I’m having an emotional afternoon. Leonard Nimoy has passed, and it’s hitting me unexpectedly hard! Generally speaking, I’m no fan-boy, but Leonard Nimoy has always been something special for me, and now he’s gone…
I was never the most rabid of Star Trek fans. Like many of my trekkie compatriots, I came to my fandom for Star Trek via syndication. I wasn’t even born yet when Star Trek was cancelled! I was too young to go to the early conventions, and by the time I was old enough, they were massive events I could rarely afford to go to. I don’t have the fanatic chops of many, but I watched those shows over and over, and dreamed. When I was six or seven, my mother, who was also a fan, at least of the (at the time) very pretty William Shatner, asked me who my favorite character on the show was. I immediately answered “Spock”.
She argued with me. “But Captain Kirk is so brave and cool!”
I answered, “Yeah but Spock is smart.”
“But isn’t Spock kind of boring? He doesn’t really do anything.”
“He wins with his brain. And anyway, he doesn’t run around doing dumb things that need to be fixed, he just fixes other people’s dumb things.”
It’s one of my clearest early memories. Of course, I liked Captain Kirk too, I just connected more with Spock. He meant more to me.
You see, he looked like my Dad. Not the pointy ears or the makeup, of course (although that would have been really cool, in retrospect), but the man underneath. Leonard Nimoy could have been my uncle. Also like my dad, Spock was always the smartest person in the room, but never seemed to fully connect with those around him, even when he was the center of attention. They were born less than a year apart (and strangely, have died less than a year apart, of diseases caused by their long, regular use of tobacco), wore similar styles of clothing (my Dad was a fairly stylish man for his day), and both had powerful, riveting baritone voices when they spoke, voices that could quiet a room and get everyone’s attention without being raised.
Why this mattered was that unlike the controlled, unflappable Spock, my dad was an alcoholic. I didn’t know that, and wouldn’t have known what the word even meant at the time. In fact, I was well into my twenties before I really realized that both my parents had been alcoholics for most of my childhood. In the Seventies and Eighties, everybody’s parents came home after work and had a few drinks. It was a cultural thing, a sign of affluence. In my parents’ case, it just extended well beyond that first couple, a slow, quiet dissolution as the evening progressed, something that was just “normal”. What it meant, however, I knew all too well. It was an inability to control emotions when things changed unexpectedly. It was a helplessness when it came it identifying and fixing problems. It was watching my Dad, to this day the smartest person I’ve ever known personally, squander that intelligence sitting alone in his office or at the kitchen table, either staring into space or starting discussions about very deep topics with my mother or me that were seemingly designed to turn into fights where really mean things were said, and self-images were crushed.
In my mind, I suppose Spock/Nimoy came to represent a sort of ideal version of my Dad. All the good without the bad. Of course that was completely unrealistic! Spock the character was deeply flawed, and Nimoy the person was just a nice seeming actor of apparently normal intelligence who came across in writing and interviews as quiet, humorous, and relatively pleasant. But in the mind of a child, all the best parts got rolled together into that ideal, and I kinda loved him.
Today he passed away, just like my father did last year. One of the first pictures I saw of him once it was announced showed him, gaunt and wearing an oxygen tube, looking almost exactly like my father the last time I saw him sitting up and lucid.
At that moment, I realized everything I just wrote, and it all just crashed into me like a tidal wave.
So long Leonard! I never really knew you, but I’ll miss you desperately anyway…