|(c) Mommy Needs Vodka
Twenty-five years ago today, I was in typing class in middle school when the space shuttle Challenger exploded after launch. We didn’t find out about it until P.E. class when our teacher announced it.
Until that point in my adolescent life, I had not ever paid attention to a news item, other than the time in grade school when our class watched the very first space shuttle land safely home. But this event was a turning point in my life, a sort of “before and after” when you see now that your childhood has ended. It was for us Gen X’ers what Kennedy’s death was for our parents’ generation and Pearl Harbor
was for our grandparents’ generation and what 9/11 was for Gen Y’ers.
By January 28, 1986, the space program was not interesting anymore. It had never really interested me in the first place, actually, but this event fascinated me, and to this day it still does, probably more than any other.
I guess it was the dynamics of it. The Reagan Era, the fact that a teacher was on board and my mom is a teacher, the fact that the more I read about this courageous woman, Christa McAuliffe, the more amazed I became that such a person existed. Her enthusiasm, spirit and (up till then) her good fortune in life, struck me as impossible. I mean, who could have such a sunny disposition? Who could marry their 8th grade sweetheart (all the boys in my class seemed immature and idiotic) and actually make it last? Who could have two perfect kids, a boy, then a girl, a job she loved, admiration from every corner, a kick-ass house, extended loving family all around, win first place in a contest with over 11,000 applicants to ride into space, and then BAM. Gone. All gone. With the world watching.
And not perceiving at first. I hung on to every news article and television mention of the disaster for several months afterward. The fact that I spent over an hour’s worth of babysitting money on the Time magazine featuring the Challenger disaster (yup, the photo is of my personal magazine!) kinda says something. I was frigging obsessed.
Then it was in the back of my mind for a long time, as it is today, thinking of it mostly around this anniversary time. But the story still haunts and intrigues me more than any other. I can’t put a finger on why exactly. Being so different from Christa McAuliffe, and whose dying age I will soon outlive, is part of it, but maybe it also allowed me to see the truth about something at an early age: that no matter how good or bad things are, it can all change on a dime—and eventually, it all does. Everyone has pain in their life, and joy.