We were all good girls before we touched the moon rock.
Until then, we were sewing patch pockets on our midi skirts. Phyllis Brown still wore her tiny pre-engagement ring. We made curfew and seldom smoked. It was the year after a man had walked on the moon, and our school was already changing its name to Edwin Eugene Aldrin High.
We had taken a bus to the Kennedy Space Center that fall. Some of us used the satellite display’s photovoltaic solar panels to touch up our lipstick and tease our hair. All of us girls touched the moon rock. It seemed impossible that we’d ever go to space ourselves. The boys were too busy trying out the gyroscope and making cracks about how Betty Conley’s brassiere resembled rocket boosters.
At home, our mothers seemed to have already embraced the space age. Dinners were in preportioned in aluminum trays. Tang ensured sufficient vitamin C. Our Jell-O desserts were topped with whipped cream from an aerosol can. In Home Ec class, however, we were learning scratch cooking and the correct order for washing dishes.
We had edged our aprons in rickrack to the comforting hum of a half-dozen Singer sewing machines. We had cried when the meringues were not perfectly sealed on our Baked Alaskas and we pulled humiliating hot puddles from the ovens. Our culinary training was intended to prepare us for the happy domesticity of marriage and motherhood. Without it, how would we have known the proper ratio of shortening to all-purpose flour? How to rub a white candle across a recipe card to make it waterproof?
But our fingers didn’t function the same way when we’d returned from our field trip. Sheila Ann overcooked Swedish meatballs so badly that even Danny McKenzie wouldn’t taste one—and he’d been carrying her books for almost a year. Peggy Picklesimer, who we’d thought couldn’t wait to get married and change her surname, said that she didn’t give a damn if her poor preserving gave a man botulism. And, if the attention that Betty’s rockets got wasn’t already enough, she went absolutely crazy with the electric shears. She cut two feet of corduroy of her midi and made it a mini that she wore proudly with patent leather boots.
Right during class, Phyllis pulled back one pink rubber glove and tossed her ring into the dish suds. She’d pulsed the disposal and the racket was terrible. When we’d asked her what had happened with her and Johnny, she’d only say that there had to be more to look forward to than living above a gas station and making a week’s worth of meals from one pound of ground beef.
After the moon rock, we’d smoked more, colluding behind the bleachers and loitering at the A&W or Dairy Queen. We had to wash our hair every night. We started saying no to boys we didn’t care for and yes, oh yes to boys we did. We asked them out on dates and dances even if it wasn’t Sadie Hawkins Day.
We started raising our hands in math class. Some of us asked to switch from Home Ec to Shop.
We teased our hair to structurally-inadvisable silhouettes and hid cigarettes inside. Or, we didn’t, and grew it down past our derrieres and didn’t care if we styled it in new and interesting ways. Sometimes, our handbags did not even match our shoes.
Back in Home Ec, we made a tunnel of fudge cake and ate the whole thing without utensils. Like animals.
We were happy sometimes and scared others. We felt skinny in our new jeans until we didn’t. We wanted something different — and sometimes we knew what it was and sometimes we didn’t have a clue. Sometimes, after the moon rock, we felt so very angry that our eyes turned to black pools and we wanted to take a seam ripper to everything.
We thought perhaps the lunar basalt gotten under our skin. Perhaps it was a chemical reaction that made us feel everything more deeply. How could we have known?
How could we have known that those tiny silver ships were already here? So fiercely economical in their aluminum packaging. It wasn’t Stouffer or Swanson that had sent them to us after all. Those space age meals, in the safety of our home freezers, had propelled themselves to Earth. The reflective lids had leveraged the sun’s strength to rocket across the solar system. And every night that we didn’t cook from scratch, we’d ingested the alien organisms disguised as Salisbury steak and Polynesian chicken surprise. They were sent to change us from the inside out.
Listen to We All Shine On through The Story Coterie podcast.