The motel was dingy and run-down and highway-side, but I didn’t mind because my life was about to change, and such dramatic instances don’t require five-star hotels. This motel even, had no vacancies, along with all others in the area. On August 21, 2017, the city of Idaho Falls, Idaho, typically dredged in sleep and quilted between vast stitches of nothing, burst at the seams.
Around noon, the “Great American Eclipse” was to occur—America’s first total solar eclipse since 1979—and Idaho Falls was directly in the path of totality. My father had awaited this event since 1979, and I, ceaselessly captivated by space, accompanied him to Idaho.
That morning, I noticed how the motel was abnormally alive, jolted into sentience by a shock of intrigue, awakened from primordial slumber to watch the galaxy shift. When we entered its “backyard” (an equally dingy lot of dying grass), we found clusters of people setting up telescopes and cameras. The air buzzed with eager conversation as we wandered to the middle of the lot and put on our eclipse glasses—we could only look at the sun safely during totality.
Soon, the eclipse and the waiting began, moon eating away at sun, rock suffocating plasma. The sky slowly dimmed even though it was only around eleven a.m., and street lamps flickered on. I tried to place my own mortal insignificance in the scope of it all; struggled; failed.
“Where are you from?” a man asked us, wielding a complicated camera. We learned that he was from California. A woman nearby was from Australia. She wore a flowy beige dress.
The Californian smiled. “It’s amazing, people coming from all over the world for this.”
“Yeah,” I echoed, almost to myself, gazing at throngs of strangers staring up at the same sky, marveling at humanity’s instinctual yearning for the stars, “it’s amazing.”
Small talk dwindled as our hazy anticipation suspended reality. Watching the sun vanish, I understood why we once believed that solar eclipses heralded the end of the world. I felt it too.
And suddenly the street lamps brightened and the sky darkened to the deep color of wine and everyone held their breath, eyes fixed in rapture, and someone exclaimed, “It’s totality!” and I took off my glasses and I saw. The solar corona shone around the moon like a halo wrought with silver, and I remember thinking that the moon seemed so tangible; it wasn’t just a constant fixture in the sky but something real, something I could reach out to and touch.
Moon moved between sun and earth, the cosmos realigned, and this random world, this world of accident and chance, this world where we are small and everything is out of our control, created order out of disorder. It was entropy—the universe’s descent into chaos—in reverse.
I wasted it: 101 seconds of totality, and I spent most while taking poor-quality pictures.
Even as I took those pictures, I thought about the human desire to photograph, to preserve intangible things beyond memory. I took photographs to remember, because even a mere three years later my memory is fuzzy at the edges like a Polaroid vignette, but maybe I would remember better if I didn’t spend so much time photographing. Memory: my personal paradox.
After totality ended, everyone stood in silence, transfixed. Meanwhile, slivers of sun crept out from behind the moon, disorder created from order, entropy-in-reverse-in-reverse.
Eventually people packed up cameras, shuffling, spellbound, speaking in low murmurs. Without fanfare, we, strangers of all nationalities, filtered together back into that motel. Extraordinary into ordinary, disorder into order. Again, entropy spun on its head. I felt like I was dreaming; I didn’t realize how, picture or no picture, there are some moments we can never quite shake.
Alyssa is a high school senior from New Jersey. Along with her passion for creative writing, she loves literature, psychology, and neuroscience. Alyssa has previously been published in The Writers Circle Journal, and she is a prose editor at the Body Without Organs literary journal.