I watch the space shuttle take off as my teacher explains rocketry in a way a room of third graders can barely understand:
He tells us a charge fires through the center of the rocket igniting all two million pounds of fuel at once. The whole thing becomes a giant controlled explosion pointed at the ground, sending the rocket up at seven hundred and sixty miles per hour. Mach 1. That, he says, is how we escape the earth.
I watch transfixed on the TV as a plume of gas one half the heat of the sun flares from a joint in the engine, causing the rocket to rotate out of its housing, strike the external tank and alter its attitude relative to air flow so that technically, Challenger did not explode. Rather, it disintegrated from aerodynamic force.
I have had insomnia ever since then.
I am told it’s because I think too much. I have a friend who worries too much. She takes Fluoxetine to inhibit her serotonin reuptake and to sew the lips of her dream voice shut. When my father and I run out of things to say we drink a spirit fermented from agave to avoid the howling silence where our apologies should be. An old friend turned to Jesus when methamphetamines failed to replace his wife. He says his life is a controlled explosion.
I am tired of watching them leap from cliffs because they wish they felt as deeply as the rocks below. I am tired of men with fifty-thousand-dollar degrees saying they have the technology to repair them. I am looking at the rocks and I am scared that the greatest minds of my generation are lining up to sell me plastic wings.
Sometimes my insomnia gets so bad I can’t sleep unless I listen to the static on the TV whispering, shhh…
My mother walks with a cane even though her new hip is made from the same material as the space shuttle. Open her coffin in a thousand years and the hip will still be reusable.
When Challenger disintegrated, only the cargo and crew were lost. The rockets survived. Kept going. Kept pushing up away from all things human, as if the engineers who made them ratcheted into their guts a desire to do just that.
Late that night I asked my father, “where do you go when you die?” He told me to ask Jesus. When I cried, he held me tight. It’s okay David. Shhh… It’s all right. Sometimes you just think too much.