White was not so much a color, or, as some say, the absence of color, as it was a feeling under my fingertips when I touched the outside of our house. The white stuck to my fingers, and when I wiped them on my skirt, it left faint streaks, which made me worried, not that I'd be punished for dirtying my clothes, but that the house must be sad, to be losing its skin like that, like the white skin peeling off my shoulders like a snakeskin I saw once, when I got sunburned the summer I learned to swim. In fact, under the living room windows the paint was beginning to curl, trying to escape, it seemed, lifting itself off, like the pill bugs that turned themselves into balls when you touched them. The powdery feeling of the paint on my fingers matched the feeling of chalk on the blackboard at my school, or on the grey felt eraser when I was picked for the glorious privilege of wiping it clean, in big blurry arcs, like the Milky Way appearing then disappearing overhead.
Nothing about the Milky Way made sense. I felt love for it, the unrequited love I felt for many things I would never, I thought, be able to speak to, or touch, or understand. I suppose you could say the same thing about a painting or a piece of music that you love, that makes you happy whenever you see or hear it, but somehow this was a different kind of love altogether. It was more like the love I had for the grandmother I never met, and for all the white horses my father taught me granted wishes, and the magic hand dance you had to do when you saw one, to make your wish come true. You spit in both palms, snap your fingers and stamp one fist into the palm of the other hand, a sequence you repeat three times as quickly as you can, so that it sounds like a horse galloping, and on the last one, you stamp the fist 3 times.
It feels like there were many such things that I loved with the love I loved the Milky Way with, but at the moment I can't find them. Each one that comes up looks like it was, on closer examination, a slightly different kind of love. The love I felt for Flipper, for instance, the dolphin who helped a teenage boy solve crimes, or the love I felt for the giant cypress tree I would sit in and talk to after school, waiting for my mother to get home from work. They could talk back to me, and the Milky Way, I was pretty sure, couldn't. Still, when my father told me that we live IN the Milky Way, I took him at his word, forging a kinship with it, despite it looking very much like something that was as much There as you could get, while we were unquestionably Here, in a never-the-twain shall meet kind of situation, like being on two shores of an ocean without a boat. I suppose it helped that I had learned how to switch on the feeling of kinship when he took my brother and I once to a family picnic where over 200 people were gathered, and told us "You are related to everyone here," though I only recognized five or six of those people, and didn't even remember all of their names.
The other important thing about the Milky Way was that you usually couldn't see it. We had to be away from the lights of San Francisco for it to be visible, and since we rarely went to the countryside, it was a rare and significant sighting. But what that taught me, which was an uncomfortable truth to live with, was that very large things are there even when you can't see them. Like the moon, of course, which was the second thing I had learned that about, the first being my mother. I would have done the same thing she did, walking out on a husband that was having an affair, but I had no understanding of that at age one, so the fact that I saw her only for a few minutes when she'd rush over on her lunch break from her job as a test driver at a racetrack to give us a hug while our father was at work, taught me, I realize now, the knack of holding onto the feeling that you are loved by someone or something that loves you, even if you can't see them.