Big Sky – Ilana Masad

I. Los Angeles, California, USA

The pictures of the blonde girl squinting into the sun make her look perpetually grumpy. The colors were once vibrant: red tricycle, blue swing, yellow shirt, green grass. The photo is faded now, the hues made pastel rather than primary.

II. Givatayim, Israel

The pictures of the blonde girl hung on a bulletin board in a room in an apartment that will forever be considered home. The apartment isn’t big to some people, but it was big by the standards of the blonde girl’s family.

The size of the apartment didn’t matter, though. The blonde girl’s mother chose the place not for its rooms, but for its view. The view that looked out onto a verdant park with stout palm trees and trees no one knew the name of but that shed small purple or orange blossoms at the start of summer and winter, molting in the heat or preparing to hibernate in the cold. Beyond the park were three schools, two of which the blonde girl would attend as she grew up. After the schools came the white buildings rising up in varying heights, the boxy architecture of Israel, where the soviet style was most prevalent. And above the buildings: the big sky.

Israel’s sky is like nothing else the blonde girl or her mother have seen. It is more expansive, even in the middle of the bustling Tel Aviv (next door to Givatayim) than any other sky in any other city in the world, or so they believe, so their experience has proved so far. They haven’t been everywhere in the world, but they know that other places—London, Los Angeles, even the beautiful Berlin or Rome—don’t have the kind of big sky they have hanging right outside their very windows.

It changes daily, this sky; even when it’s bursting with gray clouds or empty and blue, there is a quality to it that makes it stretch on forever. The stories about rainbows having pots of gold at their ends is proven wrong here—you can see both ends hanging right there in front of you, outside the big windows in an apartment that is called home.

In the evenings, when the sky is clear enough for the sun to cast its light as it falls, the buildings across the windows, the white buildings that are as featureless as plain porcelain become mirrors for the orange blaze. They shimmer and shine in shades of fire that usually contain themselves to actual flames. They make the girl and her mother thankful for the bland architecture they usually abhor.

When it rains, the sky doesn’t shrink as it does in other places. It remains endless, sometimes even teasing with glimpses of blue between the shades of gray dominating it.

The sky never looks bigger than when the girl who was blonde once is leaving, being driven to an airport where she flies away to some other life where the sky isn’t so majestic. In the other life, her eyes concentrate on concrete sidewalks and brick buildings which she finds beautiful, though everyone else seems to find them mundane and ugly. But in her life beneath the big sky, she breathes in the smell of a country that isn’t kind to its people, but that allows them the freedom of looking up, up, forever up.

III. Queens, New York, USA

That girl was me, but my hair isn’t blonde anymore, and I never wear yellow.

I live in an apartment with too few windows, but that is always the case. After growing up with windows that convey an impossible concept such as endlessness, there will never be enough. The blinds are down or the curtains are drawn against the sun in the summer and left down to shield the depressing washed out grayness in the winter.

The sky isn’t big here. It is narrow and visible between buildings in Manhattan. It is secondary to the sensory overload of too-cool Brooklyn. In the Bronx, I keep my eyes forward, wanting to watch humanity shift and move around me in a bustle that is distinctly different from the besuited central borough. In Queens, the sky hangs low, too close to feel big, and there is a smell of sewage because of the factories near me. In Staten Island—well, I never go there, so I wouldn’t know. Maybe that’s where the big sky I still yearn for is.

But I don’t think it is. I think the big sky exists only in a place called home, a place where my father took his last breaths, a place where I first fell in love, a place where I felt safe amidst the bombings I grew up avoiding, a place where my mother and I had to find beauty in order to keep from missing the Los Angeles hills too much.

Some days, the sky winks at me and casts its light in a way that bends my perception in such a way as to believe it is big. On those days, joy seems simple, as easy as looking up into vastness.

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