My Star

My Star

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

My Star

My head plopped down right in the middle of my open calculus book.

Maybe the information will just work its way into my brain through osmosis. I was beginning to think that was my only hope for learning this material. I felt like I was on a different planet. How could this seem so foreign to me? Of all the classes that I had taken so far in college, I could not make this one work. I couldn’t even lay out a logical study plan. What now? I pondered, with my head down on my desk in the middle of class.

When I lifted my head off the page, unbeknownst to me, a Post-it Note had stuck to my bangs. There was a pretty picture. I turned to face the guy next to me; he laughed and reached over to pull the note off my bangs in hopes of retrieving some of my dignity.

That was the beginning of a great friendship. The guy who was willing to pull a sticky note off my hair would soon become my calculus savior. I didn’t know it at the time, but Matt Starr was the literal “star” of the class. I was convinced he could teach it. And, as luck would have it, he was willing to help me.

He lived in an apartment just off campus, and I would go over there for tutoring. In exchange for his help, I cleaned his apartment and brought over bribe treats. Cookies, snacks, even dinner sometimes. He was so smart and would get so involved in the material. He would say, “Don’t you realize that this is the stuff that the universe is made of?” Not my universe. I told him that my universe was made up of child development and psychology classes and an occasional shopping mall, not equations like this. He would just laugh and persevere. He was convinced that he could get me to understand this material, and in a way he was right. He was so crystal clear in his understanding that I began to see it through his eyes.

Matt and I started spending more time together. We would take long walks, go to movies—when he wasn’t forcing me to study. I helped him put together a very hip wardrobe, and he taught me how to change the oil in my car—something every girl should know. When I brought home a B in calculus, we celebrated for three days.

Throughout college we stayed as close as a guy and a girl who are friends can be. We dated, only briefly, but the chemistry we shared was more like that of a brother and sister. We did, however, help each other through our other various and odd relationships; and when it looked hopeless, like neither one of us would ever find a mate, we took the next logical step—we got a puppy. Having rescued it from the pound, we called this little shepherd mix Tucker. We had been spending so much time together that when I moved out of my dorm, Tucker, Matt and I became roommates.

The day he came home and told me he was sick, it was raining. It rained that entire week, almost as if the world was mirroring our tears. Matt had AIDS.

Two weeks later, he was in the hospital with pneumocystis. The hows and the whys didn’t matter when we were both spending every moment trying to get him better. Between taking final exams, figuring out medications, visiting healers and making Matt drink wheatgrass juice, I was exhausted—but he was getting better.

Matt and I decided that we were going to make the time either one of us had left on this planet count. By the time we arrived at our senior year, I had lived life more fully than I had in all my twenty previous years. When we graduated, we all proudly wore our caps and gowns, Tucker included. Two months later, Matt went home to Minneapolis to live with his family.

Life continued; we e-mailed each other voraciously. I sent him tons of JPEG images of Tucker and his antics, and we went back and forth recounting stories of our lives.

Matt lived only two years more. When I got the news that he had been taken to the hospital, I flew out to be with him. By then, he had fallen into a coma from which he would never awaken. At the funeral, I artfully arranged a yellow Post-it Note in my hair and put one of Tucker’s favorite chew toys in the casket.

One night, about a year after Matt’s funeral, Tucker and I were driving in the hills of Mulholland. Suddenly, I smelled something so very familiar to me, and yet I couldn’t place it. It was a lovely cologne-like fragrance. Then Tucker began acting peculiar.

“What’s the matter, boy, did you smell it, too? What is that smell? I just can’t place it.”

Stopped at a red light, I looked up at the night sky and Tucker barked. What I saw next amazed me. It was a shooting star. A star! Of course, Matt Starr! It was his cologne I smelled.

“Is our friend trying to say hello and tell us he’s okay?” Tucker started wagging his tail furiously. Whether it was a sign or not, I felt the warmest and most secure feeling I’ve felt while thinking about Matt since his death. The giant gaping void that was created when he left was suddenly filled with that warm love the two of us always shared. He wasn’t gone, he was right here with me, as he always would be.

Suddenly and quite clearly, I understood how it all fit together. The universe, my friend and his beloved calculus.

Zan Gaudioso

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