Hard to believe it has been 30 years since the Challenger exploded. Here is a small look as to what was happening in my life at the time. This is from a larger piece that I am working on.
There was this girl in our class, Elizabeth Hayes, that had juvenile diabetes. I didn’t know what that was or what it meant other than when we had parties in school Elizabeth got a cupcake with no icing. The local TV station wanted to do a story about Elizabeth, so they filmed her and her parents at her house doing different things and talking about what it was like to have a child that had diabetes and they filmed her giving herself insulin. They also came and filmed her class at school and showed us working at our desks and Elizabeth at the board with Mrs. Wood practicing cursive writing. We also were filmed in the gym practicing tumbling. The reporter thanked us and then told us that the story would air in a couple of weeks.
I went home and told my parents the day that they story would be shown. We had gotten our first VCR just a few weeks before and now we had something to use it on. Dad went out and purchased a new blank tape for the occasion, quite an expense in those days. If there was a cloud 9 then I was on it. I just knew that I was going to get discovered and become famous because of this story. Despite having limited screen time, no dialogue, and being on a local station, this was going to be my big break. I guess I was depending on my cute level to pull me through.
The day finally arrived. The class was buzzing with excitement over being on TV. I remember being at my desk about midday when our teacher asked for everyone’s attention. When she did stuff like that we knew she had something serious to tell us. She said that someone’s mother had called the school and told them that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded shortly after liftoff. The Challenger had Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was going to have actual classroom lessons on board the ship from space, as part of the crew. Mrs. Wood told us that there had been some sort of malfunction on board and that’s why the space shuttle exploded. I didn’t really follow the news all that much, but they had written about Christa Mcauliffe in the Weekly Reader that we got at school every week so I knew it was a pretty big deal.
The crash was the lead story that night of course. I could rewind and fast-forward the entire short flight and explosion from start to finish. I knew that it was a serious and sad occasion although I couldn’t say why. I knew what death was or at least I thought I knew. Death to me was some broad thing that only had a vague definition to me. The people on that shuttle were gone, but since I didn’t know them, it wasn’t real to me.
As for my television debut, Hollywood didn’t come calling. The report came on and there I was, cut halfway down my body, only a little of my head and desk were visible. I had one of the shortest 15 minutes of fame on record. What should have been a good day in my life became one of pain and sorrow.