Sometime way back in middle school, my stepmom wrote me a letter. Knowing my love for Star Trek, she addressed it to "Admiral Amanda Kooser." I was horrified.
Like Kirk, I didn't want to be a pencil pusher. I wanted to be a captain, walking the bridge of a starship, exploring the great frontiers of space. In all my Star Trek dreams, I was Capt. Amanda Kooser.
Looking back, adult me knows I was a crazy kid. But that Star Trek-loving child never really left. I just got older and a little wiser, and my relationship with the iconic sci-fi series evolved.
I can't believe I didn't do it sooner, but I finally attended my first Star Trek convention. And it was a whopper. The 50th anniversary convention in Las Vegas this past week had everything: a replica of the original Enterprise bridge, Borg-assimilation photo ops, thousands of fans, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Quark's Bar and lots and lots of tribbles.
Younger me would have wept with joy. Older me very nearly did.
There was a moment of quiet on Saturday night before the costume contest, which was starting a little late. I sat on the floor in front of the stage, hidden from the throngs of fans by a short black curtain. I stretched my legs out and looked up at the huge 50th anniversary Trek logo glowing from above. My entire Star Trek life washed over me in waves:
Ten-year-old me sat in front of a tube television, absorbing every moment of the original show. I studied Spock, tested my Vulcan stoicism. I wanted to be a melding of all the characters. I wanted to embody Scotty's ingenuity, Spock's intelligence, Uhura's strength, Kirk's boldness, McCoy's heart, Chekov's enthusiasm. For a shy child with few friends and the swirling specter of divorced parents, Star Trek became a touchstone, a constant and an aspiration.
Star Trek helped to set my moral compass. The very best of Trek is what I wanted for my own life: a sense of adventure, a love of diversity, a spirit of compassion. At the 50th anniversary convention, I saw all of these qualities on display.
I met fans from around the world. I saw the machinations behind the scenes, from the piles of Sharpies for autograph signings to the many volunteers who helped people find their way around. I shook George Takei's hand and listened as Sulu's voice boomed, telling me my captain's uniform was regulation, but my hair was not.
I marveled at the radiant and genuine warmth of Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from "Deep Space Nine"). I witnessed Walter Koenig's wry practicality (all this fuss over "what was essentially a bit part"). I laughed with Brent Spiner's (Data from "Next Gen") sharp wit. I saw my captain (O Captain! My Captain!) when William Shatner regaled us with stories of pranks played on Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.
These are my people, and far away in the desert oasis of a Las Vegas hotel, I was home.
There were funny moments, like when a security person didn't want to let a colorful-sweater-wearing Wesley Crusher cosplayer join the costume parade because she didn't think he was in costume. It all got sorted out.
There were moments of beauty, like when a woman told Kate Mulgrew about how "Voyager" helped her survive the darkest time in her life, when she couldn't even leave her house. These are the stories of the fans, of which my own tale is just one silver thread, finely woven into a tapestry of love for Star Trek.
My mother tells me she watched midnight Star Trek reruns while she was pregnant with me and when I was just a baby. Faculty members at the local liberal-arts college made fun of her affection for the series. And she challenged them. "Have you actually watched it?" she asked.
Maybe that's where it all started for me, during those formative moments. I heard the voices of Spock, Kirk, Uhura, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty and Chekov all those years ago and, when I was old enough to understand, I was ready to embrace them all.
Happy anniversary, Star Trek. And thanks, Mom!