I think my favorite constellation is Orion, but it’s not really Orion. It’s the group of stars that I can see from my driveway at the beginning of the year that I thought was Orion the first time I saw it, but it’s not. I looked it up once and I found out it’s Aquila.
I needed it to be Orion when my grandmother was dying in the hospital for 4 months. I was driving to Utica 3-4 times a week to visit her and when I’d get home late on weeknights, after driving for an hour, I’d stand in the cold in the middle of my driveway, my eyes boring into the night sky looking for answers.
I conflated the myth of Orion the Hunter with the idea of Orion being a warrior. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t be a hunter and a warrior. But not all hunters are warriors and certainly not all warriors are hunters. I needed Orion to be a warrior because my grandmother was a warrior. Throughout all of my life, and all of hers, and especially at that moment. She was fighting for her life every day and I was watching it. In the beginning, she was choosing to keep herself alive. Whether it was right or wrong, tortuously painful or not, we couldn’t question it because it was her choice. But in the end, it may have been us choosing to keep her alive.
I still think about that often. We are kinder to our pets than we are to our loved ones, when it comes to ending suffering.
My grandmother’s life was a flame that couldn’t be extinguished by anyone but herself. I felt that distinctly. Even after she lost the ability to speak, her fire was still present in those big, dark eyes. Every night I’d go home and look at the sky and try to find Orion, but I was really trying to find my own fire. I needed to find what would fuel me after my grandmother was gone.
The night my grandmother died I howled at the moon while I looked for Orion. Then I went inside and broke my baby toe. I have a habit of doing that when traumatic shit is happening to me. I think sometimes my body is just begging for a physical outlet for my emotional pain so it throws me into something.
Months later, long after my toe had healed but looked weirder than ever, I entered a deep depression, feeling the full weight of the loss of my grandmother. It took awhile for the feelings of relief over the end of her suffering to subside for me to fully realize the suffering I would endure now that I’d never see her again. I stared at the sky constantly. Every time I found Orion, I took it as a sign from my grandmother that she knew that I was a warrior too, and that I could fight this.
I needed Orion a lot that year. When I found out he was Aquila, I felt silly, but it didn’t really bother me. I found out that Aquila was the eagle that carried Zeus’s thunderbolts for him. She was both kind and ferocious, gently carrying Ganymede up Mount Olympus, and relentlessly reopening wounds in Prometheus by attacking him daily. I identify with her (mythology no doubt portrays her as a dude, of course), but I carry my own thunderbolts.
I looked at the sky to find my grandmother and I found my fire within, too. I still look for Orion now, when I need guidance from Gram, and she always helps me realize that I had the answer myself, all along.
All illustrations by Lee Spencer