My Grandpa Rodgers’ health had been declining for the past few years.
In 2008, about six months after I’d separated from the Air Force, he suffered a stroke. Since I’d moved back to California after my military career ended, visiting him at the hospital in Fontana was relatively easy. Seeing him in that state, however, was not.
As 2006 opened, my friends brought me along to a New Year’s party on the Strip, to help get my mind off everything that had happened over the past year.
The weekend, of course, brought new challenges to the brand new year. My dorm room shared a bathroom with the room next door, and my neighbor and I hosted a small party in my room. He, unfortunately, had too much to drink. When he insisted on trying to drive one of the girls back to her dorm, two blocks away, she and I both told him that he wouldn’t be driving anywhere that night, and took his keys away to make sure of it. His thinking process was clearly impaired, because his response was to dive headfirst off the second floor balcony at the end of the hallway where our dorm rooms were located.
In August, not long after I’d returned from summer camp with the Boy Scouts, the annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention came around again. This would be my third year attending the convention, and this year, I would enter the costume contest.
Wearing a custom-made and fitted uniform from the movie era of the original Star Trek–specifically, the 2280s and ’90s, as seen in the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through the first act of Star Trek: Generations–I made my way to the Las Vegas Hilton. The contest wasn’t until later in the day, so I wandered the convention area. I’d tried to make the costume as accurate as possible. Heads turned everywhere I went. People wanted to get their photo taken with me. Some people even thought I worked at Star Trek: The Experience.
After spending the holidays with my family, I took my car, which had been sitting in my mom’s driveway in Iowa since I had left for Basic Training in August, and drove myself back to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. I returned a couple days early, so I didn’t have to go back to my classes immediately. I was nearly finished with my training; only a few more tasks remained ahead of me.
I wanted to be a scientist when I was a boy. To be an astronaut was even better: they were scientists who got to go into space! Of course, I had other dreams as well: writer, teacher, even becoming a priest… well, at least until I discovered girls. The desire to someday become a father outweighed the boyhood interest in the priesthood and its accompanying celibacy. All these dreams had a unifying pattern: they were all professions of highly intelligent people that I respected and admired.