Ad Astra Per Aspera*

*Latin for “through hardships to the stars”
By Neena Grewal, TIWP Student

“This is hard,” I say, immediately regretting it.

“You think I don’t know that?” She’s angry now. “I told you, if you aren’t ready, then just leave.”

“I’m just scared,” I reply, knowing anything I say will only make things worse. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out like that.”

She shifts beside me. The air is cold, and her skin feels like lava against it. “Jesus, Emily.”

“Don’t call me that,” I snap, sitting upright. Emily. A name for a girl who was pretty and docile and would be married at 19, have three kids at 22. A girl who was not—and never would be—me. “You know I hate it. I swear, as soon as I get out of this shit-town, I’m changing my name.”

“Yeah, right,” she laughs, “We’ll keep it on the list with the tattoo you want to get.”

“Just you watch, Sarah, I’ll be the next Elvis Presley. Or Beyonce. I don’t know, who’s famous again?”

“Miley Cyrus.”

“No idea who that is, but alright,” I reply. “I’ll be a popstar! With a tattoo and piercings and a fake name that belongs to me.”

She gives me a questioning look, before staring at the sky. “It’s gorgeous.” I follow her gaze. It is, but I won’t tell her. Thousands of stars gleam down at us, so pretty against the dark sky. They’re from far away, my teacher said. Their light took millions and billions of years just to say hello.

“Yeah,” I whisper. “It really is.”

We’re quiet for a moment. “Are you actually going to leave?” It’s just words. Letters that roll off the tongue, that fade away as quickly as snowflakes but still as beautiful. It’s just words.

“Yes.” She releases a grievous breath, the trace of a sob hidden in the air. I don’t think I could survive if she started crying. She’s upset, of course, but we both knew this is coming. “I’m going. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But I will.” It’s true. Why does it have to be true? Why can’t I just lie, and say that I’m staying forever and ever?

For me, it’s clear as the summer sky. Because I don’t want to stay with her forever and ever. At least not yet. Or maybe for the rest of my life.  She’s moving too fast for me, too eager in permanent commitment like it’s something to spend money on and look back at with a sneer. Like it’s a game.

I’m not ready for something like that. I don’t want to marry her. Why would I need too? I love her. I always will. But I don’t need a fancy wedding to make it official.

“Do you have to go?”

She thinks the answer’s no. In reality, it’s “of course.”

“Don’t you love me?”

Yes.

“Don’t you want to stay?”

No.

“I think I will leave tonight,” I say, instead of what she wants. “I might leave right now.”

“Just…” her voice wavers. “Just wait a while. Let’s stay here for the night.” I want to tell her no. I want to tell her that if I wait until morning I won’t ever go. I want to tell her that if I stay, I die. That I love her. Instead, I stand and walk off. She cries into the sweet grass. The stars are still winking.

They’re ancient things, stars. My teacher says that several stars in our sky are already gone. So the star’s aren’t saying hello anymore.

The stars are winking goodbye.

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