Leonard Nimoy’s death is still a recent thing as I write this. He was, of course, most famous for playing Spock, the logical Vulcan in the original Star Trek TV series. Over the years, the character grew, and those who watched the show and the subsequent movies got to see that there was an emotional core to Spock. In the recent movies, that’s been very clear.
But to teenaged me, that wasn’t clear at all. What I saw on the screen watching re-runs of Star Trek in the 70s as a young teen was a character who was all about intelligence and logic. He was smart, he was strong, and he was unaffected by emotion. And as I dealt with the usual turmoil of adolescence and the stress of my parents’ divorce, I saw someone I wanted to be. Someone who could shut off feelings and not have to deal with them.
In the aftermath of my parents’ divorce, I was a silent, withdrawn teenager. Those who know me now may have a hard time picturing a version of me that isn’t talking, but that’s where I was. A couple of years of therapy got me out of that shell, but I still had the need to find a way to deal with my emotions. So I did just that. I became someone who was a master of his emotions, as close to Spock as I could manage. At least most of the time. There were times when feelings boiled over, either into fights or into breakdowns, but those were rare.
As I got older, I started to use humor and deflection to deal with my emotions. If I could find a way to make a joke about it, it couldn’t really be bothering me that much, could it? If I can talk about it in an analytical way, setting myself apart from it, and taking an objective view, then the emotion doesn’t have power over me.
The problem, of course, is that avoiding things isn’t dealing with them. Spock as a character evolved, and Leonard Nimoy played a big part in that. The reality is that Spock never was really a cold, logical being. He was a flawed, emotional human being, dealing with that as best he could.
I just wish teenaged me could have caught that nuance. Because trying to be Spock, or more accurately trying to be who teenaged me thought Spock was, has left me without good ways to deal with things like grief.
And grief doesn’t go away. It doesn’t have a half-life, or if it does, it’s many years. Grief waits for you to stumble into that sentence and then closes your throat around the words. It brings tears to your eyes and a lump into your chest. Grief is, I am learning, something that you have to come to terms with.
Because it won’t go away.