I (heart) Mr. Spock ~ obsessions

As the other moviegoers exit and the final credits for the last Star Trek movie flash on the screen, I have a realization. I whisper to Steve, my husband, “The only constant thing in my life for the last forty years has been Star Trek.”

“Oh. Great.”

“It’s not a bad thing.”

He just shakes his head. I can see this even in the dimness.

“It started with Spock,” I say. And it did.

1967. In fifth grade my sister Nancy and our neighbour Hannelore play Star Trek. The original TV series is on every Friday night, and we are—before the term was coined—true Trekkies. Nancy plays McCoy or the Nurse, depending on her mood and the needs of our plot. Hannelore plays Captain Kirk. I play Spock. I only play Spock.

We live in an apartment complex in El Monte, California with huge carports dividing throw rug-sized plots of lawn. Behind Hannelore’s apartment, a rectangle of stiff grass and a picnic table serve as the deck of the USS Enterprise. I don’t remember why, but we turn the picnic table on its side to help it function as our control station. To speak, we flip open invisible communicators. Our elaborate plots require lots of arguing and running. When we get tired of make-believe or run out of ideas, we stop for the afternoon and colour in our colouring books. I yearn for a Star Trek colouring book and am truly puzzled that none existed. There are as yet no Star Trek novels, figurines, stickers, or conventions. We point our index fingers at each other and know they are the barrels of laser guns. I wear matching seersucker shorts and tops and pretend it is regulation Starfleet attire. I hold my body still, my face immobile. I am Spock, the Vulcan. I make believe I have no emotions.

1968. We move that year, one town away, to Rosemead. We have changed houses and schools nearly every year since I can remember. I am a sixth-grader: Mom packs a baloney sandwich and a Ding Dong for my lunch which I carry in a saggy brown sack or in my Lost in Space lunch box. There are no Star Trek lunchboxes. The series is, in fact, cancelled and off the air. It’s not even in reruns yet. Nancy and I play Star Trek with Pam, the adopted Korean girl across the street. She is sometimes on crutches because she has polio. Pam is Captain Kirk; Nancy is McCoy or the Nurse or Kirk when Pam is at Shriners’ Hospital having another operation on her hip. I am Spock. I have the cover of a back-issue TV Guide with Spock’s photo (laser pointed toward camera, that quintessential quizzical look of logic baffled by humans’ irrationality in his eyes) on the back of my bedroom door. I tell Sandy, the lady next door whose house we hang out in, that I am Vulcan.

“How do you know?” she asks with the real seriousness that children respect.

“I have green blood.”

“But you have emotions,” she says, looking me straight in the eyes.

“No. I don’t.”

Sandy smiles. She weighs over 200 pounds and can only fit into what we then called “muumuus.” Her house is messy, and she lets the kids in the neighbourhood come over and play in her front yard. She and her husband want children of their own very much, but that has not worked out.

One day, my mom asks if we’re still playing Star Track. I correct her, but she still doesn’t get it right. And she says Dr. Spock, thinking, I guess, of the famous baby doctor of the fifties.

I don’t tell her I’m Vulcan.

1975. For the first time, I hear of “Trekkies.” The TV show is now in reruns. I am eighteen. I meet an older man named Dave. Then, in an unclear order of events, I lose my virginity to him and fall in love with him. On our one and only real date, he takes me to a matinee of the first Star Trek movie. I am so tired from having sex with him the night before, I fall asleep half an hour into the film.

But do you remember how dull that movie was? It took forever for Spock to go into the nebulous V’Ger.

Later that same year I meet and marry Bob. He loves Star Trek, too. We watch the reruns on TV. Now there are Star Trek comic books and paperbacks, but I don’t read them. I’m not a fanatic. I’m not Vulcan anymore.

1981. I am married to Rodney. We have seen Star Trek II and III. We liked The Wrath of Khan. The best Star Trek movie, however, is The Voyage Home in which the Enterprise crew returns to Earth. It’s actually a comedy. Spock turns out to be the perfect straight man.

The sixties’ reruns are starting to look cheesy, but we watch them anyway. I watch a lot of TV in the eighties. William Shatner is on TJ Hooker now. Shatner is putting on weight, and so am I. I almost never see Leonard Nimoy on TV, but on the rare chance that I do, he looks the same to me. Still slim, pale, and serious looking. Still vaguely Vulcan.

I married Rodney thinking he looked somewhat like Nimoy. Rodney is tall, thin, and has brown, almond-shaped eyes. He is also, however, an alcoholic and a drug user. He has a problem holding onto money. I work as a waitress, watch daytime TV, and read novels.

Nine years later, I am with Jack, a recovering alcoholic, whom I will—of course—eventually marry. He suggests I learn Transcendental Meditation, and we move to Iowa to study at Maharishi International University. The university is still there, in Fairfield, Iowa. I am told by the teachers there that meditation calms the emotions and clarifies the mind. That is exactly what I need.

There are no TVs in the dorms. However, on Friday nights someone has gotten permission for a group of us to use a classroom TV to watch Star Trek: Next Generation. That is the highlight of the week. About thirty or so students show up regularly; some bring popcorn and soda and put their feet up on the seat backs.

The fields turn to puddles and straw, the pathways around campus are ruts of viscous mud, and there are buckets scattered about inside the buildings to catch the multitude of leaks that develop every rainstorm. I am studying hard, and I enjoy college. And I immediately love Next Generation, especially Captain Picard. He does not replace Spock in my heart, but he is admirable and intelligent and has a palpable integrity. I love Thoreau and Emerson and Picard and Spock.

Jack and I agree: some of the characters on Next Generation are awful: Wesley, a sort of boy wonder, and Lieutenant Riker, also known as Number One. Children do not belong on a Starfleet vessel, and Riker is an obvious knock-off of a Kirk-type adventurer without Kirk’s chutzpah. But we both like Data. He’s a quasi-robot built with the capacity for some human characteristics. He actually wants to be more human—the antithesis of Spock. In many shows, Data suffers some ordeal and is thankful for accessing emotion from it. In an emergency, however, he can rummage around among his neural impulses and disconnect his nascent feelings.

2006. All the Star Trek series are available on DVD. I watch Star Trek: Voyager because I like the Borg woman, Seven of Nine. She also shows no emotion. (I have learned to make a distinction recently between has no emotion and shows no emotion.) Captain Janeway is irritating and shrill. I do like the Vulcan on Star Trek: Voyager, but he doesn’t get many scenes. His voice reminds me of Spock’s.

Meanwhile, Shatner’s Captain Kirk has become a parody of himself.

I now teach at a small community college in Lake Tahoe. I have heard that Leonard Nimoy has a house on the other side of the lake.

I have even worked with a man who attends Trek conventions with his two cats dressed in Starfleet uniforms, which he wheels about in a modified baby carriage. His license plate reads: TREKCAT.

I thought I loved Spock because he had no emotions. I had always been a gluey soup of moods, over-reactions, and a hyper-sensitivity that had me crying when I was sad and happy. My parents’ nickname for me was Sarah Bernhardt.

My sister, however, has a different theory. “You loved Spock because he didn’t attach to other peoples’ emotions. He was true to himself no matter what people around him were feeling. You let yourself get dragged into everyone else’s emotions. And that’s hard for you.”

“Yes, of course.” It made me angry with myself, but I couldn’t deny it.

I am married now to Steve. If you have been keeping track, this is marriage number four. Of course, Steve loves Star Trek. When I mention my childhood admiration for Spock, he smiles and says nothing. I want him to know who I am. I want him to see the girl who ran around with her finger pointing a phaser beam set on stun, zapping dangerous unseen creatures. He thinks I am too reactive, that my moods swing too high and too low, too quickly. In spite of my crying jags and my slamming of doors, I want him to see my love of the logical, the non-emotional, the unseen green corpuscles.

Diehard Trekkies don’t approve of the latest movie instalment, Star Trek: A New Beginning.

“It’s not true to Roddenberry protocol,” my Trekkie co-worker proclaims, citing the originator of the first TV series. I am not a Trekkie. I don’t know what Roddenberry protocol is. I loved the movie. I loved Zachary Quinto as young Spock. He’s hot in the way only a Vulcan (okay, half-Vulcan) can be.

Leonard Nimoy is in the new movie too. His old Spock reminds me that I am now fifty-three and have the requisite wrinkles of anyone that age who has not had her face lifted. But internally, of course, neither of us has changed.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock is still true to his Vulcan half. It has worked for him. He has his logic, his Vulcan pinch, and the mind-meld technique to keep him sane and safe. I remember wanting all those tricks for myself. My sister and I were talking about how girls now prefer romances with a fantasy angle—she cited the Twilight series. “They want stories in which they are saved or have a supernatural power to save themselves.”

I understand.

A therapist might surmise that all these years I was looking to marry my own Mr. Spock as a way to gain access to his unique qualities. The men I chose, however, were predictably all too human. Do I want to be Vulcan-like? No, I just want to be safe.

Or maybe I do have a Vulcan half. I can be logical. I teach college courses which require critical thinking. I can save myself from difficult situations by thinking them through. I have been learning—very slowly—to steady my emotions or keep them at bay. I sometimes recognize when my emotions—which I see now were never the enemy—are needed and also when the hard blade of reason must be applied.

Spock is an idea as much as a character. But it is the character that I love. I’m so glad I got to be Spock for those few quick years of growing up.

My blood was green. I was from another world. I didn’t have to feel everything.

It was romantic. It was logical.

Janet Smith has work published or forthcoming in Margie, The Cream City Review, The Valparaiso Poetry Review, Rosebud, Barnwood, Terrain, Eclipse, and The Seattle Review. Her first book of poetry, All of a Sudden Nothing Happened, was published with Wordtech Press in 2010. She is on faculty in the English department at Lake Tahoe Community College, California.