March 9, 2003
Walking Across Plasma Fire


A bunch of years ago -- eight or seven or nine years ago, to be technically imprecise: I was drinking heavily then, and I wasn't journaling regularly, and a lot of the stuff that happened during those years sort of blurs together in my memory -- I accidentally ended up watching an episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

I say "accidentally," not because I have anything against Star Trek -- I like Star Trek just fine, as a matter of fact, although to tell you the truth I've always been more of a Jean luc Picard fan than a Benjamin Sisko fan or a James T. Kirk fan or a whatever-Kate-Mulgrew's-character's-name-was fan -- but "accidentally" because watching television was something I didn't do a lot of, in those days. Mostly what I did in those days was sit in front of the computer, night after night, and wait for Mr. Right to show up in the Baby Boomer Chat Room. (And if Mr. Right didn't show up, then I'd uncork another box of cheap chablis and make do with Mr. OK-For-Now.) So it was unusual for me to be unplugged from the computer long enough to be watching TV at all, let alone an entire episode of Deep Space Nine. To this day, I have no idea how I ended up watching the show that night. Maybe I saw a commercial for that particular episode and thought it looked intriguing. Maybe I read about it in TV Guide. Maybe I was boycotting The Boom Room until they stopped using those goddamn balloon macros.

For whatever the reasons, though ... I watched.

The premise of the episode, as I remembered it, was this: the Joined Trill character, Jadzia Dax (played by Terry Farrell), is unexpectedly reunited with a fellow Joined Trill, Lenara Kahn. Many incarnations previously, Dax and Kahn had been husband and wife. Their marriage had ended under tragic circumstances, and even after multiple subsequent lifetimes, the symbiont entities residing within the Jadzia and Lenara hosts still loved each other as husband and wife. The kicker, of course -- besides the fact that they're both currently female -- is that Trill society strictly forbids Joined Trills to associate with loved ones from their past lives ... even/especially former spouses. The penalty for such reassociation is permanent exile from the planet, and the death of the symbionts. 

Dax and Lenara fight their feelings of love and attraction for most of the episode -- I'm sure that the big girl-on-girl kissing scene probably created quite a *stir* when it first aired -- but near the end of the episode there is this huge, calamitous shipboard accident, and the Lenara character is nearly killed. Dax risks life and limb and perfect Maybelline to cross a field of plasma fire to save Lenara. When the two of them are safe, Dax takes Lenara in her/his arms and vows never to leave his/her beloved wife, ever again.

"Never again!" Dax says, holding Lenara's face and looking into her eyes. "I will never leave you again!" 

It was the expression on the Dax character's face -- the passion and conviction in her/his voice, the willingness to give up everything to be with this person -- that pushed all of those buttons in me, I think. In that moment, I completely forgot that I was watching a female actress playing a female Star Fleet officer hosting a male symbiont.

All I heard/saw/felt was this guy who was crazy in love with his wife.

When the show was over, I just sat there on the living room floor for a few minutes, devastated ... unable to move or speak or think or do much of anything besides blubber uselessly into my lukewarm chablis. I wasn't crying because Dax and Lenara do, in fact, end up parting from each other again -- this is Star Trek, after all, and characters are contracturally obligated do The Right Thing.  (Plus at that point Terry Farrell still had another four or five seasons to go before her character was killed off the show.) It was terribly sad, but I saw it coming from light-years away. I was crying primarily because of the sudden, depressing realization that nobody was ever, ever, ever in a bazillion years going to feel that way about me.

Even/especially the person I was married to.

This was a pretty thorny issue for me at the time. It was either just before or just after the Great Online Affair That Went Kablooey (And Took My Marriage With It) -- (see: drinking heavily/no regular journal/everything blurs together) -- and at that time there seemed to me no greater tragedy than going through the rest of my life without knowing true love. It wasn't just regular garden-variety marital love that I craved, either -- although that would have been a vast improvement over what I'd lived with for the last fifteen years -- but Big Romantic Love. Forever Love. True Love. Love that endures wars and centuries and tragedies and walking across plasma fire to save the symbiont spouse you'll love until the end of time.

I wasn't going to be having any of that, apparently.

And that's why I was crying ... and why I continued to cry, every time I thought about that stoopid TV program, for days and weeks afterward.

I never saw that episode of Deep Space Nine again, although for years I passively looked for it, whenever I was checking out late-night TV listings or flipping through sale videos at Blockbuster. After a while, the details of the episode faded a little around the edges. Some of the pain receded, and it eventually became in my memory nothing more than a sad, sweet, interesting little TV show that I watched once and never forgot. And of course eventually my life spun off in a wholly unexpected direction -- I got divorced, I got sober, I got married again -- and I forgot all about the Star Trek episode that had so thoroughly unravelled me, years earlier. Until a couple of weeks ago, that is, when I was browsing for old ABC Movies-of-the-Week on Half.com, and all of a sudden I remembered the Star Trek episode. I didn't know how to search for it, exactly, so I just typed the words Terry Farrell Star Trek reunited former wife into the search engine ... and boom. There it was.

Episode #78, "Rejoined." Original air date: 10/30/95.

I ordered it right on the spot. I didn't even stop to think about it. It wasn't until the order had been placed, and my credit card numbers sucked up into the great yawning nonrefundable maw of Half.com, that I started to feel ever-so-slightly oogly about the whole thing. Some things are better in memory, after all, than they are upon subsequent viewings. (Ever run into your sophomore Prom date at the hardware store, twenty years after the fact?) What if the episode sucked? What if it turned out to be the stoopidest, suckiest, most ridiculous Star Trek episode in the history of Star Trek episodes? Worse still: what if it stirred up all kinds of weird complicated longings and feelings and memories that I'd long since resolved?

I would never know, of course ... unless I watched it.

The video arrived at my office earlier in the week, wrapped in the clichéd plain brown wrapper. While I was signing for the delivery, the UPS guy kept giving me this fishy look. (Trying to spice up the ol' marriage, are ya, Lady?) Or at least I imagined that he was giving me a fishy look: the truth is that he probably gave my plain brown package no more thought than he gives to the 43,897,621 OTHER plain brown packages he delivers every single day, to people a lot fishier-looking than *me.* Still, I felt sort of guilty and weird and nervous about the whole thing, and as soon as I'd signed for the video I immediately dropped the package into my bottom desk drawer, unwrapped, where nobody would see it and ask about it and offer to plug it into the conference room VCR for our lunch hour entertainment. At the end of the day I slipped it into my computer bag and smuggled it into the apartment and hid it under a pile of magazines on the floor, next to my side of the bed. I didn't tell David that it had arrived. I think I wanted to watch it once or twice or eleven times, by myself, before I forced him to sit through it. Every once in a while I would pull the video out from under the pile of magazines and look at it longingly ... but I just couldn't bring myself to watch it. 

Finally, one night while David was safely out of the apartment for an hour running a family errand, I said "Whut the hell" and popped the video into the VCR. The longer I postponed this, the Bigger A Deal I was making it into. At first I told myself I was only going to watch the first ten minutes -- just long enough to make sure that it was the right episode, and to watch the previews of coming attractions, and to remind myself what everybody looked like -- but once it started, of course, I couldn't stop. I gulped down the whole episode in one big, eager, ravenous swallow -- without commercials, it only ran about 41 minutes -- and when it was over, I just sat there on the bed for a few minutes, unable to move or speak or think or do much of anything besides blubber uselessly into my lukewarm Diet Squirt. I was still sitting there when David came home.

He took one look at my face -- all wet and crumpled and shell-shocked -- and he knew. "You watched your video, didn't you?" he said.

I nodded.

I hadn't expected to react to the show so viscerally, after all this time. I'm older now. I'm smarter. I'm sober. I'm more emotionally evolved. But in spite of all that -- in spite of all the progress I've made in the past eight or seven or nine years -- I think it hit me even harder this time. Maybe because I eventually found that Big Romantic True Forever Love I always craved, but only after I'd finally stopped looking for it ... or because somewhere along the way I figured out that True Love isn't something that's just handed to you because you 'crave' it: it's something you have to earn and nurture and cherish and struggle to protect, every single day you're alive ... or because now I understand precisely how devastating it would be to be separated from it.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I couldn't wait." And then I just sort of fell apart.

If this were any other marriage -- if David were any other husband -- he might have seen this as the perfect opportunity to poke fun at me: at my tears, at my sappy sentimental streak, at my complete lack of self-control, at my hideously bad taste in TV shows. He could have yelled at me for watching the video without him ... or *reminded* me that I can't afford to rack up any more credit card debt, buying dumb unnecessary stuff like Star Trek videos ... or scolded me for buying VHS when we're considering the leap to DVD. There are any number of ways that he could have used this situation to make me feel bad. That's the way it's gone in previous lifetimes, after all.

Instead, he sat down on the bed next to me, picked up the remote control and hit the rewind button. "You don't mind watching it again, do you?" he said. And then he leaned over and kissed my wet crumply stoopid face.

I swear, on everything I hold dear and precious and true in this life, that I would walk across a field of plasma fire for this man. I would risk life and limb and perfect Maybelline to save him from wormhole collapse or parallel flange indicator failure. And if, god forbid, we are parted by war or centuries or unforeseen tragedy, now or at any time in the future, and are reunited five or ten or a thousand incarnations from now ... I swear I will recognize him in a heartbeat, and do anything to be with him, and love him just as much as I love him today.

Even if he comes back looking like Terry Farrell.





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not that there's anything WRONG with looking like terry farrell ...