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Filling Up The Moon

Courtney McDermott

Two girls come into my room and tell me that the freshmen boys threw shoes into their open windows. They hold up Adidas sneakers, dirty with dew-grass. And now they have our clothes!

Excuse me? I say, because this does not seem a natural order of events. How did they get your clothes? Did they magically spin out of the windows?

One girl blushes and says in a whisper, not wanting to implicate anyone, They asked Laura, and she went into our room and took our clothes and gave them to them.

Laura is a girl who seeks approval from boys, and has a wishy-washy lack of self-confidence I wish to erase. I try to talk to her, but she hides in the showers.

I call over to the boys’ dorm. I tell my male counterpart, John, to get the clothes back please.

John does. He calls me back, and tells me that he found the boys trying on a bra and dress, taking photos. I can see John, an insomniac, walking in on them, his black eyes bulging and startled.

The missing girl, Kelsey, comes back, barely making dorm time. Loose, fine hair falls in front of her peaked face. The eyes jarring, dark with black makeup

Where have you been?

She begins to cry wildly.

Walking, in the prairie! she screams. And I imagine how it must have looked: the grasses ghost-fine and silvery, rustling in the breeze like strips of paper. When I was nine I wanted to be an astronomer and got a telescope from a family friend who had no children. It was large, white, and expensive-looking. I charted the moon for two weeks.

Kelsey is a writer, feels for poetry in earthy moments. She struggles to survive within the structure of a boarding school. I had always screamed at structure myself, only to become entrapped within its coffin, a sort of self-torture that I continue to perpetuate. I measured my life by the very definitions of success I hated. I felt suffocated by academia, but left school to become a teacher. Condemned routine as a killer of spontaneity, but now ate lunch the same time every day. Kelsey wails, her waif body trembling, her shoulders bony. I tell her I'm listening, remembering the days I spent wandering the prairie.

In February, my birth month, it’s possible to have no full moon. This is a dark month. The last time this happened, I was a freshman in high school. That was a dark year.

If the moon were a person, she’d be a lunatic, embracing the origin of her once-name: Luna. But we have torn this name from her. And though there’s no proof that people go crazy or commit murder more often on the full moons, it has some undercurrent effect. It pulls and bends the oceans. Stronger when it’s full, because the Moon, the Sun, and the Earth are in a line dance. When my grandma was in the nursing home for the last time, the nurses used to tell me that on full moons the patients would wander and wail. There are no right words to identify its presence on these nights. For now we have stripped it of all its names and it is, plainly, the Moon. Give it back its name.

I hug Kelsey, then send her to bed. I walk the hall and turn out the lights. This is my favorite part of the night. When all the girls are slightly vulnerable, their blankets snug around them, hearing their soft good nights.

A weird illness has arrived in the night. Two girls are sick, feverish and throwing up, and at that moment I feel for our mothers.

With the bold night mother standing overhead, I stay up with the sick.

*  *  *
My own mother came to visit me when I was sick of the cold in Lesotho. She took me to South Africa, where we met the pagan fire-burners. We unintentionally found the rural commune, the remnants of an all-night fire blackened in a cold huddle, because it had been the Solstice: the time when the moon blends into the clouds. And they tried to get me to join. Come and start a school here, they said, because they had none. They made beaded boots and grew organic vegetables, and the Peruvian hippie who made jewelry stroked my arm and said he’d build me a house and I’d be their teacher. I left them.

I still get emails from the commune. There are days when I think about leaving, days I wished I had stayed. But then, in the quiet moments after midnight, when the girls are asleep, and I know I keep them safe, I don't wish to be anywhere else.

Every year the moon is getting further away from us, stealing the planet’s rotational energy when it’s daylight and we can’t see. It’s a gradual sneaking away, so that when it’s finally gone, maybe we won’t miss it so much.

When the summer ends, and the new school year begins, I will be gone. The moon will rise full and soft, like a warm woman’s breast above the world, bigger than it has ever appeared. That will mark the last of my days here, days which I will continue counting elsewhere.

This is how I want to measure my time—in numbers of moons—like an ancient priestess. Big round bulging brilliant ones. Found and plucked up, counted and measured out.


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