If you grew up in a neighborhood like mine—a neighborhood with broken concrete sidewalks and huge tropical trees—summer afternoons were spent outside, under the carport of your house, if you were lucky to have one. It didn’t matter if the weather had been sufficiently pleasant (it was never pleasant in the early evenings, unless it had just rained, or was about to). We didn’t have cable so my mother would make cold cut sandwiches for my grandfather, while my grandfather would carry out the largest TV we had in the house—an old Signature 2000 from Montgomery Ward, before it went under—and swatting away the mosquitoes and the horseflies, sweltering under the carport’s oppressive ninety-degree heat, my grandfather would watch Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke. The year this happened was either 1994 or 1995. I was ten or eleven years old. I don’t know how people could pay attention to shows like that, but we did. After dinner we’d have huge scoops of pecan praline ice cream and talk in-between the commercials. The glare from the blue sky washed out the TV’s reception and our TV still had dials. You had to use a pair of rubber pliers to change the channel and risk electrocuting yourself in the process.
In South Texas there are three realities: the sky and the sun, and their effects on everything.
After the sun set, though, the fluorescent light under the carport would come on and my grandfather would settle in to have his last cigar of the evening. I’d walk out into the backyard, away from the glare of the fluorescent light and the TV. If there was a cool wind blowing, I would have felt it shudder the tender leaves of the chinaberry tree. Through that tree I could see the first stars in the deep hues of twilight, at first distant and silvery, then suddenly present in all their different hues and colors. The opening in-between the two chinaberry trees in the backyard framed the constellations of Libra, Scorpius and Sagittarius perfectly—in the purple and blue haze of civil twilight one could ascertain the thin and wispy fronds of millions of light-years of cosmic gases and dust, the cradle of stars and planets, the heart of the Universe. Indeed, early on, I learned that this region of the sky was like looking through a crystal ball and seeing beyond the eons of earthly time, back to the beginning of the Big Bang.
The sky had become like an open canvas. It was during the many years of my young life, the only real friend I had. Pacing back and forth on the warm strip of concrete that linked my house with my aunt’s, I would read Madame Bovary out loud under a blue sky flecked with puffy white clouds that turned pink and violet as the sunset, then a powdery blue, and imagined I was Emma Bovary, experiencing the illicit and the profane in the Norman countryside of the 1840s, and there I was, profoundly alone and neglected reading that book to myself, over the sound of the din of America’s Most Wanted playing from a TV just outside my mother’s window. In the spring—the best nights to stargaze in South Texas—I could see Hydra and Virgo and Leo through a pair of cheap binoculars borrowed from my uncle, and would spy through them the immense but dim Virgo clusters, sisters of the Milky Way, spinning into oblivion. The sky was still dark in a town like mine, cut off from the rest of America and sitting there at the edge of the world like a dark little ember. The summers were full of heat lightning and dust. There was no wind except for those nights when a tropical storm made landfall. The lightning would start in the west, a series of brilliant white and blue flashes in the middle of the night, premonitory and mysterious, and the thunder that came through the eaves of the house with it was round and blue and full as it moved through toward the ground. But in the morning, the ground was wet and everything was suddenly lush and green and cool. I could hear my aunt singing alabanzas to the Sacred Heart as she dumped out the collected rainwater onto her gardenias.
From the carport of my house I could see the round moon on certain nights, big as a half-dollar piece, arise like a fat yellow round above the ocean and float like a bubble through the pata de vaca and my aunt’s crêpe myrtles. Once, on a fine August evening, I pointed out the moon to my grandfather and his pants fell down, and we all had a laugh. That night had been cool because it had rained that afternoon and the ground was still cool and wet. The moon then became round and silvery and distant. It hung as low in the sky as the sun did in winter, casting romantic shadows against the white houses in the middle of the night, as I snuck out of my house to observe the midnight blue and the light of the moon alighting on a thunderhead in the north.
Most of the time, though, the sky was big and dark and empty. Into it went everything different I wished about my life. I had seen other skies (in West Texas, in New Mexico, and in Brazil), but nothing that empty or that lonely had existed anywhere else. It was only on those clear, settled evenings in the late spring that the world seemed possible; that the stars themselves were close enough to reach out and touch, that I was not as inferior or as damaged as I thought I was.
One day, long after all of my troubles were through, I imagined I floated up and away just as the sun was setting, passing like smoke through the trees and past the lilac flowers of the chinaberry or even the immense pecan trees. That was how all the dreams I had seemed to start—I would just ascend and fade into the forgotten blue of a twilit sky, my eyes closing and opening among the stars, my eyes fixed on the perfect sapphire of those skies which no longer exist.
Joe Galván (1984-) is a writer, artist, composer, and anthropologist. He grew up in deep South Texas. His work primarily deals with traditions, customs, and time. He has been publishing zines for nearly twenty years. An etiquette aficionado, admirer of Proust, and an expert in folk saints, his current project is Etiquette, a collection of zines about etiquette for millennials.
This is very beautiful. I felt like I was beside you looking up at the stars.