Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Star Trek Saved My Life

I started writing this post a few months ago, and finished it then. For some reason, I just couldn't press the "Publish" button. Eh... I say "for some reason," but I know very well the reason: you're all going to think I'm nuts.


I should warn you, this is going to be an incredibly long post. Incredibly. Long. (I'll pause here for the "that's what she said" jokes). I've written and re-written this about a dozen times, and I simply can't condense it down. So I've...given up on trying. You've been warned. When you get to the end, no whining about how long it took to read - after all, you're the one who stuck around.

I've never been secretive about my childhood and the things I went through. I've talked candidly about the emotional, mental, and sexual abuse. I've never held my tongue about my attempted suicide. I've always thought that if everyone would just open up and admit their feelings and what they were going through, the world would be a better place. We'd learn we weren't as alone as we often feel. Being public with things like that spurs a lot of questions - people want to understand the thought processes, the emotions, the actions. I've had people ask what it was like to contemplate suicide - what was it like making the decision, how had I planned to do it, why had I chosen that method, etc. I have, of course, answered them. For the most part, I'll answer anything.

But there's one question I've been asked over and over, which I've steadfastly refused to answer, and that's the question of "how did you cope with what happened to you, when it was happening on a daily basis?" How did I deal with the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse dolled out by my parents?

I've never answered that question.

Part of my reasoning is that I'm not sure anyone would really take the answer seriously. The other part - the larger part - is because for years that coping mechanism was my shield. It was the one thing that protected my mind and my heart, the one thing that kept me sane.

I've kept my closely guarded secret - clutched it close for all these years. But now, it's time to talk about it.


Well, for one, everyone who knows me is aware of my motto of "If you can help, you should. If you can and you don't, you're part of the problem." I can, maybe. Maybe someone will read my story and pass it along, and it will help someone else.

And two... I owe two people a long, long overdue "thank you," though those words hardly seem enough in the face of what I have to be thankful for. I'm bound and determined to find some way to let them know.

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy saved my heart, my sanity, and my soul - they saved my life.

I lost my father when I was eighteen. Now, I know you're confused about that, because if you know me at all, you're thinking "Wait a sec, you were well into your twenties!" And you'd be right - my *biological* father died in... Hell, I don't even remember what year he died. But I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about the man who claimed my heart the first time I saw him. I'm talking about Captain James T. Kirk.

Now, I know what you're thinking. But quit rolling your eyes at me and don't stop reading. Just, please, bear with me. I promise, I'll make it all make sense.

I remember the first episode of "Star Trek" I ever saw - "The Devil in the Dark." For those not in the know, that's the one where they discover the Horta - the alien that can move through rock. Anyhow, I was hooked. Not just on the show concept, but specifically I was hooked on Kirk. The more episodes I watched, the more I became convinced that the people I knew as "men" in my life, the people who claimed to be "men", couldn't hold a candle to this character. He was strong, passionate, caring, gentle, kind, handsome, loyal - everything I wanted in a father. Everything my father wasn't.

Captain Kirk never would've hurt me, never would've reveled in my tears. I was captivated. Hook. Line. Sinker.

So... and here comes the part where you'll question my sanity... I created this fantasy in my head where I was Captain Kirk's daughter.

In real life, I learned to raise my left eyebrow. I went around saying "fascinating." I tried my hardest to suppress my emotions - to try and not let people get to me, to not let them get a rise out of me. I failed at that a LOT.

When my father would come home and get drunk and trash the house, screaming and yelling at my mother and I, I'd retreat into that fantasy. I'd listen to the voices in my head, rather than his. It didn't matter what happened in real life - in that fantasy world, things would always be okay. My "dad" and "uncle" would always swoop in and save the day. I could go there anytime, and I would be accepted and loved. The things that made me less than worthy in the real world - being sick, being - later on - queer - wouldn't matter at all to my "real" family.

When I heard my father's footsteps in the dead of night, approaching my bedroom door, I'd retreat into that fantasy. I'd imagine myself waking up in my room on the Enterprise, and Captain Kirk would be there, telling me it was all a bad dream - that I was safe, and to just close my eyes and go back to sleep.
When I couldn't get to sleep for worrying about what might happen after I closed my eyes, I'd lay there an imagine my "Uncle" Bones reading me a story, or my "Aunt" Uhura softly singing me to sleep.

And when the all too real touch of reality brushed me, I'd ask myself "What would Kirk do? What would Spock do?"

Kirk would rally till his last breath. Never giving up, he would make his enemy take what they wanted - he'd give nothing freely, never surrender, never make it easy.

When I lacked that kind of strength, either emotionally or physically, I'd ask myself "What would Spock do?"

Spock would examine the logic of the situation. Would his resistance matter, or would the torture ensue regardless? Would it make more sense to expend energy in struggle, or save it - take the punishment with quiet dignity, understanding that he was not the sum of the situation?

There were many times when I took that route. Many times, indeed.

The older I got, the more I realized just exactly how different I was - bisexual and (at one point) transgender - the more I identified with my "uncle" Spock. Neither of us fully accepted by either of the societies to which we belonged (he Vulcan and Human, myself straight and queer - the bisexual hate I encountered was overwhelming at times) - but both of us unconditionally accepted by Kirk and the crew. At least, I thought I would be. I knew I'd fit in on that ship. I just...knew it.

Along the way somewhere, my parents must've noticed my obsession, because I stared getting bombarded with "it's just a show" and at one point my father broke my television with his bare fists because he was angry over always hearing about television. (It should be noted here, that I lived an hour from town by car, and was allowed no friends and no social life. I'm not sure exactly what he expected me to do, other than watch TV.)

Of course, I always knew it was a fantasy. I never actually thought I was someone else's daughter. I'm the spitting image of my father - something my mother was always far too happy to pound into my head. I knew I'd never board the Enterprise, never play 3-D chess with my Uncle Spock. Hell, I can barely get through a game of regular chess! But I kept my security blanket with me in my mind.

When I was eighteen, "Generations" came out on VHS - or as I refer to it "The Movie That Shall Not Be Named."  I eagerly watched it, but toward the end, the plot became clear. Kirk...was going to die. (I knew the initial scene with his "death" couldn't be real, because he couldn't go out that easily, so, though worried, I kept watching and waiting for him to reappear.) But when I finally realized what they meant to do... I remember turning the VCR off in a frenzy. I sat there, starting at that blank screen, unable to move, unable to breathe. He was going to die. The single most influential man in my life was about to die right in front of my eyes and I was powerless. This wasn't like when my Spock had died, and I'd just grabbed the next movie and *poof* there he was. This...was final.

Insane? Crazy? Childish? Probably, on all counts.

For a week I avoided the movie. I avoided the TV in general. I wouldn't go near it. I began to feel guilty, though. This man had been there with me through so much, I'd drawn on his strength so many times. Didn't I owe him mine? Shouldn't I be by his side for those final minutes, shouldn't I bare witness to that?

Yeah, I know. Very melodramatic.

I resumed the movie where I'd left off. I cried and cried. I bawled my eyes out. I had no idea how the movie actually ended. I was too focused on my loss. How would life be in the next few minutes? In the coming hours, days, weeks, months, years? What would I do without that guidance, that strength? I sat there well after the credits had ended, still crying. Bereft. Like being in a rowboat tossed on an ocean in the middle of a hurricane, with no way to find land.

::nods:: Uh-huh. I know it's all ridiculous. Dead or alive, a character is a character. A make believe person who doesn't really exist. Try to remember, though, I was still a kid, really. A kid who'd never had any support, a kid who'd been tortured. Literally. Tortured. A kid who'd been forced to grow up too fast, who tried to put up a bravado, but underneath it all, I was still just a scared kid.

To this day, I can't watch that movie.

To this day, I still stop and ask myself, "What would Kirk do?" and then "What would Spock do?"

Sometimes, I still fall woefully short of living up to *either* of them.

And to this day, when someone says something on the order of "it's just a show," I feel the angry desperation of that little kid I used to be. For me, it's not just a show - it never was, and it never will be. 

But there you have it. My coping strategy, in a nutshell. Of course, none of the characters nor the people who played them were perfect. I never thought they were. Everyone is flawed. But they were supremely less flawed than what I had to work with.

I mourned Gene Roddenberry's passing in 1991 (just two days after my birthday) keenly because he had given me my family - not just my imaginary "dad" and "uncle", but all my "aunts" and "uncles". I loved every last one of them as if they were my own kin. Oddly, Gene Roddenberry was kind of like a God to me. Not "GOD" (don't go all "blasphemer!!!!" on me now), but in a way... he really kinda was, if you think about it. And it really kinda makes sense for a kid growing up the way I did to deify him. Which is *really* ironic, considering his views on religion in general.

I once wrote a letter to Gene Roddenberry, thanking him for making Star Trek, and telling him how important it was to me, and gave it to my mom to mail. I was around 10. I don't even know if that letter went into the mail or the kitchen trash can, and even if it did go zinging off to Hollywood, I've no doubt it ended up with an incomprehensibly large heap of others, which never had any hope of being read by any normal human being.

When the word lost DeForest Kelley in 1999, and then James Doohan in 2005...God Lord. Don't even get me started on how much I cried...for days and days. They'd passed before I'd been able to tell them what a difference they and Star Trek had been in my life.

And even now, my gratitude will probably never reach its destination. I plan on attending some conventions, but let's face it - time with actors is limited, and Leonard Nimoy no longer attends them. I could Tweet this to them - maybe I will. Odds of it being seen are pretty low, though.

But, to the point of writing this whole thing, even if it's never seen, here goes:

I'd like to say thank you. They're two of the simplest words, but they're all I have, and I hope the emotion behind them comes through.

Without Star Trek, I'd surely have lost my grip, however tentative it sometimes was, on reality. Without that shield, the abuse would've overtaken me, claimed my heart, soul, and mind as it often did my body. I haven't done many monumental things in my life, but the things I've done I've enjoyed and cherished, and that's all because of Star Trek.

So to Mr. Shatner and Mr. Nimoy - you saved my life. You will never truly know the impact you had on me. You will never know how your presence - fictional though it was - made the cold, dark nights bearable, and made the long, endless days of fear something I found the courage to live through. You will never know how that terrified little kid I was looked up to the characters you portrayed. You will never know the joy I felt sitting and watching the one bright thing I had in my life. You will never know how my heart skips a beat even now when I see Kirk or Spock. You will never know how it hurts when people insult Trek.

I know stories of people who became engineers because of Scotty, or doctors because of McCoy. I didn't do anything as grand as that, but I am who I am, however flawed, because of Star Trek.

No comments:

Post a Comment