I was nearly five when I discovered the stars. Like the usual suspicious child, I believed only what I observed myself. Much like men of science, I refuted the rumor, the tales, all as gross superstition. At such an age, one is gifted almost at once with the prospects of god, magic, immortality through faith. Such things seemed at times the tricks of the grown to endear the young to the same sort of disappointed misery.
My enlightenment hardly came in a dramatic way, there was no eclipse of the sun or comet outside any of the apartment windows. Rather, my uncle who - even at this time - was usually quite mad, gave to me a thin and wide hardback, aged and bound again by red electrical tape. It was called The Golden Book of Astronomy and pledged on its title page to brief me on the "wonders of space."
I could barely read my own name at this age, and my youthful illiteracy is today evidenced by the varied pink and blue scrawl which mars every other page of that tome. Likewise, it also escaped me that the book, printed in 1955, was more an artifact than a source of wisdom. Still my thoughts were turned to the night. I can remember with particular clarity a hot summer midnight, bug-ridden and smog-chased, when I stood between my two grandparents outside on the white porch, pivoted back my head, and saw at first what I perceived as nothing. Certainly, the plentiful street lamps and house lights did not lend well to stargazing, nor did what was likely a heavy cloud cover that evening. I felt, of course, severely betrayed.
In my book I had seen creatures framed in pins of light, smatterings of brightness, the sun shrouded in lightning, marbles scattered in dust and rimmed in glass. There was nothing of that land beyond my own home. My mother insists that we owned a telescope, also of the vintage uncle brand, but if I looked through it and wondered at the moon, than I never understood what the moon in fact was, or that I was looking to it rather than merely at it.
So I cite my first understanding of space as a night a year or so after I had received the Golden Book. I could ascribe my fortune that night to holiday luck, the guidance of my grandfather, the especial darkness of the town that evening - but all that I recall was turning my head and at first seeing, again, nothing. Then, peering closer and seeing what we call nothingness because it is too much.
There was something about the limitlessness of it, the gap of all but shallow distant lights between the apartments and whatever it was that must be above even that. And it was then that I believed more than what I could see, the wonder not just of what was, but also of us all beneath it, too.