And what about the woman closest in the world to knowing how Nowak felt? A woman who loved the same astronaut with a wandering eye, and had as much justification to snap, if not more? That would be Michaella Oefelein. A business manager of a small technology services firm in the Houston area, where she lives with her two children, she'd been married to Bill when he started seeing Nowak. Although hesitant to discuss her role in the ordeal, she wrote in an e-mail, "I met Bill in high school (high school sweethearts), we went to college together, and the rest is history. I am a devout Christian woman, and I think that plays heavily on how I conduct my life and choices. So, I couldn't see myself reacting the way Lisa did. I have God, my children, family, and myself to answer to."

Like Bacha, in the moment of crisis Michaella Oefelein remembered how she mattered beyond what she meant to a man.

Something else that may save one from a disastrous reaction after being dumped is a sense of humor. The joke comedian Brett Butler used to tell comes to mind. Poking fun at the waifs in the Calvin Klein fragrance commercials, she'd say, "Honey, you don't know anything about obsession. Obsession is scrambling around in the bushes outside a married man's house after midnight with a machete in one hand and a jar of Vaseline in the other."

Humor allows one to step back from the abyss just long enough to gain a little perspective and channel murderous fantasies into a more creative, harmless avenue. It helped one graphic artist who found out her long-distance lover was cheating. Instead of killing him, which she felt like doing, she wrote his obituary, then faxed it to the paper in the small town where he lived.

Few people outside the cloistered society of the astronaut corps understand that world better than Stephen Harrigan. His novel Challenger Park, published in April of last year, about a married female astronaut, Lucy Kincheloe, who has an affair with a fellow astronaut, foretells Lisa Nowak's story with an eerie prescience. Harrigan spent endless hours researching life in and around the Johnson Space Center and could be writing about Nowak in this passage where he describes Lucy contemplating the impossibility of her forbidden love:

Tears did not fall in space. Without gravity, they simply hovered at the rim of Lucy's eyes... She found these little floating globes of sorrow fascinating, the way they lingered and seemed to comment on her passing moments of despair.
"Perhaps there's an element of such control and precision in the astronaut personality that they can be blinded to the fact that they're capable of falling in love," Harrigan says. "In a highly disciplined person, when that facade cracks, it cracks wide open. Maybe it made a difference that Lisa Nowak was an astronaut." In fact, something like this occurred to Billy Oefelein, as well. When detectives asked him if there was a friend Nowak might have shared her heartbroken feelings with, he said, "Lisa is a very private person...I cannot think of anybody that she would confide these things in. I don't know. Maybe that's part of the problem." Ever since he met her in 1996, he said, she'd always been "extremely levelheaded and nonemotional."


Next Story