Nostalgia be damned, I did not plan to miss anything from home. I doubt anyone plans to miss the past, so I can’t say my failure was unexpected, but I didn’t have any grand “Ladybird”-esque revelations of secret love for my hometown. When I got to New Haven, it was the absence of the stars, the stars I had hardly ever consciously noticed, that brought the strongest pangs of homesickness.
I came to this revelation last semester on a lonesome rooftop in New Haven. The sky, it occurred to me, was so empty. I don’t mean this in a completely physical sense — if anything, it was teeming with the radiance of artificial lighting. I could even call it beautiful. But that radiance seemed sacrilegiously hollow. It superseded the cosmos, drowning the stars in false idols. All that was left were bleak, cold glimmers suspended in a cloud of black ether and yellowish effervescence. They were pathetic, these few surviving stars, mere dead pixels or punctuation marks.
Dramatic as my description may be, I am under no illusion that the stars are my companions. They have always been distant, even cold, despite the typical effects of nuclear fusion. Yet there was something profoundly comforting about their presence — stern figures, unwillfully elegant, constantly staring down with the same blank expression you might expect from a teacher whose approval you seek in vain.
After returning home for winter break, I noticed the stars for a week, more or less. In this time, I marveled at their profound beauty, tracing those constellations that had reblossomed from a single star that had overcome the aura of the city. Then I forgot about them again. It was not until returning to campus in January that I recognized my shocking display of arrogance. The empty sky mocks me for it.
It would be disingenuous to frame myself as the champion of rural life at Yale. Truthfully, my hometown of Blairstown, New Jersey, may abound with cornfields and clear skies, but it is still New Jersey, and it is still only a two-hour drive from New York City. I can’t even say I miss rural life in the slightest. I love New Haven, love it more than I could ever claim to love Blairstown. What a concept to walk to a convenience store whenever I’m hungry, or to be able to order an Uber without a two-hour wait, or to be called “Jewish” without it sounding like slur!
I can’t help but wonder if I have any right to miss the stars, given my situation. There are so many here at Yale who have been ripped from environments so much more naturalistic than mine, who are actually fond of their bucolic homes, yet I am the one to whine. And I can’t even tell you exactly why I miss these stars, why I see the sky as empty and the emptiness as devastation, when I don’t miss where I could see these stars.
Perhaps it’s melodrama. Perhaps it’s a learned practice of capitalizing on whatever tragedy I can grasp at for the purpose of getting sympathy from whatever audience I may have. I don’t think it can be reduced to this, though. Melodrama does not, or ought not to, feel so real.
Maybe it’s this: I look out to the stars, and I see their absence, and I miss what I wanted the stars to be. I miss what I should have had, but never did. I miss the nights in the fields with the friends I was never all that close with, gazing up at the cosmos, having conversations that never actually happened about our dreams and hopes and plans for the future in that kind of honest way that only a late night under the stars can bring out (or so I’m told). I miss the camping trips I never took with my family, those trips that might have become an annual tradition if we had liked each other a bit more, the ones that I never had the chance to pretend to hate but secretly look forward to. I miss pointing out the constellations to the girl I loved with my whole heart who wasn’t actually there, feeling my pulse quicken as she pulled me in for the kiss I never tasted that put the wonders of the Milky Way to shame. I miss the illusions.
Light pollution is sobering. It leaves only a bleak sky and only those stars that emanate X-rays instead of fantasies. And I stare at them, pining for a reality I never even knew, a reality that has never seemed so distant.
Sean Pergola | firstname.lastname@example.org