This past year, I have realized just how well a person can get to know the things that are important to a writer from what they write. I’ve discussed these deep connections and obsessions with many authors, including Peter Oliva, Lawrence Hill, Alissa York. In a way, people seeing so deep into me is why writing has been such a struggle lately.
When people ask if any of the events in Clearwater happened to me, I tell them no, but the truth is, there are bits and pieces of events and places and people that absolutely coalesced into scenes on the page.
Every August, this same week, my thoughts shift back to a certain time and place and person – the young man who explained the difference between shooting stars and meteor showers to me when I was a fifteen-year-old, boy-crazy, city-girl who came back up north to visit her friend.
His name was Jason. He was a couple years older than I was, and my friend liked him, too, but I was the one he kissed the night the stars fell. (I insisted on calling them shooting stars, even after he explained how meteor showers really worked.) He was tall — taller than my husband is — and strong. Big. He liked to lift me up. We did a lot of walking that summer, and he was always scooping me up, or piggy-backing me, or just coming up behind me and lifting me off my feet. He had crazy curly hair and a big smile and huge hands. I remember how silly my little hand looked in his when he held it. I was nervous, not being one who’d been kissed a whole lot, and I knew my friend liked him, and I knew I was only there a few days…it was a big deal.
I think that moment sitting on the concrete base of the The Pas Airport sign, counting “stars” with Jason and carving our names into the wood, stands out because I had never seen anything like that. Wish on a star, then another and they drop and drop and drop – sixteen, seventeen, twenty four, thirty-eight, and hey, Kim, they aren’t stars at all, but oh, the beauty of all those wishes, falling through clear black and salt-speckled space.
Or it stands out because of the way he took my face in his hands and kissed me until the Northern Lights came out. Maybe that’s more likely. Or maybe that was the next night. Maybe that’s a different story.
The Perseids are predictable as a sunrise, always in the same place, same time of year. Every year.
Predictable like August. August is the worst month – extended Sunday Night Syndrome for a teacher, ugly birthstone colour, the un-poetry of its name (both the month and the birthstone!) – but for a few days every year in the eighth month, placetimeperson converge into a kind of meditation, or memorial, of a kind young man, taken too soon.
That fall, back home in Regina, I started at a new school, met my first serious boyfriend, and stopped replying to Jason’s letters. His notes still came, always written in block-lettered green pen on graph paper. We talked on the phone one night — no small thing with long distance pricing the way it was back then. I’d got myself into a tough situation where I needed advice. I called him in tears and he was a rock, steady in the space and time between us. He explained how guys think, gave me gentle answers to “why? why?” and I got through it. Then we never spoke again.
I wrote to him once more — I can’t remember why — I probably felt bad for being a flake, or maybe I wanted to know if he would be back in The Pas the next time I went.
I received a letter back, written in blue ink, from his mom.
Jason was killed by a drunk driver before graduating that year. I hadn’t known — I’d lost touch with everyone from The Pas, and his family never knew anything about me. Just a summer crush that turned into a penpal friendship, then faded.
I never did write his mom back. I was a stupid teenager, I guess. I didn’t know what to say. I know what I’d say now. Above all, I’d want her to know he is remembered.
I often think about the ways we are touched and affected by those who pass through our lives — a kind word of support here, the gift of a smile there. A hug. A kiss. We are reflected in the wonder of the people we connect with. I have little stories like this about so many people who probably have no clue they’ve made a difference.
I’m grateful–blessed– to have witnessed that meteor shower. City girls don’t always have the clearest views of the night skies — sometimes they need to spend time with people who do.
In Clearwater, Claire’s sister is the one with the clear vision, the one who tells Claire about the meteors, but it’s Jeff who holds her hand. Leah talks about what is really happening, Claire just wants to believe wishes can come true.
People live on even when they’re gone. The Perseids are my time to stop and remember my friend, and others I’ve lost, and reflect on how lucky I am to have had so many lights (stars!) in my life, and how, every 365 turns (or so) of the earth, they come back.
Just because we can’t see them all the time, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.