Sic Semper Ad Astra

Piper May, Author

 Sic Semper Ad Astra

Piper May

My dad always got so frustrated when people hovered over his shoulder. The time he had to fix the boiler, twenty minutes before a dinner reservation, wasn’t an exception. 

He stood there in a long, brown coat, trying to figure out what was wrong while silently seething because the tenant, a small, balding man in his thirties, wouldn’t go away. 

You can’t just yell at someone for existing. It’s basic human decency. So he stood there, pulling at wires and working out problems for a piece of machinery that he knew better than anyone in that room. 

He knew it better because he’d lived there once. Our family lived there once. And even though I wasn’t old enough to remember more than a moving van pulling away or a glass of milk with sugar before dinner, ten year-old me was filled with some form of sympathy for my dad, just trying to help, but who couldn’t because the man paying him to sleep in the same room he had years ago wouldn’t give him a foot of space. 

That was the first time I’d seen the house in six years. While he tried to puzzle it out, I went outside, where it was cold and foggy like it always is in San Francisco, to see the view over the back of the hill I remembered so clearly from when I was little. The little yellow dandelions and the pretty green grass, stretching down into a small tree grove. 

But either I was wrong or it was a dream because there wasn’t a tree grove. It led into a series of shabby houses, walls covered in rainbow lettering that I never went five minutes without seeing whenever we were there. And it was disorienting, seeing something I’d supplanted so heavily in my own mind be replaced with the truth. 

Everyone always says the truth isn’t pretty. And everyone is right. That was what I took away from that moment.

On that visit, I remember wanting to go upstairs, to see the kitchen my mother used to give my sister sink baths in and the room where I used to sleep. Childish delusions told me it would all look the same. Of course that isn’t true, but either way I never found out because the second I asked, my dad said no, you can’t go up there. It’s someone else’s now. Sort of. The tenants were renting it from us and I got a lecture from Dad on how it was a privilege to own property and we needed to respect their space. 

This went over my head at the time. What mattered was, the house where I first started to remember things, where I cried at night as a baby and figured out how to talk and read and write. Someone else’s. 

And I remember feeling sad because those were my memories. My life. My beginnings, and some stranger wanted to overwrite it. 

I went back to that house last summer. The tenants moved out and that’s why we had to go: to make sure everything was okay for the next people. 

There was a bracelet on the floor of my old room. It was gold, oblong, said SIC SEMPER AD ASTRA, thus always to the stars, in uppercase letters. 

Someone else’s memories, someone else’s beginning. I picked up the bracelet and it came home with us that day. 

Some of my memories for some of theirs. 

I think that’s a fair trade.