I am reading while my daughter watches the moonrise from our living room window. She parts the blinds with her hand and peeks through the crack as though only she is privy to the magic of the darkening sky. It is an endearing sight, an image that I work to carve into my mind until she settles down on the couch again and picks up her astronomy book.
Already, she knows more about the celestial bodies than I do. At five, the planets fascinate her. A sunrise is a wonder, comets are a mystery, and though she is far too young to understand that humans were not made to travel the stars, she tells me she wants to stand upon the moon one day.
At night, she sleeps beneath a phosphorescent starscape of her own making. The plastic stars and planets glow green when I tell her I love her and turn off her bedroom lamp. I see the way she looks at them, like I would greet an old friend or a lost lover. They are magic to her, and even I am not foolish enough to take that home from her.
Age does not change her temperament or her fixation. I watch through the years as she stares at the stars and seeks to decipher the mystery of the cosmos passing overhead each night. She points out constellations on the distant horizon and studies their legends as she grows.
They are a part of her in a way that I cannot fully describe, a gateway to another world that fades with the rising sun and returns in the late evening. She is, in this way, enslaved to the turning of the world — imprisoned in a way that only those with an eye and heart for the stars can truly understand.
I am thankful for that, and for cloudy nights. Without them, I fear that my daughter would spend all of her time dreaming of heaven and never focusing on the studies which might one day take her there. I try to explain this to her, and she nods her head in understanding even as her eyes linger upward for a few moments too long.
When she is old enough to date and the teenagers come and knock, I fear that will be distraction enough to turn her away from the stars entirely. How wrong I am. She lectures those who will listen, and those who share no enthusiasm for the night sky vanish like lost memories.
I remember how I was as a teenage boy, and I am no fan of her suitors. All but one. He is the boy who eventually wins my daughter’s heart, and he is the boy who shatters it when their lives divert into separate directions. But it is not his word that ends it. It is hers.
I am present for this conversation, listening through a doorway and making re any to console her. However, despite her tears, she hardly needs to hear a father’s trite saying about love and loss.
It is for the best, and she knows it.
How else, she reasons, will she ever be able to stand on the moon? How can she stay with him, love him fully, and still dream of the stars?
The inevitability of her breakup is on my mind as the scholarship offers arrive in the mail. She is still reeling from her loss while I am bracing myself for the loss that is long in coming. I can see it like a train in the distant hills destined to tunnel a hole through my heart.
I support her decision to attend college across the nation, to abandon me to an empty home and quiet walls with only plastic stars to keep me company. When she joins the military at the end of her senior year, I grit my teeth and smile. These are career decisions, she explains, all in the hope that she finds her way onto a space shuttle.
She will, of course. There is a certain inevitability to it, and there is certainly no doubt in my mind. She flies planes for the Air Force over land and sea. One night, when she calls me from halfway across the world, she tells me that she feels like she’s more comfortable in the sky than she is on the ground. I can only imagine what she will feel when she sees the Earth from the bottom floor of space itself.
I am tending to a sprained ankle when I get the call. She’s being recruited by NASA, and though they will not tell her their plans, she knows she is going to the moon one day. I know it, too, and I can hear the joy and the tears in her voice.
She mentions the boy from all those years ago, the source of a heartbreak she never fully recovered from. Their love is a cost, she reasons, for fulfilling a dream. She asks me if she made the right choice. With life. With him.
I can only tell her the truth: I do not know.
That is the moment I realize that even the truth is like water. My little girl will stand on the moon someday. She will go to those far places where few have ever been — and when she arrives and she looks up, she will still be dreaming of the stars that are always just a little farther out of reach.