Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Challenger Reflections

Below is a creative writing piece I crafted as I reflected on my experience of watching the Challenger explosion. 28 years ago today, I was 6 and my parents were going to teacher conferences. And my dog was old. I wrote in the voice of the 6 year old who experienced this day. We often try to hide death from children, believing they can't understand it. However, children have questions and wonder just like adults. Rather than hiding death and pain, we need to do as my family did, and help me walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death...

January 28, 1986.

It's cold and windy. I'm not going to be able to play outside today. Mom and dad are going to meet my teacher today and there's a spaceship going up in the sky. They said if I'm good I can watch it on TV, but first they need to meet my teacher. They have parents come to the school and see our drawings and where we sit and Mrs. A is going to show them all the books I can read. I wonder where they're going to sit? We have kid chairs and they're grown ups. I hope they see the rainbow painting I made, the one over by the drinking fountain.

J is going to watch me. She'll make me lunch and I'll play in the basement. She tells me not to worry, that I'll be home before the spaceship goes up, and that my mom and dad can watch it with me. It's always so cold in J's basement. G and D are working in the barn, and it's to cold for me to go help. They have big, big tractors and G let me ride on one when he harvested wheat last fall. But it's to windy today, so he can't give me a ride. There are to many boy toys here. I don't really like J's house.

Mom and dad came back and they brought the rainbow painting! Mrs. A gave it to them! And she told them how I can read! Mom's furry jacket is itchy, but she wants to hold me and show me the "report card" with lots of letters and words I can't read on it. It smells funny and the paper is slippery and the ink rubs off on my fingers.

We go home--the wind hurts my face, I don't like walking outside in winter. Where's Shalom, our dog? I can't find her. Maybe she's cold and went in her house. She has shiny gold fur and white under her face. Mom says she's old and I can't ride on her back anymore. When we have running contests, I win now. Shalom used to win. But I win now. Even when I'm wearing snow boots.

Someone's on the phone. Only grown ups use the phone. My mom sits down in her chair and lights a cigarette. She always lights a cigarette when the phone rings. I'm going to color a picture of a spaceship. It's black and white, and red, white and blue. Because it has a flag on it. It's our spaceship. So it has our flag.

Mom gets dad and says he needs to go downstairs. They never talk on the stairs. They whisper. I'm not supposed to listen. They put on their coats, and I can't come outside. They say I need to stay inside. By myself. Dad asks me where I put my plastic red sled. I tell him it's by the tree, but the yellow handle broke. Are they going sledding? Why can't I go?

If I stand on the chair, I can look out the window and see them. Why are they taking the sled up the road? Why is Shalom in the sled? Shalom doesn't like riding in sleds or wagons or roller skates. Why is she going to the garage? Dad looks sad. Shalom is old. And when dogs get old, they die. Shalom died, and she won't breathe anymore and we can't play and we have to say goodbye. Her eyes won't blink and she's cold and won't move. I have to say goodbye. It's ok to pet her, but I won't see her ever again. My stomach hurts and I'm dizzy. I want to lay down.

Mom says I'll feel better but I can cry. I can watch the spaceship, maybe it will help me think about something else. The spaceship is so big, and all the astronauts wave at the people. One lady is a teacher. She has pretty brown hair and it's long. They all have flags on their spacesuits. They're in Florida.

Everybody counts backwards. I can count backwards now too! 3, 2, 1...Boom! It's going up in space! It's so big! All the people look up up up....

where did it go?

People are yelling. A lady is crying. My mom says "oh no...oh no..."

The spaceship is gone. The people aren't there. They died too. They were on TV and waving and now they're gone. Dad says they're not up in the air. No, there aren't parachutes to help them get down. They are gone. They died like Shalom.

My head hurts. I need my blue pillow and green blanket. I want to lay down on the couch. Peter Jennings talks and talks and talks. He has pictures of all the people on the spaceship. He looks sad too,n like me. Does his stomach hurt?. Did he know Shalom died?

I don't want to color or read. I just want to lay on my blue pillow and watch tv. Mom and dad do too. Mom smokes another cigarette. She's in the living room. She never smokes in the living room. Dad's holding his head, maybe it hurts like mine. I tell dad it hurts and he gives me 7up. He says I'm not sick. He says when people are sad they don't feel good.

I want to go see Shalom again. Dad says I can. He makes me put on snowpants and boots. The sky is black and it's snowing and it's cloudy. There is smoke in the air, is that the smoke from the spaceship? Dad says it's far away and nothing will fall on us. The smoke is from the beet plant, and nothing falls from the sky over our house. Shalom is really cold, her fur is icy. I put a blanket on her and say she can have my sled. Her eyes don't move. Do people's eyes stop moving too? She doesn't look the same, she isn't here anymore...she's here, but she's not here. What happens when people can't say goodbye and touch someone because they died in a spaceship? How do they say goodbye if they can't touch them and put a blanket on them? Where did they go? If Shalom is in a sled, are they just floating in the air? Did God get them a sled and take them to heaven?

I'm cold and my head hurts. I want to go inside.

1 comment:

  1. That brought back memories and tears and a lump in my throat but thanks anyway. Well written, Pr. Tracy.