The communists shot Laika into space, just because they could, just to prove a point. This wasn’t for the science, of course, it was a dominance play, to show off to the world. They knew that she was going to die, the saber-rattling mattered more to them than a stray’s life. She must have been terrified from start to finish. I wish that I could comfort her, pet Laika, tell her she’s a good dog.
The capitalists shot a teacher into space, just because they could, just to prove a point. It wasn’t for the science either, it was a giant publicity stunt. I had a glossy packet from a gifted program my parents put me in, crowing on about the waves of normal people there’d soon be up in space. There were glitter stickers in there too, I stuck them up on my bedroom wall and dreamed of the future, the big wide future, the wonderful world being created for me. That lasted a few months.
They didn’t know she was going to die, they hoped she’d come back to Earth for glamour shots, but they didn’t care enough about her or our future to not cut corners. To not get parts from the lowest bidder, to not build a chariot to the heaven with sub-contractors and kickbacks, to not do it the American way. Because of that, when I was a little boy I saw the teacher’s ashes fall to the Earth like shooting stars on live teevee. I hope that it was quick, I hope it happened so fast that she barely knew that it was happening, that one cheaply-sourced o-ring immolating her in front of the whole world. I hope she felt the excitement of doing something so amazing and then just nothing. I wish that I could comfort her, tell her how much better she deserved from us.
Years later, my father would remark that if I hadn’t put those stickers on my wall, if I had known to keep those dreams mint-in-package, they’d be quite valuable to a collector. It probably would be, essentially a promo folder for a future that never happened, that combination of nostalgia and rarity and irony usually finds a whale on eBay. The space toys he played with in the early sixties would’ve been a lot more saleable were they still in their boxes too.
But if we could trade our pasts, even our broken ones, at auction for wads of money, we’d lose the parts of ourselves made wiser, more humane, by the wounds of shattered fantasies as well. We can’t bring the idealistic teacher or the scrappy little puppy back from cosmic sacrifice, no matter how much we want to. We can only learn from our mistakes and try to be better the next time. Learn to value life and dignity over dreams of opulence and arrogance and transcendence.
I want to tell them both they mattered, not because they died in fame, rather because they lived.