There was once a girl who felt so lonely — even when she was surrounded by people. There were places to go and things to do, but this feeling wouldn’t leave her alone. Even when it was mostly dormant, it still felt like a pesky fly that just wouldn’t let her be. It just would not stop buzzing around and around her head; it was everything a merry-go-round wasn’t.
Some nights she’d wander the streets, looking for nothing in particular but then looking for any and everything peculiar. Other nights she’d stay at home and pretend her bedroom window was a TV screen, and that the moon was the star of the feature film playing in her head. The moon could really act. It could really steal the show. It was so bright and shiny — so alive with magic. Even the stars were jealous that the moon was a bigger star than all of them combined. Sometimes the moon got the girl in the end. Sometimes the moon died. Sometimes the moon saved herself. And sometimes it rode off into the sunset for no other reason than that it had always wanted to do so. But no matter what, the moon always looked cool walking away from an explosion.
On one night in particular, the girl decided to go for a walk; she was all out of stories. She needed to feel the night air playing with her hair. She needed to feel its coolness coaxing the rosy glow from her cheeks, even if no one would see it in the dark. She needed to count the street lamps as she went along — to name the light and call it her own. And most importantly, she needed to feel something solid beneath her feet, because she felt too much like a balloon. Too much like she’d float off in the wrong direction at any moment — far, far away from the moon.
Eventually the girl grew tired and found a bench to rest. She sat down and the night sky sat down beside her. She leaned back comfortably and the night owls leaned back with her. She sighed against the armrest and the city streets sighed with her. The trees sighed with her, the sleepy buildings too. She needed some new stories. Her head was so full of hot air and that was never a good thing.
She gazed up at the moon then. It was almost a perfect circle. It was glowing and radiant. It was a ball in the night sky and it was all hers to play with. But she didn’t feel like playing very much. She felt like listening.
“Tell me a story?” she asked the moon.
The moon obliged. “There was once a moon who felt so lonely sometimes — even when it was surrounded by millions of stars…”
There was once a bird who carried the sun in its heart. Everywhere it flew a warmth went with it. Balmy spring breezes and hot summer winds delighted people the world over. The bird soared on the strength and generosity of these winds — barely having to make an effort to fly. And as the bird grew so did the sun. It grew from a meek and tender yellow to a bright and pure gold. At first the sun was the size of a pebble, and only as shiny as a brand new penny, and the bird could handle that. It weighed almost nothing and the bird flew free and unencumbered.
But even though the bird grew in size and strength, the sun grew one hundred times faster, greater, bigger. For a while the bird could handle the blossoming sun, but soon the sun outgrew the bird. In heat and strength and size. The sun grew and the universe grew — time and space expanded — but the bird remained the same. Its balmy spring breezes and hot summer winds could no longer carry the weight of the bird and its sun. The bird’s wing span was only so wide, and the sun’s light reached far beyond the tips of its wings. It became heavy, like a stone globe. Like bricks of gold. And too hot, like lava, forest fires or blue stars. The bird had to let it go, or risk burning alive.
But how do you let go of what’s in your heart? How do you reach in and pull it out without causing damage? Without leaving a gaping hole. How do you keep what you love inside your heart, without it breaking?
You grow your heart. You grow it until there’s room in there for everything, and then you keep growing it.
And the sun had grown but so had the bird’s heart. Even if the bird was no longer strong enough to carry the weight of the sun, the bird’s heart was. The bird hadn’t realized this at first. It had been too focused on physical strength and endurance. It had failed to realize that the heart has its own strength too. That it is so much more than just a funny shaped organ. The bird was done growing, but its heart wasn’t. Its heart outgrew its wing span and its heart outgrew the sun. And, soon enough, its heart outgrew the entire universe. and the bird was able to carry everything in existence within it — with plenty of room left to breathe.
When I first met you I was very young. Too young to remember anything you said or did. They say you told me stories of how all your raindrops formed. How each one of them wished me good night and cleaned all the dirt from under my fingernails. How my first kiss was really you kissing the tip of my nose, then the tips of every single one of my eyelashes. (Now I wish I hadn’t pulled them out so often.) Though I don’t really remember any of that. But then I grew older, and we met again—and again and again, and soon enough I was remembering everything. Like the way you turned the view from my window into a watercolor painting. How at night the lights blurred into wishy-washy yellow globes. I remember the way the trees and plants would complain about you sometimes, when there was too much of you. When you soaked them to the bone and they could barely keep from bending—almost breaking—their frail green necks. But then I remember how they yearned for you when all that was there was sun and heat and barely a breeze. They used to ask me to write you letters on their leaves and bark—and beg you to come home.
And when you did you left me a pair of yellow rain boots outside my door. I know it was you because your signature was on them—this one lone, little raindrop that just never dried away. I remember those boots because you said it was your way of making sure I always had a little bit of sunshine in my life, and I never forgot that. I wore them until I couldn’t fit my feet into them any longer, and then for a while I squeezed my toes and wore them some more. But one day you came to me, and I put on those boots, and you poured down on me, and I watched those boots melt away—down my ankles and then they were just gone. They were nothing but a smudged chalk drawing on the ground like in Mary Poppins, and I couldn’t jump into them anymore.
But you told me not to be sad, because the rain is what makes everything grow. And sure enough—only a few days later—a brand new pair had sprouted outside my door. This time they were rainbow striped, and you said it’s because I was always too busy hunting for rainbows and finding only birds in the sky. I asked you about thunder and lightning—what were they for? And you said that sometimes you needed the company. Sometimes you needed someone to tell you where to go, and someone else to light the way. I asked you if the thunder ever told you stories; you said yes, but not the kind of stories you could tell me just yet. “When you’re a little older,” you promised. And one day, when I was finally old enough, I found a pair of grey rain boots outside my door and you said it was time for me to get lost in those stories. To blend in so perfectly that no one would be able to find me. But they had a thin yellow stripe at the top; “Your lightning bolt,” you explained, and then all I heard was thunder.
There was once a girl who couldn’t sleep very well, so she spent many nights sitting by the window and staring up at the stars. No matter where she was, even if she couldn’t see the stars with her naked eyes, she could still stare up at them because she had a special pair of starglasses that let her see the stars at night whenever she wanted. This is how she learned to count. How she learned to name things. To keep track of things. She counted the stars the way you’d count out seeds to plant flowers. Counted them the way you would gold coins in a treasure chest or jelly beans in a jar. She tried to spread them out across the universe as evenly as possible so she could get a good look at every single one of them. But when the wind blew the stars swayed, and when the wind blew harder the stars moved with it, and constellations formed that all at once perplexed, fascinated and annoyed her. She thought the wind only toyed with leaves and twigs and earthly things. She didn’t know it could reach so high into the sky as to roll the stars around the universe like marbles. That the same wind that ruffled her hair ruffled the stars. She didn’t know that the stars were actually blazing birds, or burning ships sailing across a black sea. She didn’t know that the stars liked playing connect-the-dots, or that they needed to move and be moved as much as any restless soul does. And she didn’t know that the wind was an old friend, and that the stars were all madly in love with each other, and that this old friend had always been wildly in love with her. She didn’t know any of this. But how could she? She was always too busy counting.