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Comet Courtesy

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. — English proverb

I was yanked into consciousness — adrenaline tensed my muscles for fight or flight, and my heart was pumping fast, as though I’d stumbled off a cliff in a dream and barely escaped with my life by awakening moments before my plummeting body was to crash into the unyielding earth below. I detected pressure on my shoulder and tried to shake it off. I heard my name being whispered and was somehow aware that this was one in a series of attempts to gently call me to attention. When I realized David was the source of the pressure, that he had been methodically nudging me as he said my name, I relaxed a bit and muttered into my pillow, “What’s wrong? You okay?” “Yes, I’m fine, nothing’s wrong,” David said softly. “Look out the window. You can see the comet.” I opened my eyes to a squint. We were on twin beds that David’s mom had pushed together; the window above each bed was covered by its own shade. David was on his right elbow, holding his shade aside with his left hand, staring through the gap in awe. The blinds above my head were inflexible, making a racket as I tried to push them aside. My angle was all wrong — frustrated, I flipped onto my stomach and wrenched the accordion paper out of the way. “See? Right there,” David said, aiming his finger in the general direction of the sky. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

I looked up and saw nothing. I wiped at my eyes, hoping to rub away the sleep that blurred my vision, and looked again. But all I saw was a field of black. “I can’t see — oh, shit, what am I doing?” I grumbled. “Of course I can’t see — I’m not wearing my glasses.” Growling with annoyance, I excavated myself from the cocoon I’d made out of a sheet, two blankets, and a down comforter. Because he’s a hot sleeper, David insisted on leaving a window open to let in the frigid (or as he called it, “refreshing”) New England air. My teeth were chattering before I was fully upright. I fumbled around in the dark, trying to locate the nightstand by the door and made a ruckus as I knocked over a can of mousse and a bottle of perfume. “Hey, there goes a shooting star!” David said, as my fingers finally found my glasses. They felt like ice against the bridge of my nose, so I quickly removed them and held them in front of my face as I leaned over the bed, pushed aside the shade once more, and looked out the window.

“See it?” David said, his voice alight with wonder and amazement.

“You mean that speck of white?” I couldn’t control the edge in my voice as I added, “The one surrounded by all those other specks of white? You know, I was in the middle of a good dream.”

“I thought you’d want to see it.” David’s face fell, dragging my heart along with it.

I mustered some enthusiasm for the great cosmos and gazed out the window once more. Injecting some excitement into my tone, I said, “I guess it’s really cool, if you think about it. I mean, how often do we get to see…which one is it again?”


“Right. How often do we get to see Comet Holmes?”

“I’m sorry,” said David, sounding defeated. “I struggled with the decision of whether to wake you or not, and I just thought, well, I thought that you wouldn’t want to miss seeing the comet. The sky is so clear out here.”

“You were right to wake me, beh beh,” I said, in an obvious attempt to placate him. He wasn’t buying it. “Really. I appreciate that you wanted me to see something cool. But I’m going to go back to sleep now, okay?”

I am quick to remind myself that my dear darling David’s intentions are always honorable. But when it comes to deciding whether or not to let me sleep through an event I might find interesting, David can’t win. In the last week of September, I dozed off on the train from Nice to Paris. That time, David chose to let me sleep through the passing view of the French countryside. When I finally opened my eyes, it was to see David staring at me with a troubled, desperate look on his face. Before I had a chance to stretch my arms and blink myself fully awake, David launched into a litany of all the picturesque scenes featuring windmills, cows, emerald-green pastures, and quaint villages I’d missed while sleeping. Then he said, “It killed me to see it all go by, to know that you were missing it, but you looked so peaceful sleeping there, and I didn’t want to disturb you.” I was about to explain how he’d undone his good deed of letting me sleep by making me feel bad about all the things I’d missed out on, but the tortured look on his face and the earnest sparkle in his blue eyes kept me from doing so. Instead, I rolled my eyes, sighed heavily, and asked, “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

I must admit that, in my relationship, well-intentioned irritation is a two-way street. On more than one occasion I have heard David ask me, “Why is it you only want me to see something amazing when I’m comfortable and need to get up and turn around in order to see it?” David’s seat of choice in our home happens to be facing away from the western windows and mine toward them. Therefore, when we are lounging in the evenings, the sunset is directly in my field of vision, and it is often beautiful. I would be remiss not to interrupt our conversation to say, “Wow, look at that!” To which David, after twisting and turning or rising from his seat, invariably responds, “Oh. It’s a sunset. Again.” I sometimes wonder if I do it on purpose. As if on some level I get a bit of a sadistic thrill out of depriving David of comfort so that he can see something I think is pretty. But I don’t think that’s the case…at least not all the time.

There are some visions in life that are so arresting in their splendor, scenes so extraordinary that the only way one can fathom their magnificence is to share them. It’s not enough for me to say to David, “You should have seen it,” and then try to describe what I’d seen. I’d rather show him. There are some occurrences — like witnessing the universe in action by way of a comet or watching the sky paint itself — for which words are inadequate. Such experiences make up some of life’s best moments and despite my initial crankiness, I’d hate to miss any of them.

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