In seventh grade my science teacher promised the class we’d go to the space museum in Wapakoneta and meet Neil Armstrong because Armstrong had shared a backyard with our science teacher when he was a little kid and they were still friends. We were thirteen years old and it was equally amazing to know that Armstrong had walked on the moon and our science teacher had once been a first grader. That was the year I had a crush on my lab partner whose name was also Neil, and sometimes he rolled his eyes at me but other times he laughed at my jokes. I was fat and had braces and was trying to figure out how to be loved. I knew being pretty wasn’t the only thing but it seemed important, and too many times I wanted to rip the braces off my teeth and forty pounds from my body, but either of those things would hurt.
I was excited for the field trip because I wanted to get Neil Armstrong to sign a postcard for me and get Neil my lab partner to sit with me on the bus, and I smiled at him when we got on, but he walked past my seat to the guys in back, and my broken heart floated over my head like a big black balloon and I held on to it with one hand on the hour-and-fifteen-minute ride to Wapakoneta. Three-quarters of the way there I heard gagging and it was Neil throwing up, so I took my sandwich and chips out of the plastic grocery sack I used for my lunch and sat next to him with the bag because his friends had all left for other seats. Neil didn’t smell good, but I stayed with him and he used my lunch sack twice and I patted him on the back and told him it was okay and sometimes this happened.
I wanted to stay with Neil when the rest of the class got off the bus, but my science teacher dragged Neil and me away so the bus driver could clean. Neil spent the trip in the men’s bathroom and I wandered around exhibits of moon pictures and scale models of lunar landing vessels until our teacher announced Neil Armstrong wouldn’t be coming. I imagined he was sick, too, and pictured him in a bathroom wallpapered with maps of the Milky Way, his head over a toilet like my beloved lab partner’s. I bought a postcard of Armstrong on the moon and an extra for Neil, but on the bus ride home he sat near the front and said he wanted to be alone. The bus smelled of bleach. I watched the back of Neil’s head bobbing, looked at my unsigned postcard, and thought about how long it had taken for Armstrong to get to the moon, how dangerous the trip had been, and how no one knew exactly what the surface of the moon would be like. It seemed like an impossible thing, almost a stupid thing, but that didn’t stop people from trying to get there. I imagined his awe at that feeling of weightlessness, the realization that he’d dipped his hand into the unknown and found something good, because that didnt always happen.