Catholic school wasn't so bad, I mean I did have a music teacher who got breast implants halfway through my 3rd grade year, that was pretty cool. Still, sometimes I hear stories from family and friends about Nuns beating children's knuckles with rulers when they acted up in class. I didn't really have any of that. Aside from the annoying costume we had to wear most things have changed since the 70s. My experience was less physical abuse [joke redacted] and more abuse from complete, mind-maddening boredom. So much of my time was spent pretending to pray and listening to stories from the Bible, and not even the good, bloody stories, the tame and lame stories meant to turn us into good God fearing citizens. St. Joseph's even had the audacity cut into my after school time with extra classes about religion. For a kid it was pretty exhausting.
I think my time at St. Joes may have been where I developed this silly overactive imagination of mine. I just couldn't pay attention to all of that talking so instead of sitting dead-eyed, I started daydreaming. At the time most of my head space was filled with well, space. It was 1994 and I was in the second grade and all I wanted in the world/universe was to be an Astronaut. It was all I could think about. The way I saw it was that if I were an Astronaut my chances of meeting E.T. would go up and my chances of leaving this boring school would go up. That's what we call a win-win.
When the mobile book fair rolled into town I begged my mom for some money so I could get two books that I desperately needed if I was ever going to become the Spaceman that I dreamed up. The first was a book on the planets that featured a chapter on the ever elusive Planet X, and the second was a book about rocks - that included five rock samples! Eventually my mom gave in because honestly, who could ever deny a tiny, adorable kid of their dreams? I read those books cover to cover several times, both at recess and in class. While other kids dreamt of playing catch with Ken Griffey Jr. I dreamt of those books - and Agent Dana Scully.
When our class had to do a report and dress up as a famous person for a presentation for parents - I came as John Glenn. He was an astronaut, a hero and he was from Ohio like me. I didn't have a space suit so I dressed up as John Glenn in his civilian clothes and answered parent's questions with ease. I showed off my "space rocks" and let them in on a little secret I knew about called "Planet X". It was the proudest moment of my childhood up to that point. The next day I wore my John Glenn jacket, actually just my Grandpa's suit jacket, to school and carried on the charade. I wanted to live as an astronaut for a little bit longer and that day I played the part all through morning prayer and on past lunch and recess.
That afternoon during math class I was peeking at my space book under my desk when our teacher, Sister Mary-Something, probably, came over. In a cold sweat I dropped my book and pretended to be working on my enormous sheet of equations. Like most Nuns she caught me only unlike the 1970s Nuns she didn't crack my hand with a ruler. She tried to help, in her own way. She explained to me that astronauts use math all the time - from planning their flights to understanding how to use all those levers and knobs on the ship it was a big, big part of their job. I didn't buy. I had seen no indication of math in any of my books or in Planet of the Apes. I tried to reason with her and tell her that I just wasn't any good at math. Numbers didn't make any sense to me, when I saw them I saw a blur. Addition was easy, but subtraction was harder and division - forget it. I broke down in front of my class. If I was no good at math, I would never be an astronaut, why was I wasting my time dreaming it's kid stuff. I looked to her for a rebuttal but instead of telling me it would all be "okay" be she said, "Maybe God has another plan for you. God has a plan for us all, maybe your plan isn't to go to space. Maybe your plan is to stay here on Earth."
How could this be possible? You don't have to be smart to go to space, you just have to like space. Han Solo wasn't particularly smart and Chewie was borderline developmentally disabled. I couldn't handle it. When I got home that day I ran immediately to my mom and told her the whole thing. She of course was supportive, because that's what moms do. The next morning it was back to my uniform and I left my space book at home.
The saddest part about giving up on that dream is that Sister Mary-Whatever was right. I am 25 years old and even though they don't give grades to adults I'm still a solid C+. Throughout the rest of elementary school I fell behind in math. When I changed schools I thought that would be the moment I would finally get it, but I kept falling behing. The more the other kids learned the further back I drifted. Sitting in the back of the class and doodling and daydreaming became my math class. Once I was in high school math was even more meaningless, by that time kids have mastered the art of wasting class time and that was something I could get an A in. College came and offered me bogus math alternatives, like foreign language classes and a course called "Math in Nature". The fact is that I am just a normal, dumb guy. I will not be a scientist or an inventor or an Astronaut.
Enjoying space from a distance is about all I can do at this point. My brain doesn't have any room for charts and flight patterns, it's full of hours of dialogue from The Simpsons and hard thoughts and opinions on which condiment is the best (it's BBQ sauce). These just aren't the qualities that make a good Astronaut. Sometimes dreaming and pretending can be better than the real thing. That's why no kids playing house ever get divorced and kids playing doctor never have to go through a malpractice suit. So now instead of taking a course of astrophysics I just dip my toes into the waters of understanding thanks to PBS and YouTube - because school is stupid. I can surround myself with space-related art like watching Moon or listening to Philip Glass or watching 500 episodes of Quantum Leap. Everyday a new scientific discovery comes out, a new gadget invented and Kevin Ford looks out of the ISS window. I'm fine being here on earth - this is where the other day dreamers are - for now.