Four days into my sophomore year of high school, I met him. He had dark, long hair that flopped around his ears and hung low into his eyes. I remember vague conversations we had that night about music, fishing, and how we were both from southern states, Georgia and North Carolina, but what I remember most is the dimple in his right cheek. Sitting on the right side of the couch in his room, I stared at it the entire night and every time his dimple made an appearance, I couldn’t help but smile.
Over the course of the year, we developed a close, romantic relationship. He understood me in a way no one else could. He knew the hardships I dealt with, the separation of my parents, the financial losses that affected my parents, the chemotherapy treatments my father endured when I was eleven, and the two separate occasions of my mother attending a rehabilitation center for her alcoholism. I could never grasp why bad things kept hitting my family, hard, but he made me feel like I could push through all the pain, sadness, and tears. He was my biggest supporter and my best friend.
We were here, parked in the middle of a green field in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the back of my brother’s black Chevrolet Silverado, lying on two thin beach towels, staring up at the stars. My life in Atlanta never granted me the space or time to wind down and admire the natural beauty of the world we live in. I’m thankful his world did.
“You know, I’ve never been able to find a constellation in the sky,” I whispered softly as my head lay across his chest. He laughed, then pointed to the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt, tracing the outline of the stars with his finger millions of miles away. In the midst of a pandemic, here and now in Chapel Hill, we felt like the only people on earth.
He watched a shooting star cross the sky as he said, “With the absence of the human population from everyday, regular things, I think we’ve given the world a break. You know, less pollution, less everything toxic. A better environment.” I smiled. He was always smarter at life while I was better at school. We worked together like that.
I was crushed that coronavirus had taken away the last of the memories for my junior year of high school. I looked forward to the spring dance and dressing up, yet I know this virus was bigger than me and my concerns. But as I looked up at the stars, I liked the way the world was right now. We were staying in, polluting our environment less, not filling the air with carbon dioxide gas as much, and as a result, I liked the way the air felt.
We were talking about what would happen if earth was invaded by aliens when a thought popped into my mind. “Beau, what if aliens eat pizza like we do?” He opened his mouth to form a response but was cut off by the flashing bright lights of his neighborhood security car coming towards us. We looked at each other with wide, open eyes. We weren’t supposed to be outside past nine o’clock at night, an obvious violation of the neighborhood curfew formed in response to the coronavirus. Immediately, we gathered the beach towels, shoved them in the corner of the truck bed while we scrambled to crouch in two of the corners of the truck bed with hopes of not getting caught by the neighborhood security.
The lights from the car grew closer and suddenly, we heard a car door shut. Beau looked at me with a big smile then covered his mouth with his left hand, trying to suppress the laugh bubbling out of him. Meanwhile, I was scared out of my mind. “What if we get caught? What if we get kicked out? What if they punish us?” I thought to myself but held my breath and stopped my thoughts when I heard footsteps approaching the truck. I closed my eyes and fidgeted with my fingers, my usual nervous gesture. Beau knew this and reached across his hand to hold mine. The man continued to the side of the window and shone his flashlight into the window, examining the interior of the truck. When he saw nothing suspicious, he turned off his flashlight but continued walking around the vehicle, stopped a couple of times, then returned to his car. I released a loud sigh of relief, grateful that he left and that our night was not over.
It was approaching midnight, although I felt as if it had been five minutes, looking up at the stars, sharing stories, and exchanging glances with Beau. “It’s getting late, Sally. We should go back home before my mom notices we’re gone,” said Beau. I sighed in disappointment but knew he was right.
“Sure. Let’s pack up before we get back in the car.”
In some ways, I was angry that I was living through a pandemic but other times, I was thankful. It seemed as if everything was self-contradicting. Time no longer held the same meaning, yet it did. I used to never have enough time but now, I have too much time on my hands. Learning still consumed my life, yet not like it used to. I was yearning for some sort of normalcy but at the same time, I did not want it. I looked out of the passenger side window and said goodbye to one of the best memories.
Before entering his driveway, he turned off the car’s headlights, put the car in park, and exited the car, making sure little noise came from shutting the driver’s side door. I laughed at how careful he was being. His mom was always hard on him, strict about certain teenager things like curfews, parties, and friends whereas my father held faith and trust in me, and my mother was too occupied battling her own addiction to have an input in my decisions.
He looked at me, shot me a lopsided grin, then embraced me in a warm hug. He was a good six inches taller than me. He turned the doorknob slowly, making sure no sound escaped the garage and alarmed his mother. When he gave me a thumbs-up, we tiptoed to the windy staircase about five feet from the garage door. My heart was racing, pounding erratically as I crept one step at a time to the second floor of the house. Beau was ahead, leading the way when I tripped on the stair and crashed down, leaving a resounding sound throughout the house.
“Hurry!” Beau whispered aggressively as he grabbed my arm to pull me up from my fallen position on the staircase. Atop the staircase, we unanimously released a sigh of relief.
I held out my pinky finger towards him and said, “Pinky promise we will do everything we can to make everyday feel like tonight. It was a nice night, few cars, no toxic matter in the air. Can we do our part in reducing the future effects of climate change? I want to keep the world temperatures lower so we can have more nights like these. We can do small steps to create a big change!”
“Deal,” he responded as he intertwined his pinky with mine revealing a big smile with a sparkle in his blue-green eyes.
Suddenly, we heard the door of his parent’s bedroom creak open and the footsteps of a confused mother, looking for the culprits of the loud bang on the staircase. Laughing quietly, we released pinkies and ran towards our bedrooms. He ran left while I ran to the right side, aiming for the guest room his family had prepared for me during my visit. On the way, we turned around and waved goodnight to each other as the footsteps approached, but suddenly the footsteps paused, as if his mother was searching for a sound. I stopped running and stood still as I listened to her retreat to her bedroom and softly shut the door.
In the bathroom, I stood in front of the mirror brushing my teeth while looking out the window at the clear night sky. I smiled when I noticed the constellation Orion’s Belt. I carefully placed my toothbrush in my cosmetic bag and made my way towards the bed. As I pulled the covers over my body, I thought about the experiences I would not have gained without the presence of the pandemic. My life had changed in ways unimaginable, yet it opened up new opportunities along with ample time to engage in those opportunities. For me, the night time now offered an opportunity to learn about the sky, the stars, and the constellations. I shut my eyes with a hope-filled heart, knowing that I can better the world in my own way all because of a pandemic.