by Henry Whittier-Ferguson
Mom was a Trekkie, hardcore. She had all the seasons and movies on VHS, and when DVDs came out she bought those as well, and a new TV to watch them on. Digitally remastered for the twenty-first century, she’d say. She had the stuff too, the books and posters, the figurines clutching tiny phasers, the scale model ships still in their plastic atmospheres, hovering over the mantel. The rest was in a storage unit that she rented after dad said he wanted all that space crap out of the house.
She had been a hippie, or wanted to be, but she had been born a little late and by then there weren’t that many other actual hippies in Tupelo, Mississippi, historical city of gum trees and the birthplace of Elvis, so she told herself it had been a phase, the tie-dye and long blonde braids, the believing in love and peace and humanity united in a transcendental future among the stars. Tupelo’s vision of the future was an extension of a present which itself seemed trapped in the past. Before Jayce and I were born, Mom gave tours around the walk of life, a path circling Elvis’s childhood home. It was comprised of forty two concrete blocks, one for each year of the King’s earthly reign. There was a statue of young Elvis at the thirteenth block to commemorate the year that the Presleys got the fuck outta town, Memphis bound, packed into a ‘39 Plymouth sedan.
Dad made couches. Specifically, he assembled the wooden frames to which the cushions were eventually stapled. It was a good job. Couches put food on the table. Couches paid for all that space crap. Dad was not a bad man. He liked Buster Keaton and carpentry manuals and did not see the value in literature. You need to start thinking about your future, he told me when I turned thirteen, which was his way of saying get a job. That night, Mom let us watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
What stuck in my head was the scene where Khan captures Chekov and Terrell in the desert of Ceti Alpha V and tortures them with brain parasites. You see, the young enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex, says Khan, gesticulating with his forceps, the larvae writhing in his bowl. This has the effect of rendering the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion. Later, as they grow, follows madness, and death.
I ended up working on a chicken farm, distributing feed to hens in cages. This involved a quiet resignation on my part, and I came to understand why my father had no patience for imaginings. Jimmy Pickett, the man who owned the chicken farm, refuted evolution, refusing to become just another step on the way to something greater. I’m the be-all end-all, he liked to say.
Later, Mom got me a job through her old boss at the Elvis house. I worked the register in the gift shop, selling shot glasses and sweatshirts and shitty little guitars with cheap plastic strings that would snap on the first strum.
The place was a black hole, warping space-time around itself, sucking in human mass and crushing it into a preservative energy. Its density somehow became a negative quantity, a space defined by the birth of the King but characterized by his ultimate absence, and in that way it was a kind of religion. The Presleys’ storied exodus constituted an unprecedented launch into the void. Back then, it was said, Memphis musta been six billion light years away.
It felt like several lifetimes later that I was living in San Diego and had the idea that I’d fly Mom out and take her to Comic Con, because she’d never seen the cast in person, and her prognosis was not great. It turned out to be mostly a nightmare, endless lines of costumed naked bodies, but eventually we made our way to the Star Trek area and there was Shatner, a bit sweaty, signing glossy likenesses of himself as a young man.
At that point Mom just wanted to sit down, so we found a spot on the floor and watched him autograph. After a while he took a break. A woman who must have been his assistant brought him a hot dog and he ate it quickly, turning his back to the waiting crowd, licking mustard and relish from his fingers between bites.
Later we drove south around the bay and then back up along the Silver Strand beach, where we pulled the car over to watch the sun melt through that orange California haze into the purple of dusk. Little waves broke against the sand, and the Pacific’s vast firmament spread before us, reflecting our light upwards, outwards, into an unimaginable beyond.