(30 Days of Truth –Day 25: Discuss something you planned that ended up not being what you expected.
After writing yesterday about two of our failed attempts to watch a space shuttle launch, I thought it would be quite appropriate to finish up that story with tonight’s topic. I’m going to give a little more background and fill in a couple of missing pieces from yesterday. I’m afraid that I may scare you a little bit with the level of crazy that goes on in my head sometimes. I can’t control it but, if I’m on a mission to get in touch with my authentic self, then I feel a need to be completely open and honest here.
Gil and I first tried to catch a shuttle launch with his children on July 14, 2005. The mission was STS-114 and this was the first scheduled mission in over two years and it was the first after the loss of Columbia and her crew in February, 2003. The mission was scrubbed when we were under an hour from launch time. We were disappointed but not overly upset. There would be many more opportunities to see other launches. We live 2 hours away so this was no big deal. That mission finally took off on July 26, 2005 and successfully returned to planet Earth August 9, 2005. I can only imagine what a joyous relief this was to the crew and to the entire space program as a whole.
Our next attempt was one of the most spontaneous impulses we’ve given in to. I remember hearing on the radio that this would be the first night launch in years so I somewhat casually mentioned it to Gil about 5:00 PM on December 8, 2006. I honestly believe that from the first mention until we were in the car and heading west that only about 15 minutes passed. We were on our way to see STS-116 roar its way into the night sky. The trip over was a bit chaotic as we took a wrong turn and ended up traveling pretty far in the opposite direction. Neither of us had a GPS at that time and we were kind of traveling by instinct and limited experience. I would advise against this. We had no idea where we would watch the launch but continued to follow signs to Kennedy Space Center. We found ourselves on a causeway leading to KSC with about two minutes to spare. We had the most wonderful view and could not believe our luck. However, with about 40 seconds to spare, we were greatly disappointed again as someone announced the mission had been scrubbed due to technical issues. The mission did successfully happen two days later on December 9, 2006.
Now, you may be wondering why I’m writing about two relatively spontaneous attempts to see the space shuttle take off when the topic of the day is about something that was planned. This is where the planned part comes in. Everything about our effort to see STS-128 race for space in the wee morning hours of August 25, 2009 was planned. Everything. And it was planned pretty far in advance, too. I remember having conversations with my co-workers about an upcoming night launch and how it was to be the last one before the shuttle program was retired. I followed their advice and registered on the Kennedy Space Center website for notification when tickets to the causeway viewing areas were to go on sale. I don’t remember when we first talked about this but it was weeks ahead of the scheduled launch date.
I received the email notification on August 8, 2009. It said that tickets to the causeway viewing area would go on sale the following day at 9:00 A.M. At 9:03 A.M. the next day, I had secured two spots for Gil and me to witness history. In less than 7 minutes, those tickets were completely sold out. I couldn’t believe my luck. Well, I sort of could. I felt that this was our time, that God had put those tickets there for me because this would be the magic moment Gil and I had been waiting 4 years to experience. I never once doubted that we wouldn’t see this historic mission take off.
The launch was scheduled for 1:36 AM on the morning of August 25, 2009. It would be a long day but nothing was going slow us down. We both worked the morning and headed over to Florida’s Space Coast in the early afternoon. We took our time as there was no rush, we had hours to spare. We arrived without a hitch to the Space Center, parked, grabbed our chairs and headed inside to check things out. To say that I was giddy with excitement and anticipation is a huge understatement. I had waited so long for this and even though we had missed out on this opportunity twice before, I never doubted this was our time. We did some sightseeing around the complex, and although we spent the majority of the evening in line after line, I never let it get my spirits down, even when the nauseating aroma of body odor coming from others in line became stifling. It came time to board the buses for the short ride to the causeway and I thought for sure I would pee myself from the eagerness and exhilaration I was feeling. Gil and I had opted for the causeway because this spot provides the best view of the launch pad. We would see every second and every cloud of smoke and every fiery blast from the liftoff.
Now, remember how I never had any doubts this shuttle was going to take off and that Gil and I would be there to witness this? Well, even the lightning and rolling thunder in the distance didn’t sway my absolute resolve that this was going to happen. We listened to report after report talk about all the things that needed to happen with the weather before the shuttle would leave the Earth, and I never wavered in my fortitude. This was our time. God had lined everything up for us. It was our destiny. So it was no small surprise to me that with 45 minutes until liftoff, the voice on the intercom announced that the weather was dissipating and it looked like this was a go. Gil did an excellent job of describing our next half hour in a blog he wrote later that day. I invite you visit his blog and read it in its entirety. In the meantime, I’m going to borrow some of his words because he truly captured the emotions that charged the air that night.
It was on. This was going to happen. Lee and I were going to watch a shuttle launch. FINALLY!
The next half hour zoomed by. It was 1:15 in the morning and the energy level along the causeway was palpable. It felt like the last thirty seconds of a close Super Bowl or the bottom of the ninth in a tight World Series game 7, only more electric. There, off in the distance, seven astronauts had been waiting for hours while strapped into their seats, and we were minutes away from watching them take off into the night sky.
The voices on the PA continued with their final system checks as the countdown continued. One voice called out a series of acronyms, followed by another voice with an affirmative and responsive, “Check!” System after system, check after check. “Here we go” I thought. “This is going to be amazing.”
The voice that was supposed to respond with a loud and affirmative confirmation was instead replaced with a very hesitant pause. No one on the ground said a word.
With a sense of painful deliberateness, the responding voice almost quivered as you heard him say, “We really tried to push this as far as we could, but we are no-go for launch.” My heart sank, as did those of the other ten-thousand spectators there. We were so close. So close.
And just like that, the launch of STS-128 for 08/25 was scrubbed, and with it, Lee’s and my hopes of watching a live shuttle launch.
I sat there in complete disbelief (DENIAL). This was some kind of joke. All we needed to do was wait another half hour. The storm would pass and it would be ok. This had to happen. God was going to give this gift to me. He was! I sat there as people packed up their chairs and coolers and cameras. I wondered to myself why they were doing that? Why? In my head, this wasn’t happening. This was my last chance. This was my only chance. I cried and I pouted and I cried some more. Mostly I cried on the inside because I didn’t want Gil to see me. He had told me that we had no contingency plan, that this was our one opportunity. We could not come back the next night or the next or any night. Who knew when they would launch? The whole process is so unpredictable. I knew he said there was no way we could come back, but I held onto my bus pass like my life depended on it. In my head, I covered every possible ‘what if’ scenario that might convince him to bring me back, to share this with me (BARGAINING). There was just no way God wasn’t going to give this to me. Gil would change his mind. He would see my disappointment and give in. I knew he would. Just like I knew that shuttle was heading for outer space that night, I knew he would want to come back.
But he didn’t change his mind. We did not return the next night or the next. We missed our chance. It was over and we would never have another opportunity. I felt like someone had killed my cat. I felt like God had betrayed me. I suffered an emotional loss so great that night that I actually went through the stages of grief. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you this was coming). When I got home I sat down at my computer and purged everything NASA. I deleted Facebook, Twitter and emails (ANGER). I was done with this heartbreak. I didn’t want to see it, hear it or feel it ever again. I couldn’t even talk about it the next day at work without tearing up.
Then some of my coworkers attended the launch on August 28. I found myself filled with resentment. I knew I should be happy for them and I told them I was, but I lied. I didn’t want to hear them tell me what it felt like when the engines ignited and how the ground shook. I didn’t want to hear any of it. And don’t even get me started about the Facebook statuses exploding with updates about how spectacular it was. I didn’t want to know. It was like rubbing salt in a festering wound. Yeah, it was that bad.
There have been a few times since that night that people have brought up the subject of watching a launch and I always responded with “it’s too soon”. It was like a bad breakup for me (DEPRESSION). Every mention of the space shuttle was like opening an old wound that even 17 months couldn’t heal. This emotional scar was simply too deep. It would never heal. I had resolved myself to the fact that this year’s old bucket list item was never going to happen. I even thoughtfully and intentionally omitted it from my Wouldn’t It Be Cool If I… list back on Day 13. If I had written that list 20 years ago or 2 years ago, witnessing a shuttle launch would have been at the very top. But never again.
But something changed in me last week. I saw a tweet about the final mission due to launch in June of this year. I tried to ignore it. I pretended like I hadn’t seen it. I just went on about my day, minding my own business. It wasn’t until after I had finished typing w-w-w-.-N-A-S-A-.-g-o-v into my internet address bar that I even realized what I had done. And the next thing I knew, I was reading the details about STS-135. How did this happen? (ACCEPTANCE) When did this happen? When did I stop crying at the memory of that August night? When did I stop feeling angry At Gil? At NASA? At God? I don’t know when but I suddenly realized I wasn’t crazy angry anymore. I found myself checking the calendar and completing the online form for email notification of ticket sales. I am ready, I told myself. It is time.
Gil and I were cuddled up on the couch this past Saturday morning watching TV. I don’t remember what prompted me to ask but I asked him if he had heard about the final launch in June. He said no. I said I wanted to go. He said Ok. I said I’m going to want to buy tickets to the causeway again. He said alright. And just like that, we made a plan. Well, I made the plan but he went along with it. He didn’t resist, he didn’t argue and he didn’t try and fight me on it. He just agreed. It was not what I expected but it was an unexpected gesture of love and understanding and desire to make me happy. I’m not sure if he ever really understood just how much I grieved our missed opportunity that night, but in the time it took him to say OK, he made it all better.
So, wish us luck. Even though I’m pursuing this dream with much more cautious optimism, I can’t help but get all goose pimply thinking about what it’s going to feel like when I can finally cross this one off the list.