If there is anything positive to be gleaned from losing someone you care about, it’s this: for a brief window of time, you remember to appreciate the people you have left.
It’s sort of like when you’re eating a massive bag of popcorn (for those you who have read my blog for years, patiently waiting for me to equate a loved one’s death to snackfood, mazel tov. Your time has arrived). In the beginning, you eat with a sort of abandon, cramming the kernels into your face by the fistful, spilling large quantities all over the movie theater or your car or the exam room at the doctor’s office – wherever you happen to be with your garbage bag full of popcorn.
You can afford to do this. You have all the popcorn and time in the world.
But at some point, you realize your popcorn is running out. You slow down and start to savor every damn piece. You eat them carefully, like a human and not a starved wolverine. When there’s not that much popcorn left, you need to appreciate all of it. You wish you had done this in the beginning, but you were too busy trying to asphyxiate yourself with Pop Secret that you never bothered to take a step back and realize how great it all was.
My dad was sick for a long time. After every visit with him, I’d tell Rand that I was pretty sure that this was the last time I would see him.
“You say that every time we leave Germany.”
“And one of these days, I’m going to be right.”
Now that he’s gone, my world feels … smaller. Even before I knew where Germany was on a map, I knew that that was where he lived. But since he died, it’s like everything has contracted inward. It all feels finite. Like I only have a few pieces of popcorn left, and I’m just trying to appreciate them. (Jesus Christ, I suck at analogies.)
Losing my dad has really made me value the parent I still have.
I called my mom last week, and told her that I wanted to take her to an exhibit at a local museum. I didn’t say which, and my mom didn’t ask. It’s a strange, possibly misguided faith she has in me. When I plan something, she shows up without question.
And whenever she does show up, she’s inevitably wearing an outfit that is either crazy or remarkably similar to what I have on (and yes, I am aware that the Venn diagram of those two things does in fact have a large overlap). I’ve made the mistake of meeting her someplace, and we’ve both shown up wearing the same thing, and absolutely everyone comments on how adorable it is, and asked if we planned it. If anyone thinks that a grown woman and her mother wearing matching outfits is weird, they are kind enough to skirt around it.
On this occasion, she arrived wearing an outfit that I decided was different enough, and didn’t necessitate me changing. But as we walked, I noticed that we both had on similar hats, and the shade of our shirts and our hair was the same, and I noted the similarities between our jeans and genes. I could have gone upstairs and changed my outfit but it wouldn’t have made a difference. You can’t change who you are.
We are halfway to the museum before I tell her where we’re going – to an exhibit dedicated to Star Trek, a show my mother adores. She often tells me I remind her of Mr. Spock, and I have trouble figuring out precisely what that means. The implication is that I’m the logical one, I suppose. And I guess she’s not entirely wrong. In her life, I am.
The person at the ticketing counter hands us stickers for the special exhibit and tells us to put them somewhere visible. I contemplate sticking it onto my giant necklace, and as I am doing so I look up and see my mom placing it firmly on her giant necklace. For a moment, I am frozen by this gesture.
I’m always had a soft spot for Star Trek. While Star Wars regaled me with far off tales of adventure, Star Trek presented me with a vision of what our world could actually be. These were Earthlings, of different backgrounds and nationalities, all working together for the common good of humankind. It’s always made me feel (perhaps irrationally) hopeful. And lately I’ve been in dire need of a bit of hope.
Most of the exhibit consists of costumes and props from the show, including an entire recreation of the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
The buttons on the bridge console are nothing short of quaint.
I have always found speculative science fiction to be delightful, especially when looking at what people decades ago thought the future would look like. Star Trek premiered in 1966, and everything about it feels evocative of the time period. But at the same, setting the show in the future made so many things possible. The idea of a Russian and an American working together on the bridge of a ship was inconceivable at the height of the Cold War. But Pavel Chekov was an integral part of the crew.
And of course, let us not forget: the first interracial kiss on television was between Kirk and Uhura. The story behind it, as told by Nichelle Nichols (who is still luminous at 84, in case you were wondering) is that the script originally called for Spock and Uhura to kiss. And William Shatner, upon reading it, said, “Oh, no. If anyone is going to kiss Nichelle – I mean Uhura – it’s going to be me.”
And of course, I took a photo with Spock’s uniform, because … well, just because.
The exhibit covers all the Star Trek canon – from DS9 to Voyager to the current reboot movies, but most of the focus lies on the original series and The Next Generation. Like its 60s counterpart, TNG‘s vision of the future is tinted by the time in which it was written. It all feels incredibly, delightfully reminiscent of the 1990s. But what shocked me the most was this:
I had never once noticed that the hems of the pants on TNG Starfleet uniforms had triangle cut outs. I was utterly gobsmacked. I mean … this is ridiculous, right? While I found myself preoccupied with that, my mom chimed in with her thoughts.
“You know, I just think it’s weird that in the future you’d wear a one-piece. What if they need to use the bathroom? You have to get undressed.”
And the obvious truth of this was overwhelming. Mom was right.
“They really should have put a zipper or something,” she added.
There are Klingon weapons and costumes, and pieces of the Borg, and a painting that Data did of Spot, his cat.
I walked around, failing to take notes (like always) but still trying to record everything in my memory so I could relay it to you. And so I could relay it to myself. I’m already struggling to recall everything I can about my dad, now that’s he gone. I found myself terrified that I wouldn’t have enough memories left of my mother, either. Even though she’s still very much here.
I hoped she didn’t notice the way I stared at her face, trying to burn every angle of it into my brain. That I kept touching her arm and the fabric of her coat and her hair. I kept sneaking glances at her hand on the train; the square-tipped fingers, reminiscent of my grandfather’s.
My mom liked the exhibit. Which says a lot, because my mom usually doesn’t like things. She’s not a grumpy person or anything, she’s just … sort of unenthusiastic when it comes to activities outside of the home. She likes to decimate her yard in an effort she calls “gardening” and reading about conspiracy theories and cults online. But I think maybe she had fun.
She was really good at being terrified by the Borg.
Here she is getting assimilated:
It seemed weird for me to tie the threads of these stories together, but I found them in a huge knot by the end of it. Time passes, people die. You lose Spock, and McCoy, and Scotty, and your dad. You watch a show set in the distant future – a date that you will definitively not live to see. And you take a look at the world you’re in right now – a future that others wondered about, and a past that others will read about.
I take a breath, and try not to get lost in all of that.
For a minute, I stop, and try to appreciate the people I’m still lucky enough to have.
The Star Trek Exhibit runs through mid February. Tickets to the exhibit cost an extra $10 on top of admission to the museum, which is $25. So … it’s kind of steep. But it’s my mom, and I figured after the month she’s had, she deserved a day out.