creating a wreath from old cedar bushes out in the pasture is a crazy adventure – which it was with her). Elaine’s life never got stale – she would have watched meteor showers every night if she could have.
She didn’t make it to this one – an accident ended her life last November. Sitting under the stars last night I thought about all the things she taught me while we were friends – sit up, take notice, grab whatever’s right there in front of you. She’s the reason I write this blog – after years of trading stories by e-mail (she was always ruthlessly honest about whether something was marginal or fabulous) and hearing her say, “You’re really a pretty decent writer,” I decided to write it all down, at least so that my kids would have some of my words in their heads if something happened to me.
I went back out one more time last night, at about 3:30 a.m., hoping for one last shower of light in my New Mexico night sky. I got what I was waiting for. The sky was lit up with shooting stars. It made me smile. It made me cry just a little bit. It was, as always, beautiful.
The meteor shower is peaking today and tonight. Get out under the stars, lie quietly and find someone to talk to while you watch for a shooting star. If you see one, make a wish. Wish for a friend like Elaine.