When I googled the words, Starry Night and cliché, within 0.49 seconds I had 287,000 hits. Flavorwire.com suggested in “The Artists Behind the Most Clichéd Dorm Posters,” that if you had to imbibe, at least go for a hipper version. Hang a framed jigsaw puzzle. So why have I held onto the same flimsy print all of my adult life? It’s a rite of passage.
I remember where I was when Elvis died, the way I felt when I finished reading Catcher in the Rye, and the address of my first apartment. Starry Night is my coming of age story. Every summer, when I compare those swirling stars to the mountain skies above my New Mexico campsite, it’s like a top-of-the-mountain view of a distant life. So cliché or not, the van Gogh hangs on the wall above my desk.
It was the summer of 1977. I had ten dollars to spend. A guy I knew offered to help me bring home a couch. My roommate had moved out taking her grandmother’s cast-offs with her, so I was the proud tenant of an empty apartment. Almost empty. I stored a waterbed for a friend working summer stock in Memphis. The wave-maker was fun, but I was determined not to sleep with everyone who came to see me.
The first garage sale we visited didn’t have a couch, but they had a framed Starry Night print. My friend bought it to hang in his living room. It became the theme of our not-quite-grown-up summer. My friends and I wore out a vinyl of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits under that Starry Night, drinking seven ounce bottles of Little Kings Cream Ale. The foam from the tiny green bottles fountained with every inexperienced tug. As we harmonized to Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” we rhapsodized about Jimmy Carter, Fleetwood Mac, and our futures. To this day, I can’t look at the poster without remembering that time or the me I used to be—young, daring, and sure about what I knew.
The summer ended badly. Our group split up. Elvis died in August. In September, my friend confessed he was in love with me. Something I knew, but had refused to acknowledge. He went on to make choices that ended his life too soon. I moved on. Like so many young women of the 1970s, I scared myself into a bad marriage, falling into exactly the adulthood I swore I’d escape.
The spirit of that summer is captured in my memory like the square prints of an Instamatic camera. I see myself the way I saw the world then, in the absolute of a black and white photograph. Starry Night is the portal that funnels me back.
If you own an object that returns you to another place and time, I’d love to hear about it. The comments are open below. Share your story.