So Long, Pluto

By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.

A Texan went to visit Ireland.

He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:

(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?

The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.

(Irish accent, with pride):  Sure and it is, Mester.  Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle.  Door of Cadillac stands open.)

Texan:  Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine.  How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)

Irishman, with pride:  No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’.  You see that tree stump off there in the distance?  Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here.  (Scratches head again.)

Texan:  I declare.  That’s a right purty leetle piece.  You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land.  (Air of superior self-satisfaction)

Irishman: (Shaking head sadly)  Ach!  I had a truck like that meself, once.

The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world.  Yowie zowie, I love space stuff!  And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.

I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time.  Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.”  We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.

The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory.  They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that.  I wanted Deep Space.  Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff.  I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then.  Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.

But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).

The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave).  Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location.  I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.

We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.

Big tour buses pulled up.  I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.

With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression.  It’s tough being a dog.

When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia.  Panic attack. 

Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.

I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?

I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.

There were only eight planets.

That is wrong.  There are nine.  Everyone knows there are nine planets!

Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks.  You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.

It’s not fair.  Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?

I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.

The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.

It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.

It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core. 

In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed.  He needed stability.  He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.

Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.


Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes.  It seems that tears do not simply run out.  The body just keeps making more.

And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life.  Mistake after mistake after mistake.

And all boiling down to what?

Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses.  That’s a plus.

See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.

So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out.  That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.

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  1. This is just amazing!!

  2. Beautifully written. Emotionally wrenching. My heart goes out to you. You’re very brave.

  3. Laura I want to give you a big hug and wipe your tears
    I know how a heart can ache
    It feel like there’s a void that can’t be filled
    There isn’t a big enough bandage
    Bleeding hearts in the void of nothingness:):(
    As always Sheldon

  4. Hang in there my dear Laura, nothing is forever, not even your son’s current opinions and moods. He will come to his senses and I’m sure things will be fine. Until then, roam, circulate, encircle the earth and keep love in your heart. XOXOXOXOX

    • Thank you, dear Samina. I do hope he comes around. Until then, yes, a nomad am I! Oh, and after that, too, unless I find a place that is so beautiful I don’t want to leave it.

      • He’ll come around for sure, and who knows, you might find a place you never want to leave. For my husband and me it is Nantucket!

  5. Where are you? I’m back in Louisville. Anywhere near?

  6. I’m off to a therapy session…it’s good that I read this before I leave.

    You start with the joke about the Texan which reminded me of my general feeling of pissed offedness at the Texas Governor who shamelessly runs ads in California touting Texas as the home of slave labor and therefore ideal for a corporate headquarters (No offense meant to the many good people I know from Texas) “Ya’ll don’t ever have to contribute the community and we don’t force you to pay a living wage so ya’ll come on down!”

    You grabbed my attention with the panic attacks. I’m having them today. My partner is spending a week with his Mother. I ‘woke up’ this morning feeling utterly exhausted. My
    eyes are red and burning and I feel like crap. This can only mean that my body was up all night and I only think I slept.

    It was comforting to read panic symptoms from someone else.

    Then you broke my heart with the story of your son.

    Do we ever stop paying for the mistakes we made in our ignorance? Is there no mercy? Does your Son not understand that you did your best—At least you didn’t cleave his mind into a dozen dismembered parts.

    And you closed with what sounded like a farewell note which left me frustrated because your life is so important. You have a wonderful mind and even though you may not see it, a zest for life. You’re traveling the country in a van with a dog and vising planetariums in Texas!

    But mostly It is that as I prepare to go to my therapy I find myself in a state of despair over ever getting truly well.

    And sometimes feel like the opt out is the only best solution.

    • Thank you, my friends (I have to use the plural here because, you know…well…there are more of you…) for really READING my post. Closely. And commenting closely.

      I’m sorry you had a lousy night. Bad nights make for rough next days. I hope tonight is a good, deep, refreshing sleep. And I hope last night’s bad sleep makes for a good therapy session. Sometimes it helps open doors, when our defenses are a bit threadbare from sleep deprivation. Oh, doesn’t the “establishment” know that one well! We won’t go there.

      Yes, the little big man needs a reality check. He could have had a wonderful life, but even as a baby he chose to have a bad time, no matter what I did to try to make life enjoyable. Finally I gave up, when he was about 8, and said listen, you are a big boy, there are wonderful things happening all around you, and if you want to take advantage of them, let me know. Otherwise I’ll enjoy them myself. I’ll make sure you’re safe, fed, warm, clothed, and educated.

      I did insist that he join the band and play one sport. I made sure that he was placed in the gifted program.

      There’s only so much energy one can expend, dragging along a kid who fights you 24 hours a day, when all you’re trying to do is give him a good life.

      I get crashingly suicidal when I’m depressed, which is, unfortunately, most of the time. At the moment I’m euthymic and enjoying it. Wow, how come we don’t get to feel…normal…all the time? Why do wet get stuck with these brains that derail us at every opportunity? Fuck brains. I want to be…well, nothing, really. Oh well.

      • I feel better and you’re right…

        My therapist tracks my posting and she was aware that I was up and posting when I thought I was asleep.

        My alternates tend to come out after midnight…

        I like my brain sometimes…but I’d really like to know what ‘normal’ feels like…oh well. Too late now…perhaps in the next life….:)

        • I met a guy in the laundry room of the RV park where I’m staying right now. He kind of peered at me and said, “You’re crazy, right? I mean in the head.”

          I said, “Of course, aren’t you?”

          He said, “No,” and walked out.

          I didn’t know it showed that much! I mean, I had on clothes and everything. Or maybe he was some sort of visionary.

          Whatever. I don’t really want to be “normal.” I just wish I didn’t have such god-awful lows. Then I wouldn’t have to take all these damn pills that shut me down. I miss the old days when I could stay up all night painting and catch a few hours of shut-eye, then go back at it. Of course, in those days I thought my profound depressions were due to the “artist’s temperament.” Maybe that’s true. Look at all the great artists and writers who have suicided.


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