Televisions were much smaller long ago in the bygone era of 1993. Reception was much spottier, too, and the sound quality was not nearly so … Dolby surround. You might have to fiddle with your antennae to get the picture to stand still in 1993. Some of you might say, “That was the year I was born,” and I will scoff, because surely there can be no creatures as young as you. But I digress. Our technologies may have been a shadow of your current, twenty years sleeker and more intuitive devices, but we knew touch-screens and Google Glass-ware were in our future. They were there already, inhabiting our fuzzy screens as all of us tuned into Star Trek: The Next Generation. Well, maybe not all of us, but at least three eleven-year-old girls, drawn together by our lack of athleticism, scholarliness and ability to read social cues. Glued to the television each week: I, with the thick glasses and mouth-crank speech impediment, Sarah the heavyset and asthmatic, and Deena, tiny, black and soft spoken. We founded our own Starfleet against the specter of advancing algebra and well-dressed children who seemed to sniff out our thrift store clothes.
I crafted our little communicator buttons out of cardboard and the backs of clip on earrings I’d found in a Tupperware box full of them in my grandmother’s craft closet. They clipped nicely onto a t-shirt neck. ‘She’ll never miss these’, I thought as I pocketed them and a number of doll eyes. We’d stake out a ridge in the parking lot snow mound just off the playground at recess. We may have had the idea of enacting out own space adventures, but in all honesty we never made it past bartering who got to be whom. Deena would swiftly call dibs on the empathic mind-reading abilities of part human-part psychically endowed alien ship’s counselor Troi. Of all of us, she was the peacekeeper; it made sense. However, Sarah and I would narrow our gaze and haggle over our favorites:
“I want Geordi’s souped-up visor vision.”
“You got the visor last time, you should get Android strength this time.”
“I was the one who brought my dad’s wrap-around sunglasses, I get to wear them. You could be Wesley Crusher, he’s the smartest.”
At no point in our arguing did it ever occur to us that we were in battle for anything other than the finest super-powers. The heroic attributes of futuristic well-adjusted teammates. In the future it seemed, ailments, challenges and potentially debilitating neuroses were distilled into that individual’s best quality. A blind character, Geordi LaForge, who pilots a vessel and is given the ability to see the entire human spectrum and beyond. A machine, Data, performing complex operations free of any trace of human fear or doubt. How about alien with distinctive face ridges, Worf, embraced without question by the very community of people who might’ve once been his enemies, several short franchise films ago? The biggest bad guy in this universe was homogeny; join and be one with the Borg (you really have no choice)!
These characters were wholly accepted, beyond their battles, and esteemed in a way many of us are not. While we argued for the benefits of that pair of wrap-around sunglasses- I mean, visor, I don’t imagine any of us would have found ourselves demanding the role of Geordi sans his visor. Nor would we have probably found emotionless banter as endearing had it not come from android programming, but as it usually does: a product of brain chemistry. And even thousands of years of advancement couldn’t deter heavily made-up extras from pointing to the motley crew invading their planet via shimmery beams and demanding to know “What is that?”
The limits on our inclusivity were stark in 1993, and reaching out to the differently abled was never as easy as the future made it appear. We were segmented from our radically mentally and physically different peers by a public educational system that was too harried and underfunded to encourage us to widen our definition of ‘different’ and see difference in ourselves. So there we stayed, encountering alien races from the parking lot snow mound where our away team frequently beamed, if only in theory. In fact, that’s precisely how we found each other; among the rare kids who stumbled on us strange children playing with paper-towel tube phasers and didn’t mock us openly. Joining Star Fleet was much easier in the 20th century than it would be in the 24th, but a lot of kids wouldn’t be caught dead.
The impression we absorbed unconsciously back in 1993 was that forming an enviable squad was the result of tireless effort, not just the dumb luck of holding a scratched pair of wrap-arounds. If we three eleven-year-olds could have taken our own shortcomings and traded them up, I’m sure we would have jumped at the chance. But think of any episode of Star Trek where the guest player is handed some magical device to make them younger, powerful or more fun at parties. They are made mighty for fleeting moments, then brought low by their own ill-preparedness. Meanwhile, our favorite spandex officers would take every temporal loop in stride, and immediately return to work on that malfunctioning warp drive. You never know when the captain’s going to give you a warm pat on the shoulder and ask you to ‘engage’.
( 2015 Honorable Mention Recipient at Nerdologues)
Sean Margaret is a Chicago playwright, musical bookwriter/lyricist and storyteller. You can find her on Twitter: @SMargaretWagner