Fallen Star (2014 Winner)

 by Vy Doan (Arizona)

[fear of flying] You were always my wild side. The side of me that no one ever saw, the unmapped terrain of my heart that no one dared to cross. Your laugh–infectious; your eyes–dazzling; your mind–mischief and merriment. You were the one who told me I could fly. You have wings too; you just don’t see them, you’d whispered. I’d nod my head in disbelief, wanting so badly to believe that your presence could seal all wounds. And for a while, it did.

[chance encounter] I was the lone wallflower growing my roots along the plaster soil until you plucked me out from the ground. You were the new student, the one who had yet to learn the unofficial school rules. But you were a natural source of attention. You were an oddity, an eccentricity, a person who radiated confidence. They were mesmerized. You strode forth with nothing more than an impromptu bucket list and asked if I would go on an adventure with you. Do you get carsick? No. That’s all you asked before you whisked us off into your convertible.

[roadside] The road was a winding serpent clinging onto mountainous contours. Ocean waves surged back and forth in a relentless attempt to conquer stolen shore. The attack and retreat was rhythmic in a place so void of human presence. Ocean mist tinged the air with salty unsaid syllables. You said that you loved the sea. That your heart was an wavering storm. That all you ever wanted was to build a bonfire. And so we did. You dared me to jump into the freezing sea with you, simply because. And I did. Dusk approached, subtly, quietly. Velvet night seized the dying embers of day. With star sprinkled sky above us, we gazed up to the heavens. You pointed up to the Northern star, Polaris. I squinted in your direction and found the star, glowing in golden whiteness. You said that you’ve always wanted to become a star, crested above human reach, indifferent to the world around you. The way I saw it, you already were.

[falling] You made me drunk on youthful temerity. The time we went bungee jumping. The time we dressed up as foreigners asking for convoluted directions. The time we were strangers among strangers. We seemed to have infinite time on our hands, having everything but knowing absolutely nothing. That was the way it was around you. I could forget about the brooding silence at my house. I could forget the arguments that inked my papery thin walls. I no longer felt confined and trapped in claustrophobic confusion.

[bright lights] You said you had two important things to tell me. The first would come tonight, the second would come later. I was miles and miles away from home but I had never felt so comforted by strange wilderness. It was humid, I remembered, as muggy as waking up mid-dream. We were deep within a meadow where the scent of wildflowers engulfed my senses. I waited with you in the quietude of darkness until there came a sudden flicker. Then another. Then another. I had counted up to twenty before I just simply stopped in amazement. They were everywhere, these delicate, glowing creatures with their papery wings. They were like moving Christmas lights, tumbling forth in burning luminescence, mimicking the night sky above our heads. You held out a jar of captured fireflies as we headed back to the car. Let them go, I said. But you couldn’t. You were frustrated, angry. You said you couldn’t let go because fireflies were fallen stars and you needed these stars to feel alive. I didn’t understand then, but now I do. And so you clung onto the jar until the next morning when we both discovered that the life and the light had all but disappeared.

[breathless] And those were the stories I told you every day I visited. You always knew it was me because you said you could smell the flowers before I had even stepped inside. I tried to keep a Mona Lisa face around you because I knew you despised tears. You said tears were nothing but a hapless foreshadowing, a reminder of the inevitable. Don’t cry while I’m still alive, you’d teased. But it was hard watching those icy veins crisscross your fragile body. It was hard hearing those fluttery breathes and seeing your thin, thin chest struggle with each inhale, exhale. You were trapped in noiseless white starch. You were a half-animated being stumbling in and out of consciousness. Your laugh was only half-hearted and your eyes no longer shimmered. You said you were okay, but you never really were.

[dream] I released them before they could call the medical units. I gently tapped your shoulder, willing your eyes to open one last time. Here are your fallen stars, I whispered. You gazed across the room in silent reverence and a smile crossed your face. It was a genuine smile, a smile that revived that sparkling mischief in your eyes. You have wings too, you said, just remember to use them. Before I could open my eyes, I knew you had faded into your eternal slumber.

[midnight dances] I still journey to that meadow every once a year. I would wait in silence just as we had done before and let the muggy night pull me into a cascade of dreams. Some years, nostalgia grips me too tightly. Other years, my starry companions would only show up in dwindled numbers. But all the while, I would see Polaris. Its ethereal brilliance would remind me that, after all this time, I still had wings of my own.