Although the first week of semester had begun, the scorch of summertime still lingered in the air, swelteringly oppressive, on the night that I saw my first shooting star. The company was beyond my capacity to appreciate - a hundred sweaty new students, twenty or thirty leaders, living under one another's feet on a campsite that could just as easily have been a battery farm for humans. I wasn't clad in swishing skirts with flowers twisted through my hair, though the reflexive archetype of a young woman in the summertime would certainly have suggested it. But there was something magical in the moment where I lay on my back, a collective bottle of warm, flat, Coke -or was it juice?- with vodka splashed in clutched in my sweaty hand. I didn't mind the lack of bubbles, the germs of a half dozen lips around its neck, or the even my inherent aversion to vodka, so delirious was I from doing battle in a non-ventinaled commercial kitchen for twelve hours straight. The temperatures had risen above forty degrees with ease that day, even as my companion and I cooked for a horde of students, and for the thousand flies that came to watch the show. We had been too busy, too flustered, too panicked about dinner being late, to even pause for a drink of water, and so dehydration had stolen beneath my defences. But in a way that, too, was part of the magic.
I had wanted to swill away all of the day's frustrations, but the night had overshot balminess, and skyrocketed right into smothering. And I, the kind of extrovert whose batteries are recharged by the company of others, felt tangled amidst the dual snares of loneliness and a desire to be alone. The party was elsewhere, leaving only myself and a handful of close friends, all perfectly necessary in that moment, but whose faces blur upon recollection. This transience cheapens the way the memory looks, but in no way what it felt like. But I digress.
We lay in the crackly brown grass, our legs draped over the log seats around a long-quenched campfire, and stared at a sky that exploded with glimmering carbon in a manner our light-polluted city blinkers from us. A curious breathlessness overtook our collective, a half-dozen lost souls ruminating on the nature of stars, and I held a lover's hand in mine, never once minding that sweat pooled between our palms, and then the sky breathed.
As my gaze traced the curve of my first shooting star's trajectory, the refrain from the Elliott Smith song "Sweet Adeline" surged into my mind with such all the intensity of unprovoked perfection. If a feeling could swallow a person whole, I would have tasted of nothing but raw, irrational emotion. Not happy, not sad, not angry, not confused, but a beautiful mish-mash that the word "bittersweet" could never do justice.
I had gone to that camp with the same intentions I have of every camp: to ensure the safety of my charges, help new students make friends, dress up obnoxiously on costume night, and roll around for the better part of the weekend in a rip-roaring, pirate-level of drunk. What I hadn't expected was how with the sight of my first ever shooting star, these plans, and every other plan I had shouldered at the time, would fade into obsolescence. And for thirty seconds, or thirty minutes, or however long that arc of light danced with my delirium, I lived utterly in that moment. To this day, the feeling cannot pass for me - but it can never be recaptured, either. Not without the chemical reaction of setting and sensation and "Sweet Adeline."
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.