I remember very clearly when Challenger went up back in '86. We just happened to be having a 4H meeting that day in the only room in the elementary school building that had a TV in it, right around the time scheduled for liftoff, so even tho' a LOT of other schools had assemblies and such for their students to watch the launch, it was pretty much pure bullshit luck that I was in front of a television to see the explosion. Our assistant principal wanted to see the launch, and he came down to the TV room and asked if we'd mind watching it. Of course everyone said yes, because to them watching any kind of TV was better than doing what they were supposed to be doing, even tho' what they were supposed to be doing was goofing off when compared to doing actual schoolwork. I remember being excited that things had worked out that way, because I'd tried to get my mother to let me stay at home to watch the launch, but to no avail. I should have just faked sick.
I remember everybody else in the room chattering and what-not because I was really the only person there (aside from Mr. Pickens the asst. principal) who actually gave a damn about the space shuttle, and then the quiet, and then a storm of questions directed at Mr. Pickens about what had happened. I always think about it whenever someone uses the phrase "in over his head", because I remember seeing the look on his face and thinking "Oh! So that's what it means when they say somebody is in over his head."
I remember that I was sad for the rest of the day, and not really understanding why. Something that particularly stands out is one of my many 7th grade tormentors asking me, "What you so sad-faced for?"
"Because the space shuttle blew up."
"Did you know that woman what was on there? That schoolteacher woman?"
"Then what you sad for?"
"… I don't know."
"Sissy." And then he ran off. That happened to me a lot in middle school, getting called a sissy by someone who would then bolt at full speed if I did so much as step in their direction, apparently because sissies are infamous for handing out beat-downs.
I didn't have the vocabulary or the understanding to explain the concept of empathy to him. And he wouldn't have understood it even if I had; the word sociopath wasn't in my vocabulary either, but I knew what one was. So I didn't even try. I just kept to myself, and went home, and wondered what those people on the shuttle had done to deserve just dying like that. I asked my mother when I got home, and she said, "Nothin', baby. Sometimes people just die."
"I know that, but don't they die 'cause they bad?"
"No, baby. Everybody gon' die, whether they good or bad. And sometimes it just happen."
"It just do."