I remember where I was, and I always remember this date, and it has nothing to do with the space shuttle. It has to do with a young, stupid college girl. Me.
I was just starting my second semester of my freshman year in college. I had a brand new roommate, because my first semester roommate had died. Over Thanksgiving, she was riding in the back of a pickup truck in the dry riverbed, and was thrown out. She was in a coma for a week and then she died. We weren't close, but it was still rather unsettling. Oh, and have you ever heard that rumor that if your roommate dies, you get straight As for the semester? Totally not true.
Anyway, my new roommate's name was Micki. She was older than I was, 22. She was originally from Ohio, but had recently lived in Marina del Rey with her wealthy father. She looked like your typical California girl, blond and beautiful. I hated her on sight, and had a sick feeling in my stomach. I knew this was not going to go well.
This happened to be one of the few times in my life that my first impression of someone was really, really wrong. She was the nicest, sweetest girl I had ever met. She didn't have a mean or stuck-up bone in her entire body. She let me wear her Benetton shirt. She and I would go to the local dive and have a few pitchers of beer. I loved having a roommate that was legal to buy alcohol. On top of that, she was totally awesome.
The only thing that wasn't awesome about her was her taste in guys. She was dating this guy named David, who was 30 and divorced. When you're 18, 30 is really old. I don't think he treated her very well. He was controlling and verbally abusive. I cannot for the life of me figure out why she put up with him. But for all her sweetness and beauty, Micki had no self-esteem. And I have no idea why. I'm sure it started long before I met her.
Anyway, she and David had a friend named Tommy. Actually, he was David's friend, probably around the same age, 30ish. Tommy was going to come over to the dorm and visit one night. The date was January 27th, 1986. While we were sitting around waiting for him to get there, David called Micki, angry. I don't know why he was angry, but he wanted her to go outside and meet him in the parking lot in five minutes.
Of course, he said jump and she jumped. She grabbed her purse and ran out the door, asking me to please entertain Tommy until she got back. She wouldn't be gone long, she promised.
It wasn't long before the phone rang. You see, back in the day, if you were going to have a male visitor, they had to call from downstairs and you had to go downstairs and escort them up. Unescorted males were not allowed past the lobby. It sounds like the 50s, but really it was 1986. I know there are co-ed dorms and floors and maybe even rooms now, but that's the way it was in my dorm.
So I went downstairs, and there was this guy standing there. He looked really old to me, but then again, everyone looks old when you're 18. In reality, he was 32. 10 years younger than I am right now.
I introduced myself and explained what happened with Micki and David, and said that Micki would be back soon. I asked him if he wanted to come up to the room anyway, and he said sure.
We got to the room and chatted a bit. After about five minutes, we were smiling uncomfortably at each other, the smiles of two strangers who have run out of small talk. Then I had a brilliant idea to make this a lot more fun. Let's go get a bottle of something, I said. I can even buy it. There's this liquor store down the street that doesn't card anyone.
He didn't believe me, because I looked even younger than I was, so I was on a mission to prove I could. We got in his car and went to the liquor store. We went inside, where I grabbed a fifth of vodka and a jug of orange juice. The cashier didn't even blink an eye. I paid for it, and we were on our way back to the dorm.
When we got back, Micki still wasn't there. I made us both a drink. We talked. He was nice. I would have loved to have called Micki and ask her where the hell she was, but you know, 1986. No cell phones. I think I did try David's house, but of course, there was no answer.
We had another drink, and another, and another. We may have finished the bottle, I really don't remember. I'm not going to go into the details about what happened after that, but I'm sure you can guess. One of the many, many stupid things I did in college.
At some point, Micki did return, and I was lying on my bed. Possibly not alone. Micki stuck her head around the wall, saw the scene, and ran back out the door. I could hear her laughing all the way down the hall. I think. Maybe I imagined that part, or maybe she just thought that what had happened while she was gone was pretty dang funny. Maybe it was. She wasn't being mean...now that I think about it, she was probably drunk too. She drank a lot.
Tommy left at some point. I think I spent some time in the bathroom after that, the vodka and I having a disagreement. I have no idea what time I passed out.
The next morning, the phone rang at 7am. Our phone was really loud, and for some reason, it was on the floor next to my bed. I thought my head was going to explode. I put my pillow over my head to try and drown out the noise.
Micki answered the phone. It was Tommy. He said he had left his wallet in our dorm room. I guess she found it and met him outside to give it to him, I don't know. All I know is that I felt like my head was lying on a rock, and I went back to sleep. I had no plans to attend any of my classes that day. But I had set my alarm for 2pm. Why? Because at the time, I was still a General Hospital addict. I couldn't get up to go to class, but I wanted to watch my soap on my little 13" black and white TV.
The alarm went off at 2pm. I still felt like I was going to die. I carefully got out of bed, turned on the TV, and got back in bed. I tried to lie in the least painful position to watch the TV. There wasn't really a non-painful position at that point. My head was pounding like nothing I had ever felt, and I knew I was going to puke any minute.
As I looked at the television, I couldn't understand what I was seeing. It wasn't General Hospital. It was a picture of a huge streak of clouds in the sky. No, that wasn't it. It was breaking news. Something was wrong. I finally pieced together that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded not long after it had launched, some 5 or 6 hours before.
I always remember this day, and I remember the Challenger. But even more, I remember that day as the day of the worst hangover I have ever had in my life. I've never had another one that was that bad. And I always remember two girls. One beautiful and sweet, who stayed with an abusive boyfriend because she thought she couldn't do any better. To this day I wonder what happened to her. Strangely, I can remember David's last name, but I can't remember her's.
And I remember another girl, one who was so desperate for male attention that she did a lot of really stupid, stupid things.
Most times, I think I've forgiven that second girl for her idiocy. But on this day, I always remember her, and I feel guilty all over again. About things that happened 24 years ago.
"You did then what you knew how to do. And when you knew better, you did better." - Maya Angelou