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The guide at my local planetarium is not a scientist but a park ranger. It’s the most personal planetarium I’ve ever visited. You are seated directly beneath the approximation of the night sky, but shoulder-to-shoulder with your neighbor and his wet raincoat. The ranger starts the video and begins to haltingly recite all the things he can remember from his one-time reading of an instructional pamphlet on the solar system. Every new star formation that darts across the screen reminds him of something he is supposed to know.
The way the information travels after the star at PowerPoint speed, first the dim visual, then the slow dawn of the fact—it moves me. It is that old night feeling of recall. Moon must have been one of our first words, like a baby learns to say da-da when your moon-face hangs over them and you seem so in charge of the light, present in the doorway to flip the switch on and off. When the ranger is faced with the moon, he can’t resist a flourish:
“Moon” he says. “Luna, lunas, la lune. If you look here you can see the lunar maria on the surface. In many cultures there is a legend ascribed to these shapes, some say they look like a face. Some say it looks like a rabbit.” To me, it’s a Rorschach test I’ve failed, but my son sees the man immediately.
By bedtime, Conner has already Googled the lunar landing conspiracies. He has questions about how the flag could have fluttered in the wind when there’s no wind in space. I parrot NASA when I explain that the waving motion was caused by Buzz Aldrin screwing the flag post tightly into the ground. I can tell my son is still skeptical. In a sense, I want to encourage this as a personality trait. Instead, I suggest a bedtime story. I begin with something we both already know:
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.”
Connor interrupts to tell me that he wants a true story; he wants to know more about the astronauts. At the limit of my knowledge I reinvent the familiar:
“The astronauts had sons too. Buzz Aldrin had a son at the time. A boy about your age.”
“What was his name?” Connor looks at me with a raised eyebrow. I know I’d better be quick so I say, “I think, his name was Joe.” Connor settles into his pillow.
“Joe was a smart kid, just like you. He knew for a while that his dad was going to the moon so he decided to spend some time thinking about what he should bring. He was scared, because the trip would be dangerous, but mostly he was excited. As his dad told him, this would be a great opportunity to finally test important theories about outer space.” On Joe’s instructions Buzz brought certain items to leave for the man in the moon. He brought comic books, he brought Cheetos, he brought maps that gave definition to the brown and green formations on the pale blue dot.
I’m up late on Wikipedia. Buzz Aldrin, thank God, had two sons. Unfortunately they are named James and Andrew. I learn also that Buzz Aldrin has been married three times, had a face-lift and alcohol addiction, and that the year before he walked on the moon, his mother committed suicide. This last piece of information pierces me.
In the kitchen I say something to Jane about limiting Connor’s screen time. She is scrolling through The Washington Post on her laptop with her reading glasses sliding down her nose.
“I’m sure he’ll have a new fascination tomorrow.”
“Well tomorrow you might be responsible for finishing a story about the man in the moon, just so you are aware.”
She laughs and the screen glow silvers her face. Tomorrow she will probably read to him from the book about dinosaurs or the one about tropical rainforest plants and their various uses in medicine. I should remind her that this month he hates the book about the human body. The one that shows the transparent profile of a person, illustrated with Technicolor organs. On the cover the figure brings a loaded beef taco towards his mouth, so you can see how this morsel will be managed by the tongue, the jaw muscles, the gullet, and the eventual stomach. Connor hates in particular the worminess of the blue intestines. He told me, “Mine don’t look like that.”
Before I turn out the light I know this: we start as his moon. Then maybe his stars, and our formation will keep shifting the longer he looks at us. Someday he’ll become our moon, and we will see a man in him, irresistibly.