Billy McCarthy was only six when he first encountered the universe.
He had been chased into the garden by his mother, who had had enough of him tearing around the house. It had been one of those afternoons. She prayed for the arrival of the new school year.
Outside, abandoned by his guardian, Billy wandered in the garden. It was a long narrow strip of land, highly cultivated with perennial flowers surrounding a raised herb box garden. He knew through previous experience not to mess with that, so he zigzagged further away from the house toward the wilder end of the garden. There were raspberry bushes and an an old oak tree with branches that reached down and almost touched the earth. The garden was sealed off from an adjacent ravine by a high wooden fence. He knew that The ravine had a creek running through it. It was a no-go zone. A child had drowned down there years ago and kids in the neighbourhood were still warned away from the place.
Between the fence and the oak tree there was a small area that was sealed off from the rest of the garden. It was shaded, almost dark at this time in the late afternoon. Billy stared mindlessly into the space.
And then the Starman arrived. He stepped out a little from the deeper shadows and looked down at the small boy before him. There were no words. As he looked at him in frozen surprise, Billy realized that he could almost see right through him, except he didn’t see the fence, he saw a distant dark sky dotted with a million scattered stars.
Billy didn’t feel like he was six years old anymore. He knew he was seeing something that most people, especially adults, had never witnessed. This was something different. He knew something else as well: He was never going to tell his mom about this. Or anyone else. That was just off the table.
He backed away, one step at a time until the visitor began to fade into the shade of the late afternoon. And then he was gone. Billy heard his mother calling him to come in and wash up before dinner.
And that was that. At least until he was in his late twenties and about to get married. The Starman appeared the morning of the wedding, watching him from an alcove in the bedroom where he was putting on his tux. He did not seem him again until he was close to dying, years later, but had lots of time in between to lie awake at night wondering what the Starman was –– and how someone, or something, could be both there and not there at the same time.
Billy knew the Starman was real; he just didn’t know what he was, except that he seemed to be made from particles of distant stars and planets. He could see them moving when the thing appeared. He could only describe the experience as being witness to creation and destruction in an endless loop. If the Starman had a voice it would have been light years deep.
As with everyone, the years took a toll on Billy McCarthy. His wife’s accidental death in an automobile accident drove him to several years of solo drinking. Straight bourbon takes a toll on a man. He lost his job as a bus driver and, after a number of years getting attempting to get sober again, he just quit looking for something else to do. He was hitting sixty, the mortgage was paid off, and if he adjusted his lifestyle down to an even more meagre level he could get by.
He put on weight — the reward of macaroni, bulk wieners, and daytime TV. Eventually, he was diagnosed with coronary heart disease, became depressed and seriously considered ending his life, which seemed now isolated and without purpose.
One evening after he had cleaned the supper dishes, Billy went outside to see the stars come out at twilight. It was a clear night and days were getting shorter now that the fall equinox had passed. As the light dimmed, he noticed Starman again standing just off to his left and staring at him intently. He began to ask him a question, which he had never done before, but before he could get it out the pain began in his chest and he sat down hard on the ground. His visitor looked down upon him, came closer than he had come before, and Billy noticed the rushing sound, the sound of things coming and going in a universe that was constantly remaking itself. He knew that a great secret had been passed to him in the absence of words. Words would have failed miserably.
He wasn’t sure what happened next but the paramedics apparently found him after a neighbour saw him fall. He awoke in hospital, underwent procedures for a couple of days and was on the receiving end of a stern lecture on his wiener diet from the doctor.
He took it all in stride because he had come to know himself as part of an organism that was the universe. In daily meditation, he gave thanks to the Starman for his revelation.
Before Billy McCarthy died he made a trip back to the neighbourhood of his childhood. And he went down into the ravine. He wanted to tell the kid who drowned that it was all okay and that things worked out in the end.