EIGHTY-TWO, 2.0

Lana Warner was running late to class but she thought the students would forgive her. She was going to tell them there would be no test today, that they could discuss whatever they wanted, play games, whatever they’d like. This was her last day as a teacher, and the kids didn’t know it yet.

But they’d forgive her.

Sure, they’d probably miss her next week, and hate her for not telling them sooner. But eventually they’d come around. After all, it’s not every day that you could brag to your friends that the first woman to walk on the moon was once your middle school science teacher.

As she drove the usual route to school, Lana felt the smile on her face grow, and just let it happen despite the obviously goofy grin she presented to passing drivers. Ever since she was a little girl, she’d been obsessed with the Apollo missions. Neil Armstrong’s photograph, signed within weeks from his return to earth, adorned her wall to this day. It was still sealed behind a powerful glass picture frame. He smiled at her in the morning and again when she returned at night. She was in love with that man, and in love with his picture, and in love with the moon.

She always blew him a kiss before leaving for work.

When Lana applied at NASA, they broke her heart by telling her the only space missions would be to the International Space Station, and they were already backed up with their astronauts. No more moon, no more seats. Gone were all those years she’d spent, studying physics, biology, chemistry. She had even joined the Air Force.

But she soon came to accept her fate, and took the job teaching middle school kids basic science equations. How to tell a theory from a hypothesis, how to keep challenging theories and find solutions to problems that continued to puzzle scientists around the world.

As she pulled into the parking lot, Lana saw that the name sign at parking her spot had already been changed from L. WARNER to RESERVED. A shade of sadness passed along her neck and gave her chills, but was quickly washed away by happiness again as she climbed out of her car and thought back to the prior Thursday night.

And the phone call.

The Director of the new Apollo mission, Sven, had made the call himself. Late at night, interrupting Lana’s grading of papers, she sat up quick when the phone rang. Somehow, something inside told her this call was beyond important. She almost dropped the phone when he announced himself, as she recognized his voice instantly from watching countless hours of interviews and interactive videos of Sven on YouTube. “You want me to what?” she had asked, voice shaking.

“Join us on our next mission to the moon. I was looking back at past applications, and you, Ms. Warner, have an exceptional record. What are you doing teaching grade school?!”

“It’s Middle school, and…why me?”

“I told you, your record is exceptional.”

She’d arrived at the in-person interview early, still shaking from the call the night before. As soon as Lana had arrived, Sven kept saying the same thing over and over. “Exceptional, truly exceptional.”

She’d never thought of herself that way. Even her late husband always called her “pretty good.” He was never demeaning, and she always returned his attempt at humor with “your not bad yourself.”

But Exceptional? No one she knew was exceptional — except for Armstrong. An exceptional man from exceptional times.

“But why me? Why now? Surely you have a line of young people to do this mission?

Sven replied, “We do, but we want you. I’ll admit, there’s a small shred of good PR in it for us. But then I looked at your application again, and your essays over the years. You’ve wanted this your whole life, and the one thing NASA has always been good at is helping anyone of us, Americans, humans all around, achieve the impossible.”

The sentiment was unexpected, but Lana’s reply wasn’t. She nearly shouted “YES” when he finally asked if she would accept.  Then she almost fell apart when she found out it training would be starting so soon.

Lana walked up the steps to the school, and entered the main hallway. The classroom doors were already shut. The bell had already rung. She knew her students would behave. They were the best in the school, even the principal thought so. They needed no supervisor. As she rounded the last corner to her classroom, on her last day as a teacher, Lana got a warm feeling in her throat. One of worry and fear.

What was she thinking? Going to walk on the moon. And then what? What good would it do? What would it teach anyone? Was she being selfish?

She stopped against a line of lockers, and caught her breath. What’s the point? Who will teach these kids? Mr. Ryan? Mrs. Phillips? Well, Phillips was alright, but Ryan?

The kids, their minds were still so young and fragile, naive. What a mess it might make. But no, Lana had to continue.  She had to go her own way. The kids would be fine. They’d see her walk on the moon, and they would be alright.

They would understand.

For now, she’d have to go into class and give one more day’s worth of lessons. Or let them play their own games. They’d figure it out together.

She entered her classroom for the last time with a new calmness in her chest, and a smile on her face, taking great care with that first step beyond the threshold.

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