Reader Essay: The Stars At Night
This essay was reader-submitted for our Summer Essay Series on themes of growth, aging, transformation, and renewal.
My favorite part of my day, every day, is the end of it. I know it sounds depressing and like I’ve given up, but it’s actually the moment when I tell myself I’m okay.
Last year I did something I swore I would never do. I moved into my own room, separate from my husband. I had shoulder surgery (rotator cuff repair) because I had some weird bone that decided it would be fun to poke down and tear up my tendons. It had to be done. That damn bone had it out for me and wasn’t going to stop until everything in my shoulder was shredded.
Several times, the doctor told me, “it’s going to be rough,” but he never gave any details. I know why now. If he’d told me how rough it was really going to be, I might have backed out. The surgery itself went well. It was the recovery that had me in tears and throwing things (with my other arm, of course): pillows when I couldn’t get comfortable, clothes when I couldn’t dress myself, and pens when I couldn’t figure out how to write with my arm in a sling.
They don’t tell you how hard it is to do basic, daily tasks with your non-dominant arm and hand. They don’t tell you it’s almost impossible to sleep with a gigantic sling on. They don’t tell you how being unable to move your arm affects your balance, making you clumsier.
The first few weeks, I slept sitting up with pillows stacked around me for support. Then I graduated to sleeping on the couch, taking the sling off and keeping it close in case I needed it, with chairs and pillows slid up next to me to support my arm. It was the strangest cocoon but necessary for just a few hours of sleep.
Six weeks post-surgery, I was released from the sling, but everything was still a challenge. They don’t tell you how tired your arm will be. I was frustrated from lack of sleep and consistent pain. Something had to change.
My husband came home from work one day and found me in tears. We decided we had to do the thing as a married couple we swore we would never do: have our own beds. My great-grandparents had separate bedrooms, and they seemed unhappy as a couple. As a child, I couldn’t tell which was the cause and the effect. Did they sleep separately because they were unhappy being together, or were they unhappy together because they didn’t share that intimate space?
In my marriage, I considered our joint bed to be sacred, something we would always have, but the part of me that was exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally realized it was necessary for my recovery. And so we bought a bed and put it in one of the spare rooms. It felt like I was giving up and crossing a line in our marriage we couldn’t uncross.
The first night in the new bed, with pillows to prop up my arm, finally finding a comfortable way to lie, I looked up at the ceiling and smiled. The stars we’d put up there when it was our boys’ room were still there, glowing in the dark. Until that moment, lying in the room alone, feeling how wonderful sleeping in a bed can feel, I had completely forgotten about those stars.
The next day, I walked around the room looking at the little plastic star stickers stuck all over the ceiling. I noticed two of them right above my bed. For some reason we’d put those two stars together, separated from the rest. Tears filled my eyes when I realized one was blue and the other yellow. Blue for my Dad who died six years ago. Blue for the blue plaid shirts he always wore. Yellow for my Mom who died two years after he did. Yellow for the sunflowers, her favorite flower.
Now every night, 15 months after my surgery, when I crawl into bed and look up at the ceiling, at my stars, I say hello to my Mom and Dad and I smile. Can they hear me? Maybe. But even if they can’t, it makes me feel better to tell them that I’m okay. I tell myself that too.
In that one moment at the end of each day, under the rose print sheet I got at an estate sale and the quilt my mother-in-law made for my husband when he was in high school, I am okay.
No matter how bad the day was, I am okay. I remind myself that even if I told myself that morning I would exercise after work and I came home and watched Hallmark movies instead, I am okay. Even if work was hectic and I didn’t get everything done, I am okay. Even if the worry about my “grown” kids won’t stop racing in my mind, I am okay.
I give myself those moments because I need them. They remind me that I have a 100 percent success rate in dealing with tough days and no matter what the next day holds, in that moment I am okay. I am content. I know whatever happens, good or bad, I can deal with it.
The stars at night remind me to just be—staring up, breathing in, letting it all go. They remind me to be thankful I have a bed to sleep in, a home to keep me safe, food to eat, a job, a strong marriage that can survive separate beds, and the opportunity to do it all again tomorrow.
And at the end of that day, I’ll look up at those stars again and know that I’ve been through so much and come out stronger for it. I am okay.
Regina McKay is the wife of a firefighter, mother of five adult children, and passionate advocate of all things vintage, especially her pink bathtub. She works as an accountant but plans on using her experiences with mental health treatment to transition into a career in Criminal Justice/Mental Health reform. After hitting her rock bottom, she learned for her happiness didn’t come in a pill bottle. She now strives for contentment and appreciates moments of joy when they come.