Filling Up The MoonCourtney McDermott
The moon rolls across the sky, above the boarding school where I live. I sit alone, but not, in my apartment, listening to the nightly music of teenagers. Tonight is my night to guard the girls’ dorm, to tuck them in bed, turn out their lights and let the full moonlight splash upon their floors as they whisper of boys and classes and secrets.
I have one hour before I am on duty. My apartment is on the first floor of the main building, which houses the library (also my job), the Head’s office, and the dining hall. The girls’ dorm is upstairs. I spend the hour drinking tea and watching the moon from the slit in my blinds. I can almost see Neil Armstrong’s footprint, pressed into the dust, a remnant for ten million years. Minutes before my duty, I will glide upstairs, in my pajamas, a book under my arm.
Earlier this year, when evenings were warmer and I still felt like a visitor to my new home, the other teachers and I played on the hay bales at the school farm. Before coming here, I taught in a mountain school in Africa, where boundaries between students and teachers did not blur, and where respect could be beaten into a body. Now, I can teach and play, and we young teachers are just fuller-brained versions of our students. Sprawled on the hay bales, the chickens fluttering to the coop for the night, we decided to sneak away and have a party while the students were asleep.
During the day, the students own the school grounds. Out on my porch I watch their shadows run across the Teardrop, flickers of faces through the dorm windows. The white wooden Quaker meetinghouse across the Teardrop brightens against the backdrop of the sound barrier, which can’t keep out the zoom of the semis headed to Illinois. A light is on in the meetinghouse, and I can see two students—overdramatic and pale—immersed in an RPG. It’s a game they call Changeling, and under this moon, anything is possible.
Summer full moons are best, lusty and mottled-faced as they loom overhead in the quiet heat of evening. But it’s not summer yet. It’s the time when the magnolia tree by the science building blushes, and the white dogwood’s limbs are heavy with blossoms that drift over the sidewalk. After the sun goes down, the blossoms are pale grey, like Dr. Shoemaker’s ashes, which crashed into a crater and are now scattered on the moon’s surface.
On my own surface, the community here—pseudo-Earth loving, Quakerly, socially odd—named me “Rainbow-like,” “Bubbly,” “Writerly.” They did not know that beneath these English-teacher dresses and vintage baubles, I was a goddess-worshipper.
In Lesotho, the place I lived before here, I created a goddess for myself, so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. I wrote prayers to her and meditated after wobbly sun salutations conducted on my uneven floor. I bought a book on astrology and read my horoscope, and pleaded with her to change it. Make me fall in love sooner, I asked.
In astrology, the moon rules your personality. My moon sign is Leo. True to form, I am fair, with big round eyes. I savor food and religion. We are lovers of the arts, and this is why I write and scrawl drawings in gothic black. We prefer solitude, and I would prefer to stay here on the porch, but I have to stay awake in the dorm, after I’ve turned out the lights and the girls go to sleep. This must be what it’s like to be a parent, a traffic-controller for a red-eye flight, God. Leo moon signs are good at prioritizing, which is why I can teach and be a dorm parent, an adviser, a writer. Leo moons are strong of intellect, courageous, respected. Bernadette, Lizzie Borden, Anne Frank, Gloria Steinem. These are bearers of my moon sign.
When my tea is finished, I go back inside and up to the dorm, through the throng of students moving through the dark. They play hide-and-seek. The half-dark gives shape and depth to the corners of the room, the windowpanes, the door frames. A month earlier, when only the seniors were on campus, and the others were on service trips, I played hide-and-seek with them in the dark. I tucked behind the bookcase in the library, and when Eli found me, he said, The librarian in the library. You’re such a nerd. I can take this from my students. They only tease those they are fond of.
Coming through, I say, stumbling mummy-like to the girls’ dorm door.
I have a room where I sit and sleep and wait like a mother for girls to check in. To take their meds and share their frustrations and giddy girl talk.
Tonight, a girl is missing. Roaming the old Quaker cemetery, perhaps. When the students think they are brave, they'll wander off in the night, telling themselves that vampires or ghosts are out. I walk through the school grounds looking for her, watching the sky as I call her name. I don’t see a man up there, nor the toad they talk about in China. I see a face—the only face of the egghead orbiter—the lunar far side unknown. Its face is scarred from the beatings of roving objects that struck ages ago. The terrain is rocks and soil, dry, gasping for moisture. I imagine it looks a lot like Lesotho in winter.
When I lived in Lesotho, teaching high school students not so different from those I teach now, I used the moon as a bright compass. It guided me back to my home when I was a wandering woman, white, beaming like a translucent piece of moon rock, hideously pale. In Lesotho, when there was no moon, the darkness was so thick I couldn’t see my hand stretched out a foot in front of me.
In Iowa, the moons are sometimes flat and pumpkin-colored, napping just above the horizon line, a sticker on black construction paper. I used to give stickers to my students in Lesotho. This made them happy.
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