Night

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By Sean Dietrich

The stars are out tonight. Thelma Lou, the bloodhound, stops to stare at the them. She sits for several minutes, looking up.
I’ve never seen a dog do that.
“What’re you looking at, girl?” I say, squatting beside her. “Are you looking at stars?”
Thelma Lou keeps staring upward.
I don’t blame her. The sky above is so magnificent I can hardly stand it. Stars are so bright they look like they might fall from the sky and land on me.
My mother says when I was a toddler I liked stars so much I would stand outside, staring upward, wearing a numb look—like my cornbread wasn’t done in the middle.
When I was thirteen, after my father died, I would sit on the porch and make wishes on stars. I wished for all sorts of things. Fast cars, money, a big-screen TV, Barbara Eden.
And I wished to be happy.
I was the most awkward and chubby thirteen-year-old you ever saw. My hair was pure copper. Today, red hair might be the rage, but back then it was as stylish as a cold booger on a paper plate.
To make matters worse, my mother bought my pants at Sears. I wore “Husky” pants, sold in the back of the store, where chubby boys were routinely executed.
And if anyone doubted I was overweight, my pants bore an actual label on the hindparts which stated: “Husky.”
I did not care for myself.
Still, the males in my family promised I would undergo a transformation one day.
“One day,” my uncle said, “you’ll have a growth spurt, and get skinny, like we all did, just keep your chin up.”
But it wasn’t happening fast enough.
So I took matters into my own hands. My friend, Davis, suggested trying a diet he found in Popular Mechanics Magazine.
The diet consisted of nothing but garlic and hard-boiled eggs. After one week, I smelled like a fertilizer heap, so I gave up.
I decided to give exercise a shot. I would walk gravel roads until I ran out of breath. That was the plan.
So late one night, wearing jeans and a NASCAR sweatshirt, I walked until my inner thighs were chaffed.
I exercised at night—always under the cover of darkness. I did this because:

  1. I was chubby
  2. Girls
    You wouldn’t want a girl to see you jogging the roads. Not when you looked like the official spokesperson for Pillsbury and wore Richard Petty sweatshirts.
    Even so, I was committed to my nightly regime, determined, even if it killed me. I dedicated my life to the rigorous program, promising to adhere to it, come rain or shine. And fitness became the main thrust of my life for two whole days.
    Then I gave up and went back to eating Chili Cheese Fritos.
    Anyway, on my sixteenth birthday, my mother bought me a telescope for a gift. It was a white telescope with a wooden tripod.
    “I know how much you like stars,” she said. “I thought you would like this.”
    I set it up in the front yard. I sat on a lawn chair. And while christening my telescope, my mother came outside to drape a quilt over my shoulders, and she said:
    “Honey,” she said. “You’re gonna catch a cold standing out here like this, skinny as you are. ”
    And that’s when time and space stopped.
    Skinny?
    I glanced at my waistline. It was a miracle. I was not chubby anymore. My uncle had been right. I had sprouted. How did I miss it? How could something so important happen without me noticing?
    “Mama,” I said. “Do you really think I’m skinny?”
    “Think?” she said. “Why, you’d have to run around in the shower just to get wet.”
    I nearly started crying. I had hated myself for so long, only to find that there was nothing left to hate.
    My mother hugged me and said she’d love me no matter how chubby or gaunt I was. Then, she pointed to the Big Dipper and said, “Do you see that star? Right there, the bright one?”
    “I see it,” I said.
    “That big star is the North Star. It gets hidden behind clouds sometimes, and you think it’s lost, but it’s always there, in the same place, and that is where all my love is, up there.
    “To feel it, just keep looking up.”
    Anyway, I wish I had a point to this story, or something beautiful to tell you, but I don’t.
    All I know is that life is hard, but infinitely more beautiful than I once thought it would be. And so is this sky.
    Even bloodhounds know this to be true.
    Keep looking up.
    Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.

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