Careers in Science, IV: Theoretical Astronomy

The theoretical astronomer looks at the sky one night and thinks about watching the tears of St. Lawrence in August and remembers, as every time he thinks about the tears of St. Lawrence falling in August a girlfriend with a birthday then and with whom, one year he broke up on that birthday. As mnemonic devices go, unpleasant yet effective. They were backpacking, and she sang Happy Birthday to Me all the way back to the car.

Maybe it doesn’t sound all that bad, but it’s what the theoretical astronomer thinks of when he remembers what a dick he was. He has done worse, too. But anyway.

The universe being infinite, maybe, he posits a planet somewhere upon which he could make amends for all his dickish behavior. Then he posits another planet somewhere the mere existence of which makes amends unnecessary, as this planet is so special its mere existence forgives him.

In theory.

The theoretical astronomer wakes in his bed and can’t remember having gone inside. His father’s ghost stands beside his bed. The theoretical astronomer posits a planet populated by ghosts posited by another theoretical astronomer on another distant, ghostless planet, and wonders if he, the first theoretical astronomer, is on this planet now.

I’m sorry, dad, he says.

His father’s ghost kind of shakes his head. Don’t waste your time being sorry.

But I am sorry. For being so blind to what you needed and wanted and hoped for, and not asking.

His father’s ghost shrugs, sort of, and says, What we hope for is our problem, not others’.

Yeah, well, I was a dick. I not only failed to try anything, choosing to run away instead, I had a weak character and was afraid, and so on. But worst of all I never talked to you, I elevated you rather than understood you. I never understood you or even understood that this was an option I would have been capable of pursuing.

Don’t beat yourself up, says the theoretical astronomer’s father’s ghost. What is, is. Our bad actions and inactions are our hell. The good ones are our heaven.

I’m sorry you’re in a box by the rubber boots, says the theoretical astronomer.

I’m not in any box, his father’s ghost says. My ashes are. I’m here, now, and wherever someone thinks of me.

I am sorry. I wish I could have reduced your pain. Instead I worshipped you.

And I loved you, says the theoretical astronomer’s father’s ghost. That’s why I let you make your own mistakes and was stingy with the advice.

I mistook it for aloofness.

Another shrug. Maybe it was. I’m not… I wasn’t perfect.

Yeah, well. Who is?

The theoretical astronomer’s father’s ghost faded from view. The theoretical astronomer wished he would have stayed longer.

He always wished that.

Outside, although the sky was bright, stars continued to fall. This the theoretical astronomer knew.