Non-fiction from Erin Calabria

Redshift

Image by Bill Benzon via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image by Bill Benzon via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The night I went to meet you at Penn Station, I immediately got lost.  All the store fronts around the departure board had changed since that summer after college when I would ride the Vermonter into the city, and you would meet me and take me to your parents’ house in Bergen County.  After that summer, you moved to Scotland to get your Master’s degree while I stayed at home and worked at a nearby farm, grinding cider apples long past frost.

***

On the visible spectrum of light, red has the lowest frequency, and blue the highest.  When a luminous object approaches, the wavelength of its light shortens relative to the observer and moves towards the blue end of the spectrum, causing a “blueshift.”

***

Now that I’d moved to New York and you were back home again in Jersey, you’d called, asked me to meet.  It took me almost half an hour circling the station perimeter before I found you, the one recognizable thing among the chain restaurants and wolf-eyed commuters, your hair longer but your feet still shod in the same battered sneakers.

***

When a luminous object moves away, the wavelength of its light stretches and slides towards the red end of the spectrum, causing a “redshift.”

***

You took me to a Middle Eastern place somewhere in the village – warm, candle-lit, smelling of pita.  You told me about where you’d been before coming home.  Tanzania.  Croatia.  All the things I’d missed since you’d said over a choppy Skype connection that you didn’t think things would work out.

***

Nearly all of the light glinting throughout the universe from distant galaxies and stars shows a redshift, which proves that the universe is expanding, all things moving away from each other in all directions.

***

The waitress brought us hummus, olives, rice.  When the cheque came, they wouldn’t take your credit card – cash only.  I paid. Outside, we found one of those sketchy ATMs that remind me of slot machines.  I told you it would charge you extra.  You said you didn’t care, took the green stack the machine coughed up, paid me back.

***

The speed at which an object moves away is called recession velocity.  The greater the recession velocity, the greater the redshift of light, and vice versa.

***

We walked around in the September dark, found a bakery, not Magnolia’s but near there.  I let you choose some kind of complicated bar or brownie, something with too many nuts or chips in it.  I wasn’t hungry anymore, but you pushed it towards me until I asked you why you really wanted to see me.  And you told me how you’d made a mistake.  How you hadn’t known how to undo it.  How you’d missed me. Your eyes began to gleam.  Despite everything, I was still one of the few people who knew you were going blind.

***

The more distant a star, the greater the redshift observed, and so the greater the recession velocity carrying it farther and farther away.

***

Since then, we tried again.  We failed again.  We stopped speaking. One World Trade Center slowly raised its blue glass bulk over lower Manhattan. You moved to Montana, then Panama. More and more green keeps sprouting up the old meat-packing rails north of Chelsea. I took a job I think every day of leaving. I hear your eyes are getting worse.

***

In other words, the thing that is already most distant from us is also the thing moving most rapidly away.

***

Perhaps you don’t remember, but there was a night near the end of college, before I’d ever even seen New York, when you took my hand and spread a blanket on the cool grass outside your dorm room.  It was spring, and I was trying to ignore my hay fever.  Eyes burning, nose running, I pretended not to wonder whether you loved me or not. We lay down on our backs and looked up.  It was clichéd, this scene, but it felt like we were close.  Arms touching side by side, we watched the ancient stars pulse and wink above us, each trail of light shifted red by the expansion of all things away from each other, even if we could not see it, even if we still believed ourselves to be in control of our individual motion, forgetting that we would always be subject to the same physics that sustain everything else in the world.


Erin Calabria grew up in rural Western Massachusetts and now lives in New York City. Her writing has appeared in Luna Luna Magazine, River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” column, and the Readers Report series on The Rumpus. Her documentary work has also aired on public radio. She tweets @Erin_Calabria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s