I grew up with stories of people whose lives were intersected with difficulties that sometimes seemed to mark them for tragedy: origin stories, offering some explanation for lives that ended badly. Like most children, I liked a story with a happy ending; and in my mind I tried to reimagine these people doing something differently, somehow avoiding their fate.
At some point in my childhood, when my life seemed shiny and new, I decided to pick one star that would be mine, to remind myself that it’s always possible to find your way to a happy ending.
The summer between 6th and 7th grade, the course of my life was being redirected down a long dark detour, and my faith in my personal mythology was faltering. Tom Harris, who had been one of the heroes in that mythology, as well as my last childhood crush, was visiting friends after having recently moved closer to Columbus, Ohio, where his dad worked. It was also his birthday.
A bunch of us had ended up at Shrider’s, and Tom and I were standing in their back
yard at the edge of the lake, looking into the night sky. I pointed out my star, and told him I was giving it to him as a birthday present.
“I’m not sure I deserve a star,” I told him. “But I’m pretty sure you do. I just have the feeling you’re going to do something good, and I might not be anywhere around to see it. This way I can always look at that star and know you’re out there doing something good. Is that silly?”
While I still lived in Ohio, we would run into each other from time to time, at polo games. Our lives seemed to circle each other at a safe distance.
Fast forward twenty years or so. We had already moved to Indianapolis, and I had driven my mom up to Whiting, Indiana, to visit some of her lady friends. Mike had the kids, and I had a whole day to do something. I looked in the paper, and saw there was a polo game at Oak Brook. I had worked there as a groom/ riding instructor when I was nineteen, and thought it might be fun to see the old place again.
When I got there, I picked up a program, and was thumbing through it, and found a picture of “Tommy Harris.” Could this be MY Tom Harris? So I asked someone if he was here today.
“That’s him, right over there, talking to that lady in the jeans jacket.”
His back was toward me, and I still wasn’t sure it was him. I waited for him to finish talking with the jeans jacket lady, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and broke into a smile that I absolutely recognized.
“Oh my God — -Connie!” he said.
“Okay — -I have to ask you: do you still have your star?”