Wesley Crusher was my best friend. Secretly, I wanted his mom to adopt me. And I was patiently waiting on the captain to come to his senses and propose to her.
I knew there were problems with this daydream of mine. Wesley was a few years my senior, but I could look beyond such trivial matters. He was certainly smart enough, he could do the same, and we’d quickly become two peas in an escape pod. I think I must have recognized loneliness in his eyes, or perhaps I focused on him because he was the closest to my age in that realm.
There were a few other slightly more significant problems beyond how well Wesley and I would mesh. These people lived in space. They also lived in the future. And they were all fictional characters.
While my best bud was boldly going where no one had gone before, I was stuck in reality, down in South Mississippi. It was during one of the better times. By “better times” I mean I was still hungry, I didn’t have a pair of shoes that I could call my own, and I was being abused, but someone had donated a medium-sized television to us and I got to have the old small television in my room.
Every evening, sometimes earlier in the day, whenever my stepfather “got tired of looking at” me (usually the second we finished eating our off-brand ramen or potted meat & saltine supper), I’d be sent away. But not before my mother would require a kiss on the cheek and an “I love you.” I hated that tradition. Looking back, it was quite the psychotic power move coming from her.
My “room” moved around the trailer depending on who was staying with us at the time. Sometimes it was in the small room (literally a door-less closet with a little rectangular window), other times it was the living room sofa, and occasionally it was the only actual bedroom. I think they liked it when I was in the room with the door even more than I did. First, it was easier for them to forget about me behind a door. Second, it helped me abide by—and them to enforce—the number one rule: don’t come out of your room after you’ve been sent away.
This worked out well for me. I felt so lucky. I remember shutting the door and waiting, quietly in the dark, pretending to be asleep. Eventually, the adults would blitz out on opioids and alcohol for their “back pain” and zone out to whatever trash would amuse them for the evening and forget I was alive.
I was mostly deaf. I didn’t need the volume to be turned up very high since I could read lips. As long as no one was going all Mommy-dearest on me with a coat hanger for eating something not allotted to me or for flinching at an unwanted touch, or the like, and I didn’t draw attention to myself with lights or noise, I was left alone.
When I felt it was safe, I would tip-toe over to the television (because everyone can feel every step in a small, rusted-out mobile home) and turn it on. One hour a week, pure joy came to me in the form of an alternate reality: Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I hadn’t watched much television as a child. I’d only watched a few cartoons and soap operas, and those were only when I stayed with my great-grandmother. Occasionally, my mother would allow me to watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Bob Ross, or a PBS cooking show before she’d kick me out of the house for the day, but it wasn’t often. I had never watched the original Star Trek. I wasn’t familiar with the concept, the terminology, or anything Star Trek related. But oh, how I would learn.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was there for me for years. I grieved the episodes I would miss due to a lack of television or a lack of electricity and rejoice over rebroadcasts. I was plagued with nightmares, but I slept more soundly on the nights my soul was salved with my fictional friends’ latest adventures.
Their world was warm, accepting, and intelligent. I clung to the hope these people brought into my life: hope for a future full of grace and dignity; hope for a future with endless possibilities and knowledge at my fingertips; and hope for a life beyond poverty and pain—that included endless mounds of chocolate and cups of Earl Grey. Star Trek saved me.
In my teen years, since I was working several jobs at one time, recordable VCR tapes became invaluable to me, as was Blockbuster Video, since going to the movies was a luxury I could rarely afford. I was eventually able to watch all of my beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation rebroadcasts, the original Star Trek series, and all of the movies.
While the original Star Trek was not my favorite series (I’m the ‘dance with the one who brought you’ type), Spock would become, and remain, my favorite character.
As an adult, I was living a completely different life—a good life. I worked hard to get away from the circumstances that surrounded my childhood.
Eventually, I started a family with a wonderful partner. It was after the birth of my second child that I would come to, once again, find myself in need. I was going through a particularly difficult battle with postpartum depression at the same time we were dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Although I was getting professional help and trying different medications, I was still in a bad place.
Sometime before the hurricane hit, my Dora The Explorer-obsessed toddler had watched all of her DVDs at our local Blockbuster, so we signed up to rent DVDs via mail through Netflix. Sometime after the hurricane, while scrolling through the rental options on their website, I was delighted to see a series I had not been able to watch or rent up until that point. I dropped the first DVD of season one into my online queue and got it in the mail a week or so later.
Star Trek: Voyager was a beautiful respite from the turmoil going on inside my head and in my hometown. It was not only inspirational to watch a woman in command, but the parallels between her crew being stranded so far away from a home they would surely never see again and the MS Gulf Coast dealing with the certainty it would never feel like home again in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was not lost on me.
It was heartening each time the Voyager crew was bumped closer to home, as were the slow, but steady milestones we hit in rebuilding our home and the Coast. The MRE food and coffee would eventually be replaced with real food just like the rations would eventually be replaced with Neelix’s cooking and particles from a nebula. A new roof would replace the “blue roof” (temporary FEMA tarp) just like the Radio Flyer would replace the shuttle. What we all lost and gained along the way would shape us in unimaginable ways. And eventually, with the help of my partner and my doctor, I would come out of my depression sometime before the starship came out of the Borg conduit. Again, Star Trek saved me.
The years following Hurricane Katrina ended up being the best years of my life. I had another child (with whom I was pregnant when I waddled into the theater to see Chris Pine play Captain Kirk); I finished college and law school; I traveled to France and England (where my son took a picture with wax museum Sir Patrick Stewart); and I got a dog. These were all things that would have seemed like pipe dreams to my teenage self (who had to occasionally live in a tiny red hatchback).
It was also during those post-Katrina years that I was able to share my love of all things Star Trek with my children. Together, we celebrated new movies and characters; and together, we lamented our fictional losses, and grieved for the real actors who passed.
Some thirty years after I first watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, and fifteen years after watching Star Trek: Voyager, darkness has once again invaded my life. This time, however, it is not in my home or in my head. This time, the darkness comes in the form of a global pandemic.
It is the kind of thing that requires individuals to be considerate of others; therefore, unsurprisingly, humanity is kind of sucking at it and succumbing to it at epic levels. Our family is at-risk. As of November 1, 2020, we have been in isolation for over eight months. It has been Earth’s own “Year of Hell Part 1.”
While I am eternally grateful for Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, the language makes those two shows kind of difficult to watch with younger children. My youngest especially has become quite the trekkie, so it has been hard to tell him those were off-limits. However, he’d never seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it might be the only Star Trek series I had not watched all the way through, let alone rewatched. And so, we were really excited to begin the show. Recently, the show morphed into a “reward” for us. To keep us active while we are housebound, we watch an episode or two while we rotate between our pieces of gym equipment.
Again, I see parallels between my life and the show. Like the characters on the space station, I feel isolated. I think I have backup coming, though some days it seems lightyears away. I am far away from normal life and uncertain about what is coming our way. But I am not alone. I am here with people I love, who care about me. We’re learning and thriving thanks to technology, we’re successfully growing organic life in a nearly hostile environment, and we’re hopeful about the future despite the life-threatening forces surrounding us. We’ve even started watching baseball. Like the others before it, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been a joy and a highlight during dark days.
How do you explain to the world that characters from fictional cosmos helped a child navigate the depths of despair and come out on the opposite end of the spectrum from complete misery? How do you describe the relief a parent felt when a reminder of those cosmos brought her back to herself from the brink of darkness? How does a weary sailor express gratitude to a lighthouse?
How do I tell friends from my daydreams how much they meant to me?
One of the first terms I learned as a Latin student in college was astra nauta. It translates to star sailor. The phrase instantly became my favorite; it was a reminder of the fictional people I treasured. My star sailors.
I hope my son thinks back on these days and remembers our enthusiasm for this other universe. I hope he understands that what I’m sharing with him—this peculiar pastime—is what healed me, strengthened me, and gave me hope at the most crucial and vulnerable points in my life. It’s why Spock’s standard blessing—”live long and prosper”—still means something to me to this day. I certainly will never forget the moments when Star Trek saved me. I have lived longer than I expected and prospered more than I could have ever imagined.