Last summer I tried paddle boarding for the first time with a wonderful woman I was dating. After paddling around the lake a good long while, we did that thing everyone in a new relationship does, avoided having to leave each other. I watched her deflate and put away the boards. I tried to not listen as she talked to her ex-wife about their kids on a phone call. Finally, we sat on the curb of the parking lot between our cars and talked.
My back started to bother me so I laid down on the concrete to stretch my hip, and relax my muscles. It had become dark, but it wasn’t cold so we pressed against each other and looked at the stars. I have an app on my phone that shows real time overlays of constellations, planets, and deep space objects. We looked at everything we could think of even though I kept dropping the phone on us, but we just laughed.
I kept seeing these streaks of light crossing the sky. They were about the same size as the stars but the color was different somehow. I thought it might be the damage to my eyes. Sometimes I see things that aren’t there. Usually they’re black spots but also light flashes and migraine auras. The spots were always more visible when I looked at the sky, so maybe that was all. It had been some time since I laid out at night and perhaps it was it wasn’t there, just one of the many strange things my body does. Then she asked me about it and I knew it was real. What was that streaking light? A satellite? We tried to get the app on my phone to identify it, but nothing specific was associated with the light.
Then I remembered I’d read about an apartheid billionaire “destroying the night sky.” They talked about all the hundreds of satellites he’d put in orbit, that the light pollution was quite possibly a crime against humanity. It affected the entire globe. Something that had been a part of human existence since humans were first birthed, was now marred.
I told her about this. That our quiet, intimate moment, laying on a sidewalk, in a stolen moment away from our children and responsibilities, had been intruded upon by the hubris of a man. Something about this transgression was foundational. There was no longer a place in the world we could go and be truly alone. The arrogance of one man would always intrude.
I wondered about the future. I despaired that I’d not noticed before. My body felt as though I could hear them. I watched the same lines drawn in the sky by the satellites over and over until I had memorized the pattern of their orbit.
How very small we seemed. How very like a pair of atoms in our own organic bond. Trying to survive while toxic greed cut up all of existence to sell to the highest bidder. What molecule did we make? How much were we worth? We were a part of the universe’s organic whole, but could easily be scrubbed away.