We lay side-by-side on the grass bank next to the corn field across from our house. Night had snuck us a hint of cool autumn air to lift the summer heat that had extended the dog days into September. My son had moved in with us, ready to reboot his life in the image of his father’s two years earlier, among the cow-speckled hills and red barns that decorate our beautiful Driftless region of Wisconsin. Tonight, though, we take stock of the stars, in particular the Milky Way, whose delicate lace veil seems to float like a whisper over the constellations seeking recognition once again.
He had spent the last three years on the coast of southern California, his long, luscious locks in no way an indication of any instinct to be a surfer. He just didn’t like strangers touching his hair, touching any part of him, really. The child version of my son feared the doctor like many do clowns, and the dentist? We cut up prescribed Valium pills after a full dose left us in hysterics but feeling like awful parents.
High school graduation was a monumental accomplishment, one he celebrated with perhaps the most entertaining receipt of a diploma in my memory – throwing kisses to his crowd of friends somewhere in the sea of humanity of socially distanced teens. All of them most eager to embark on their journey of a lifetime to some Named University somewhere else to get the degree long the subject of dreams and countless car rides to establish conditions of acceptance.
You cannot see the Milky Way in SoCal. He tells me you can see one star, maybe two or three, but, really, they are planets, so don’t count. I agree and share with him my memories of Mrs. Milliken teaching us about Orion in the high school planetarium during freshman earth science back home in Durham, New Hampshire. I wonder if that planetarium still exists; do kids these days pause to look up from their phones to name those longing constellations or know their stories? My son knows their stories, and the stories behind the stories, his love for Percy Jackson sending him on journeys down mythological rabbit holes that sill marvel me.
The Greek myths kept his attention unlike anything else could. And so we have a lot of work to do. My Veteran’s Journey Home now has another companion, but more than that, our journeys are meeting in the Midwest, in the middle. My son’s journey defined as much as mine by the month-long absences at sea doing things I barely remember with people whose lives seem to have sailed off into their own mystics, and then that extended COVID-driven separation.
Here we are, together again, side-by-side on the grass next to the corn field across from our house looking up at the Milky Way imagining the universe of stories that we will finally be able to create together. That hint of cool autumn air feels like a familiar blanket, comforting us, healing us.
Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.