I wrote the following in May of 2010, as part of a letter to a friend, and today I ran across it while looking for something else. It seems like an appropriate story for Halloween and Día de los Muertos, almost a ghost story but not quite.
There has been so much news of sexual abuse and coercion lately, and our group mind is busy chewing over what constitutes abuse and what possibly is just a matter of being a jerk instead. For my own rather different reasons I have been considering this question as well. The situation in the STTNG episode I describe here is pathognomonic of abuse: one being takes control of another and prevents her from living her own life. Yet, as in real relationships, things aren’t absolutely cut and dried.
The other night I had the opportunity to record a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that I’d been wanting to get my hands on for years, “Sub Rosa.” I hadn’t seen it in probably a decade or more. This time around, I found myself thinking, “Was Gates McFadden’s acting really that bad?” [sorry] and “I can’t believe they piled that much makeup on those poor women,” and “Why did they give Deanna Troi SO much hair?” and “Geez, none of their uniforms really fit.” Somehow the show, which honestly was high-quality overall, seemed even more dated than Classic Trek from the ‘60s!
But the story was still of interest to me. It was about almost exactly what an ex-friend and colleague insisted was happening to me: a disembodied being was making inappropriate and harmful use of humans, while claiming to love them and take care of them. The story began with Dr. Beverly Crusher, the Enterprise’s chief medical officer, beaming down for her grandmother’s funeral. The planet where her grandmother lived had been terraformed into a replica of the Scottish Highlands– which I guess was someone’s idea of the perfect environment– and the clothes and houses looked like they came from around 1800.
When Dr. Crusher read her grandmother’s journals, she discovered that this century-old lady had had a handsome lover, a guy in his 30s! Very soon the lover made an appearance and offered his services to the granddaughter. He represented himself as a ghost, a regular human spirit, nothing too untoward. She quickly fell under his spell. For short periods he would appear as a corporeal man, but then he would dissolve into a green mist and sink into her body, merging with her in a way that looked eerily familiar to me. They didn’t make it clear whether this was an overtly sexual act, but it sure looked like Beverly, squirming around most sensuously, was having a wonderful time.
The green mist guy, whose name was Ronin, asked Dr. Crusher to stay with him on the planet so that they could be completely joined forever. She was so messed up by that time that she instantly resigned from Starfleet and did as he asked, having no problem with leaving all her friends and everything she’d ever worked for. But by that time the captain and others were on to Ronin and trying to get Dr. Crusher out from under his influence. They had figured out that he was not a ghost at all, but an alien being made of “anaphasic energy,” a (made-up of course) kind of energy that was unstable and couldn’t exist without some kind of physical host. (Making one wonder how such a creature could ever evolve in the first place.) He’d been preying on the women in Beverly’s family generation after generation. They had a sort of candle, a family heirloom, that was where he lived when he wasn’t invading their own bodies.
And that’s when Ronin started attacking people, even killing one, to save himself. Finally Dr. Crusher had to kill him herself– of course, what else– blowing him away most dramatically with her phaser.
But at the very end, looking at her grandmother’s journals again, Dr. Crusher commented wistfully that whatever else he’d done, he had made her grandmother very happy.
Star Trek at its best has often managed to find stories that resonate for a great many people, at some deep subconscious or even mythological level. In this case, the plot concerned something that does appear to happen, a disembodied being interfering in the life of a human, but it also can be taken as being about physical-world relationships that are obsessive and controlling. It’s kind of the ultimate in codependent relationships.
And it’s very close to the kind of relationship my ex-friend accused me of having with Fryderyk.
I don’t have the slightest worry that I am being preyed upon or abused, but this story did make me take stock yet again. What would I be doing these days if Fryderyk had not happened to me? Would I have followed my “plan A” and studied jazz bass? Would I be a really hot lutenist? Would I somehow have become more myself if I hadn’t been concentrating on him? It seems like I might have saved many thousands of dollars by not buying a grand piano and not taking so many lessons, but then, I was already taking lessons and teaching, and I might have done all that anyway.
I do think that I’ve been significantly happier than I would have been otherwise. Maybe the happiness of romance is nothing more than a bunch of oxytocin circulating through the system, but it’s happiness nonetheless.