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“I have a surprise for you,” my mother said.
I shuddered. From experience, those six simple words had dragged me to a meat processing plant, a museum of spies, a local politician’s birthday party and more. She would never tell me what was in store. She’d simply take me by the hand and tell me what weather to dress for – outdoor.
This time was no different.
She drove, giving little hints, but I was unable to guess. She pulled into a shabby looking parking lot and took me up many flights of stairs. When we reached the top, she said, “the observatory.” I half laughed, half grumbled. It was educational — just as I had feared.
But as we made our way to the giant telescope, I began to smile. We waited about an hour to use the machine, and as I looked through it I got the chills, little tiny bumps of excitement running up my legs and arms.
I was delighted by the stars, as probably all visitors do, but the real treasure did not come to me by looking through the lens. Little kids with pudgy hands pushed and wailed for their turn, and I had had enough, so I followed the second tour.
The guide led us out to the darkened balcony just outside. I physically began to tremble; it was that overwhelmingly beautiful. The lights from all the businesses and houses and cars lit up the city below me. The cold air whipped around my face, making the man droning on about constellations sound mute and letting me enjoy the Columbia view.
It was almost romantic. I loved the city’s mannerisms: the gentle shuffle of the cars up and down the main roads, the rhythmic sway of the Bradford Pear trees and the way the cold air made my eyes well up and my cheeks sting.
I spent hours there, sitting on an air duct with knees pressed up against the grey stone as I memorized my city.
The observatory’s balcony at night is a tiny escape. It is a place of contemplation, a place where, when my joy or sadness feels too large to be contained in one small room. I can let my feelings fly free, no walls or ceiling to hold them in. It is a safe place nestled in the sky where I cannot only watch the stars above me but my bustling home below.
By Maria Kalaitzandonakes