Correction to This Article
This memoir incorrectly reported a NASA statement on the shuttle Challenger disaster. NASA eventually did release the transcripts of the astronauts' voice recordings, and there was no mention of an astronaut saying, "Please, hold my hand."

My Explosion


(Image Source)
By Jonathan Safran Foer
Sunday, July 13, 2008

ME

It was August 12, 1985, the first day of Summer Discovery Camp, at Murch Elementary, at which I had finished second grade only a few weeks before. I didn't want to go to camp. I wanted to spend my summer at home doing nothing, as I'd done every previous summer. I'd never been to sleep-away camp, and only a few times to a day camp. My mother used to say she didn't want us away.

I remember sitting on the floor of my parents' bedroom that morning. My father was standing in front of a steamed-over mirror, pulling the skin of his neck taut. My mother was kneeling before an open drawer. I used to love watching my parents do adult things -- write checks, sort mail, empty the dishwasher -- because it reminded me of the distance between us, which was what made them my parents, which was what made me safe.

MOM

It was your first week at summer camp, but actually the second session of the camp. We ended up registering you at the last minute, maybe even the morning of. Marta was with us, so she must have walked you to camp that day.

I was at work, at a relatively new job. I got a phone call from the school secretary saying that there had been an accident, that you were hurt -- but not badly -- and that you were at Children's Hospital. I don't know why I didn't ask any questions, but I don't think I did. You were always having little mishaps -- stitches, etc. -- so when she said it wasn't bad, I assumed it was something simple, and I was just going to pick you up. She might have said that you had a scar on your head, which made me assume stitches, but I can't remember.

I got in my car and tried to figure out how to make my way to the hospital from my new office. I remember clearly going up either 13th or 14th street -- I know I was between K and L streets (I can still see the spot) -- when I heard on the radio that there had been an "explosion" in a science lab at Murch Elementary and that kids were being medevaced to Children's Hospital. I stopped the car in the left lane of two-way traffic and rushed across the street to a fire station. I called Dad's office and told them to find him and tell him to meet me immediately at Children's Hospital.

From there, I don't know how I made my way to the hospital, but I did. When I got there, I left the car in the driveway of the ambulance emergency entrance because I had to get to you.

MY BROTHER

We had just started camp. In fact, we started camp later than the other kids -- about one week later. Mom hadn't committed us to any summer plans. I remember that entering the environment in medias res was anxiety-producing. We started the first day in the auditorium, where kids seemed to mill about before the first classes began. Friendships had already formed. Kids had already habituated themselves to the routine. We were outsiders, trying to keep pace. The accident, I think, happened on our third day in the camp.

ME

My mother drove us there that day, even though we lived less than half a mile away. I remember clinging to my older brother as children filtered in that morning. We were divided into groups -- I think it was according to age -- and my brother was separated from me. My group began the day in a science class. The instructor was a graduate student at American University. I remember him being short and somewhat muscular. His hair was brown, I think, and curly. The few times I've searched for him on the Internet I've been overtaken by anger and unable to proceed. (I'm never angry at him unless I'm searching for him.) When I finally felt ready to write about the explosion, I went looking for the memories of those affected. The instructor either never received the e-mails I sent to him via his current place of employment, or he decided not to respond. From the others came several typed pages. Of the instructor, my mother wrote only this: "I think [he] once came and visited us to apologize, but I'm not sure about that."


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