The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wishing on a Star

JFK was murdered when I was under two years old. I don't remember it. When people always used to say they remember what they were doing, or where they were, when they heard the news about the president being assassinated, I thought it was quaint (in that historically romantic kind of way). Hell, my memory of current events doesn't always serve me. In fact, if you saw the sea of post-it-notes on my desk (constantly), you'd be heartily amused. I wish I were. In any event, I didn't quite "get it". Until...

When Challenger exploded, I remember exactly what I was doing. I was working the very first job that I had in this business. And hadn't been there very long. The guys in the back had a little 13" set in the sheet metal shop. Occasionally, they'd catch a ballgame. (They never admitted to watching the soaps...but we had our suspicions). But whatever they were watching that day, the news broke in to show the shuttle take-off. I happened to be taking some orders back there, and stopped long enough to see it.

I'm always kind of filled with awe when I see a spacecraft launching. So, I stood there for a moment. A couple of the guys were watching it, too. And then it just exploded. And my breath caught in my chest and I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. OMG! Did what I think just happened, really happen? It couldn't! Space exploration was long beyond the days of it being dangerous. Astronauts didn't die anymore. (Did they?) I mean, that stuff hadn't happened since I was a kid.

I sat down in a chair in the sheet metal shop. The sounds of metal presses and cutters behind me. Stunned. Definitely in disbelief. I sat there. And thought about all of those people dying right before my eyes. Even if I didn't see the blood and gore up close. I thought about all of the families that were probably there watching in horror. I thought about the picnicking tourists getting much more of a show than they'd bargained for. I thought about the kids in some far away classroom watching as their teacher exploded right in front of them. And then I sat there some more.

Work didn't seem important. Nothing seemed important. By this point, several people had gathered around the little set and watched, wide-eyed, as the events replayed over and over. We stayed there for a couple hours. I'm sure the bosses were fretting about the lost productivity. But not one of them said anything.

After a couple hours, the numbness began to wear off a little and I decided that I should distract myself with work. The depression that was already mounting would only get worse the longer I sat there. So, as soon as I was able, I went back into the offices and started catching up on some of the work.

Everyone else was doing the same thing. Quietly going through the motions of the day. No one spoke. The sadness just hung everywhere. Sadness in the loss of human life. But a sadness for the dreams that, as children, we'd all had. You see, every time one of those rockets went up, we all lived vicariously through the people manning it. Gus Grissom and Buzz Aldrin and Fred Haise and so many others helped all of us keep that dream going. Keep that part in us alive that, as a child, wanted to fly to the moon. And now..well...those dreams took a hit. A pretty big hit.

A little part of me left that day. A little more of the child so full of faith was ripped from inside me. The whimsical dreams of visiting the moon replaced with the reality that it could get you killed trying. And given the tone of the entire office, I'd imagine I wasn't the only one feeling that way. But, as I said, we didn't speak of it. Ever.

Hard to believe it was 20 years ago.


Blogger Highlander said...

I generally miss out on all that stuff, either through sleeping late or being somewhere with no TV or radio on. The only cultural turning point/tragedy I can recall clearly where I was at the time it happened is 9/11. When the space shuttle blew up, I must have been sleeping in, or something...

January 28, 1986... where would I have been? Well, according to the calendar function on our computer, that was a Tuesday, so I was most likely at a job I held for about six months selling newspaper subscriptions over the phone, and I imagine I didn't hear about it until I got home... and there was no TV in the house where I was living, so maybe not then, either. I can't remember.

January 26, 1986, though, by odd coincidence, was the Sunday where I ran the first session of my World of Empire RPG.

1/27/2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger Bluegrass Mama said...

I didn't see the Challenger explode live, but someone called me shortly afterward to ask if something had happened to it, so I turned on the TV and spent the rest of the day watching the news coverage and sobbing. I was shocked to see that it's been 20 years, too, but then realized I'd spent the day cradling my baby boy, who's now a college junior.

1/27/2006 11:32 AM  
Blogger Marci said...

I was in eighth grade and we saw it happen as it happened, too. My tough teacher cried. I didn't get the depth of it, or if I did, maybe I was just in shock. But that reminds of 9/11 when I was work, just like you and had heard of the first plane, grabbed my portable TV and watched as the second one hit. Utter utter shock, paralyzed with fear for a while, and then just a weird quietness during the work day....

1/28/2006 9:00 PM  
Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

I was working at an ad agency, and we'd gathered in the client lounge to watch the launch. It was horrifying. All I could think about was that poor teacher...I was living near Boston then so she'd been all over the news, how happy and proud she was to have been selected. I was so stunned I couldn't move. Then...and this was weird...everybody just kind of shrugged, and went back to their jobs. Deadlines, and all that crap. But I just felt kind of nauseous all day. A guy I'd been seeing on and off was doing a short internship at a college near there, and he'd gone up to Titusville with some buddies to watch the launch. When he came home a few weeks later, we met up at a bar halfway between our apartments. His first words to me were, "Where were you when the shuttle blew?" I'd semi-decided the relationship wasn't working out, but those words sealed the deal for me.

1/29/2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

For many people in their 40's, the Challenger explosion was the Kennedy Assasination of our generation. Not to downplay 9/11, but Challenger was first. A moment frozen in horror.

I know exactly where I was. I was at home, with my ex, and we were watching TV (a game show, I believe) and they cut in with the news.

Funny thing is, it wasn't the first "frozen moment of horror" for me. The one event that is seared in my mind was the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

1/29/2006 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Nate said...

I was in 11th grade then (buncha geezers, y'all are) and happened to be home sick that day. Being a dyed-in-the-wool geek, I had been watching the launch preperations all morning with my mom, who was more or less checking in on me, and not terribly interested in the launch, but she came in and we watched the final countdown together, and when the explosion occurred, I, who had seen dozens of previous launches, knew Something Bad had happened.

Of course, by then I thoroughly hated school and everything related to it, thanks to the kindness and empathy of my classmates; so I was pretty indifferent to the whole thing, except that they stopped doing launches for the longest time, which sucked.

9-11, OTOH, I was at work, and one fo the other guys in our department came in with his little portable TV and set it up, and explained as he did that his wife (then his fiancee) had called to tell him about an airplane crash in NYC.

We watched the first tower burn for a while, and then the second plane hit, and we all knew it was deliberate. After a while I couldn't take any more, so I kind of tuned it out and focussed on work the rest of the day.

The one thing that really aggravated me about all the TV coverage was Tom Brokaw, who was basically flinging accusations around and opining on every aspect of the situation like he was some authority on the unprecedented subject of flying airplanes into buildings. I kind of doubt his resignation a couple years later was at all unconnected. Anyone who watched the news could see him getting more and more biased.

I was 5 when the US lost the Vietnam War, and 11 when John Lennon died. Niether event had anywhere near the impact on me that the Challenger's loss did.

1/29/2006 8:58 PM  

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