By Jane Armstrong
November 18, 2001. The Leonid meteor shower. I wake up at 3 a.m., throw a wool coat over my flannel pajamas, put my fringed suede gloves on, and pull some blankets out of the linen closet. Iím quiet about it. I donít want to disturb my husband.
I go outside and drag a wooden Adirondack from the backyard to the end of the driveway. Iím supposed to watch the constellation Leo, but I want to see the meteors fly over the San Francisco Peaks, so I turn my chair to the west. I settle in, wrap myself in blankets. I lie back and look up, wait. The sky is clear, perfect.
Iíve seen meteor showers beforeóI track my years through the Perseids in August, the Orionids in October, the Geminids in Decemberóbut none of them prepared me for this. Dashes of light slicing through the sky, so many per second that I canít keep up. As soon as my vision catches one, another appears. It is dazzling. The most beautiful thing ever. I am lightheaded in the cold, aware that the atoms composing my body came from stars that died 10 billion years ago. I feel as if the meteors are not streaking down toward me, but are moving up, through me, to arc in the sky, pulling me with them. I am breathless, shaking. I close my eyes and try to imprint a memory.
November 18, 2001. The Leonid meteor shower. At 6 a.m., my husband wakes me up and says, ďYou missed your meteor shower.Ē
ďI saw it,Ē I say. ďI got up at 3.Ē
ďNo, you didnít,Ē he says.
I get out of bed. My coat is in the closet. I remember that I lost the fringed suede gloves last winter. The blankets havenít been touched. The Adirondack chair sits on the back porch, unmoved.
Inexplicably, I think of Henry James. The Jamesian equation, as I see it, may be expressed thus: observation + imagination = experience.
Iíve seen enough meteor showers to know what one looks like. My imagination does the rest, builds a planetarium for me as vivid and real as the Leonids sky. And can it not be further argued that everything that leads us to fully imagine the possibility of a thing is as valuable as the thing itself? Is, itself, a thing. Like the stars that dreamed of us.
"I did see it,Ē I tell my husband. And I did.
Jane Armstrongís work has appeared in Newsweek, The North American Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, New Orleans Review and elsewhere. She teaches at Northern Arizona University and is an editor at the Mississippi Review.