When I was a kid, my parents got married and divorced and married and divorced again. Not to each other. Just the regular kind. The kind that gives you step-parents. And ex-step-parents. And step-siblings. And half-siblings. Have I mentioned that, in these myriad familial combinations, I've been the oldest, the youngest, the only, and the middle child?
Anyway, during one of these times that my mother was married to my soon-to-be-ex-stepfather and my father was married to my soon-to-be-ex-stepmother, I was sent from my mom's to my dad's for Thanksgiving break. My parents met about halfway between North Carolina and Kentucky. The one dropping me off was early, as usual. The one picking me up was late, as usual. My dad finally made it to the McDonald's where my parents shared a few frosty glares and I grabbed my backpack and waited for it all to be over in the passenger seat of my dad's Mazda.
Driving back to Kentucky, my dad blurted out, "You know, the new Star Trek movie is out. Let's pull off and see it."
The movie was Star Trek: First Contact. It's a pretty simple plot, as far as Star Trek movies go. The Borg go back in time to try and prevent Earth's first foray into Warp Travel and the TNG crew shows up to stop them. The crew fanboys over Zefram Cochrane while the Borg Queen seduces Data and Picard goes Full Ahab with the Borg as his white whale.
My relationship with my dad had been pretty rocky since he'd married my stepmom. She loathed me in the most fairy tale way that a stepmother can loathe a stepdaughter. She'd wanted me out of the house so I went and this was my first time back. Thanksgiving? Couldn't I just go stay in a cave with a TV and a bunch of Sailor Moon VHS tapes? This whole thing sounded like the worst idea ever--until my dad mentioned Star Trek.
I still remember walking into the theatre, the walls decorated with paintings of old movie stars. I still remember drinking cherry coke, watching my TV friends on the big screen. I remember crying when the Vulcans emerged from their ship, my dad suddenly throwing his arm around me, squeezing me tight, holding onto me in a way he hadn't done since I was little.
When we left the theatre, it was over. My dad went back to being someone's soon-to-be-ex-husband. We got in the car and drove down a gray ribbon of highway under a gray sky until we got to a gray house where I didn't feel welcome. When my three or four days were up, I went back down the road where the person dropping me off was early and the person picking me up was late then returned to the house where my soon-to-be-ex-stepfather loathed me in the most fairy tale way that a stepfather can loathe a stepdaughter.
But, for that two hours in a strange movie theatre, what I had was magic. Real, fairy tale magic.
In the coming years, when things got worse before they got better, I held onto that memory like a treasure. I knew that I couldn't always connect with the people I loved in the way I wanted, that I couldn't make my life the way I wished it to be, that I couldn't turn the clock back to a time when I felt safe or content. But I knew, deep down, that we were all the same people. We really did love each other and, under the right circumstances, we loved each other openly, with no reservation, hesitation, or fear. Star Trek gave me that gift and I'll never forget it.