I thought of you today. It was the first time in a long time. Somehow my mind meandered down the path of memory leading to that night we camped out in the desert. You had said you wanted to see the stars. You’d seen some amazing pictures on the internet, so we went.
I remember your being quiet that afternoon during the drive. It bothered me, but I tried not to think too much of it. You got like that when you smoked too much pot. I assumed it was that.
So we just drove north on 395 in silence. For hours. And you stared out the window and I tried to make small talk and it all amounted to jack squat.
Finally, you just up and said, Turn here. I was so surprised and so excited that I almost lost control of the car. You laughed then, which was nice. It broke the ice, and there was no reason for there to be a cold layer to begin with. I asked where we were going and you said you didn’t know and you smiled and I smiled and the trip starting getting pretty enjoyable.
The desert can be beautiful. It gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s not the beach or the mountains, but it has its own magic. The sky was dark blue that day, clear. It wasn’t too hot. The world was so still and vivid it looked like it could go on forever. And there was no one there.
Maybe that’s the magic.
We found a little road that wasn’t too rough for my car to get up. It topped a small, rolling hill and you said that was perfect. I had to agree. We setup there and looked out at the rolling valley below dotted with sagebrush and surrounded by mountains of dark rock. You weren’t so quiet then and chatted while we setup camp, but when we were done and got back to sitting you got back to being quiet again. This time it didn’t bother me as much. I was sitting with you instead of driving, so I convinced myself I was participating in the silence instead of being ignored.
It started to get dark.
You were a little agitated that I brought wood for a fire. I said it wasn’t camping without fire, and it’d be a good way to pass the early evening. You made some bullshit excuse about it spreading, but I laughed and said it was the desert. What is there to burn? Looking back, I understand why the little fight didn’t bother me. It was the first time you’d engaged in real conversation. I guess attention runs in the same vein as publicity; even the bad kind can be good.
You stewed over your fire while I stared at mine, and eventually the meager pile of wood burnt down, the flames faded out, and there we were. Surrounded by stars. Millions of them. Billions of them.
I remember feeling sad. Unimportant. It was warm that night, and there was no wind, but the vastness of it all left me feeling a little cold. Almost hollow.
You started talking then. You told me some wild numbers about how there are more stars than there are grains of sand. I never did look that up later to fact check it. I guess it’s one of those things where, either way, I don’t want to know the answer. That was one thing about me that always drove you crazy.
You told me about the speed of light and the distance to the nearest star. That was a little discouraging. You told me about radio waves and how far they’ve traveled since we’ve started transmitting into space, and how there’s no way in hell anyone was ever going to find us out here. We were alone. Forever. You said some other things, but your thoughts were disjointed. Haphazard.
Then you said something that stuck with me forever, something that seared the night into my mind with all those stars punctuating your strange bouts of silence.
I don’t think God exists. I can’t. He’s never around when we need Him.
But then that makes me sad, so I convince myself He’s real and He’s just waiting and watching for reasons I can never understand.
But that’s not it.
The preachers always say we’re lost, we’re lost, we’ve got to find God. We’ve got to find Jesus, but they’re wrong.
He’s lost us. We’re misplaced.
And it’s so obvious when you think about it.
He made all this, billions of galaxies with billions of stars, all flying away from each other at the speed of light. He made us, and then He lost us.
And maybe the sadness we feel is His calling out to us like a mama bear calling out for her cubs. We’re lost in the woods, and we can just hear the call, but it’s too faint to know where it’s coming from, and it’s too dark, and we’ve wandered off too far, and now we’re just lost.
Lost in the stars. Misplaced by God.
I didn’t really know what to say to that. Honestly, I was too scared to agree. Sitting there in the dark, seeing all those stars and feeling hollow, it was pretty easy for the idea to resonate. I remember needing to feel grounded, so I poked at the embers for a moment. I think that disappointed you. It was too dark to tell, but I could feel you staring at me. I could feel your glare.
And that was the last thing you ever said to me, really. We broke up shortly after. You said you wanted to move out of the city. You would never say why, but I knew. We both knew.
You can’t see the stars in the city, and all you wanted was to sit by the window at night and smoke your pot and keep a lookout for God.