I spent most of this afternoon talking with my friends Alicia, Ryan and Wes. As great change is expected for one of them, we talked about how all of us have felt that Denver is like home more so than any other place we have lived. It left me thinking about special places. Places that felt like home, or where I learned about myself. Places I grew, or simply found to make me happy. In honor of those memories, I am starting a blogging mini-series which attempts to list where, when and why I found such great change in such unique places. To begin, we'll start with a pivotal moment in my young life, Space Camp.
September 1996 – Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama – I was young, I was dumb, but I say now, and with all my heart, I was changed. I lived in a small town since the fourth grade, and wasn't well accepted by my classmates. I was different in a lot of ways and it affected my social standing. I had grown to believe that I wasn't really worthy of friendship and that it wasn't really worth looking for. I went to Space Camp because I could, really. There was a special week for blind and visually impaired students, and since it was paid for through a special grant, how could I refuse the opportunity. No kid's going to turn down Space Camp. I was giddy when we arrived at the Omaha airport. I couldn't wait to start. I nearly ran to my group when we arrived and the luggage had been checked. It would be the first time I would fly, and although I didn't know it, the first time, as a young adult that I would know I had friends. There were a couple of guys that I hung out with at the summer school program held at the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped (The State's name for it, not mine. I hate that word.) so I went looking for them when I arrived. (One of those guys was Wes, by the way.) When I found them, they were talking to a new girl, someone none of us had met before, her name was Alicia. (and still is, I might add.) Long story short, in the first minutes, before we even left the airport, or made it through security, I was with three friends who would shape the majority of my high school years, two of whom are still as close as family. Wes had already been through Space Academy level One, and was now preparing to attend an advanced program, so we didn't get to spend much time with him that week, but we enjoyed one another's company (in the airports) until we all arrived in Huntsville, anyhow.
Due to an Atlanta thunderstorm, I got the chance to spend a few hours with Alicia, Brent, Wes, and several others from our combined teams. We talked and learned about each other the way high school kids do. We were loud, we were giddy, and we all babbled. There were contests to see who could use a Braille 'n Speak fastest (Alicia or Wes), overpriced greasy pizza, and fears that we might be trapped in Atlanta. Other than the concern about not reaching our destination, it was a blast. I was high on life and the fact that we had actually been on a plane in a thunderstorm, and I seemed to have people around me who cared about me. It was better than I could have imagined.
When we reached Huntsville later that evening, the teams were separated, welcomed, and briefed. We were reminded of all the rules that come with teen camps… No public displays of affection… Listen to your mentors.. No public displays of affection…Follow all posted rules.. No public displays of affection… you get the idea. After the briefing, we were sent to settle in. The rooms housed at least four students at a time, in a building that was intended to look like a futuristic space station, though honestly it looked more like two rolls of paper towel stacked on top of one another to me. Alicia and I were paired with a pair of teen witches, nasty, snotty, popular girls, who hated me. I don't mean to sound like I am pitying myself, it really was hatred. I don't know why to this day, but its true. They and their friends ridiculed and otherwise snubbed me, which all in all I was used to. What I wasn't used to though, was having friends who stuck up for me, and Alicia and Brent did. The three of us were inseparable that week. We were a team within a team. We thrilled in our successes and commiserated over our losses together. I know this doesn't sound like much, but for me, it was like a new world had opened out before us.
There was so much that happened that week I could never recount it all, but I should at least mention the simulated Shuttle Missions. We, like everyone else, hoped to be on the shuttle, and somehow, by a miracle, or cruel turn of fate, I was the Shuttle Commander for our first flight. I don't actually remember where Alicia or Brent were stationed, but I know that I felt a burden of leadership that I had never before experienced. We were sent into orbit and went through the mission with a handful of different points of terror and frustration, then it was time to land. I don't really remember quite what happened, or what specifically went wrong, but when we arrived back "on earth" there were no survivors in the shuttle, and I knew at the time with all my heart, that it was my fault. (I doubt that assertion now, but at the time, I knew it had to be true.) It was a blow, and I felt like the penultimate failure, but my friends were there. We were bummed, certainly, but they stood with me.
The second mission was a different story. Once again, we all hoped for shuttle positions, and somehow, by a true and unadulterated miracle, we all had them, at least if I remember correctly. (Alicia can correct me if I am wrong on that point). We were stationed in different places, I was a mission specialist, which meant that I did "experiments" in the cargo area lab while they were more actively involved in the flying of the ship, but that is hardly the point. I honestly have no idea whether or not the shuttle's crew were half crazed during that mission, or not, all I remember is that my part of the mission went well, and that in preparing to land, we discovered that the hatch between the lab and the rest of the shuttle were open. It was sure to be another disaster, but Brent "risked his life" to unstrap his harness and close the hatch. We survived, and the mission was a success. It was a moment of triumph for us all, and I think that on some level we all savored that victory as something more than just a simulated shuttle mission.
There were certainly other memorable occurrences that week. We simulated the moon walk, we rode the multi-access machine, (the one that is in all the advertisements for Space Camp) we broke rules, though only minor ones, and we had numerous other team building events, lectures, video presentations and the like. I remember talking about our dreams, our hopes and our fears. None of us are where we expected to be, but because of this experience, we all have memories, and I know that I am worthy. Worthy to succeed, worthy to be proud of who I am, and most important to that lost, lonely girl that I was, worthy to have friends.