Sec­ondary Char­ac­ters

a re­place­ment the­ory

Hello Mr. Magazine - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Text by DOUG PAUL CASE Il­lus­tra­tion by RYAN HICKS

Si­mon Tarses – a young and im­pos­si­bly cute med­i­cal tech­ni­cian aboard the En­ter­prise – to­tally de­served to ap­pear in more than a sin­gle fourth­sea­son episode of Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion. He is the tar­get of Starfleet ad­mi­ral No­rah Satie’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion when she boards the ship to ex­pose a Ro­mu­lan spy. Though in­no­cent, Tarses has a Ro­mu­lan grand­fa­ther, and even when Cap­tain Pi­card gal­lantly comes to his de­fense, Satie is con­vinced he’s ly­ing, re­peat­edly putting him un­der bright lights. He sweats, he stam­mers, he looks like he needs some­one to hold his hand on a stroll through the ar­bore­tum.

I’d started watching Star Trek again af­ter quit­ting my job an­swer­ing phones at an up­scale salon two months be­fore Thanks­giv­ing. In lieu of job search­ing, I watched nearly 100 episodes on Net­flix, keenly tuned into sec­ondary char­ac­ters, look­ing for gay sub­texts, imag­in­ing I could grasp their back­sto­ries through just a few lines, a swim­mer’s fig­ure, or a barely au­di­ble lisp. I made lists of the ones I thought were cute and be­came emo­tion­ally in­vested in the rest. I sobbed when Jadzia Dax died in Worf’s arms, again when Cap­tain Janeway brought her crew home. Time scrunched to­gether.

I was liv­ing in an In­di­ana col­lege town down the road from my boyfriend’s apart­ment. Patrick was en­rolled in a PhD pro­gram, and to be with him I’d twice cho­sen to re­new my lease even though I’d fin­ished my MFA and was itch­ing for Chicago. I wanted to ex­pand my photo projects, find new mod­els and lo­ca­tions, but young love, I told my­self dra­mat­i­cally, de­mands sac­ri­fices. Over two years I'd let my­self be­lieve we were smoothly mov­ing for­ward. Never mind his re­fusal to move in with me, to Skype with my par­ents in Con­necti­cut, to hold my hand in pub­lic. Never mind how an­noy­ing it was when he pulled a strand from my man-bun onto my face as he called me “pretty lady.”

This Star Trek binge lasted through October and Novem­ber, dur­ing which time I was work­ing on a se­ries of long-ex­po­sure por­traits of men in var­i­ous de­grees of nu­dity. I was fas­ci­nated with col­ors blur­ring to­gether, with the model’s body blend­ing and emerg­ing from the back­ground, with mul­ti­ple mo­ments of time com­press­ing

them­selves to­gether for the sake of the im­age.

The Fri­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Patrick and I met at his apart­ment for drinks with a group of our friends that hadn’t left town yet. As usual, he’d started drink­ing with­out me, and we talked about our plans for the week as I tried to catch up. While my fam­ily was too far, his was in Michi­gan, a man­age­able five-hour bus ride away. One of his two re­main­ing grand­par­ents had re­cently passed, and all he could talk about was how dif­fer­ent ev­ery­thing would feel. I did my best to com­mis­er­ate, but mostly I was gripped by the sense of lone­li­ness I was about to en­dure as the town emp­tied, and I was left mash­ing pota­toes for only my­self.

I stopped him mid-sen­tence to ask if I could come with him. The only mem­ber of his fam­ily I’d ever met was his fa­ther – briefly, when he came to help Patrick move – and I thought meet­ing the rest could give me a new per­spec­tive, could help me for­get the grow­ing num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions I’d had with friends in which they won­dered why we were still to­gether if he made me as un­com­fort­able as I’d claimed.

“I thought about ask­ing you,” he said, “but there wouldn’t be any­thing for you to do while we went to din­ner at Grandma’s.” She didn’t know he was gay.

“I could just stay at your house with Duffy, hang out with you the rest of the time.”

He shook his head. “He doesn’t like strangers. He’d bark at you the whole time.”

That night we met up with our friends at the Root Cel­lar, a base­ment filled with old fur­ni­ture, aban­doned li­cense plates, and cheap drink spe­cials. It was crowded, bod­ies crammed to­gether on what passed for a dance floor, 90s club hits played just too loud. I’d learned long be­fore that Patrick wasn’t com­fort­able danc­ing with me when we were out with friends, though I could never tell if this was be­cause of a gen­uine de­sire to be in­clu­sive or an un­easi­ness with who else might see. He passed for straight when I didn’t, and of­ten I won­dered how much he re­lied on that abil­ity, how he played up his queer­ness in aca­demic set­tings but never stayed near me at the gro­cery store.

What’s most in­ter­est­ing to me about Si­mon Tarses is that he was in­deed ly­ing, just not about what Satie was con­vinced he was. The Fed­er­a­tion, for whom Satie was in­ves­ti­gat­ing, was on the verge of war with the Ro­mu­lan Em­pire, and Ro­mu­lans were ex­pressly pro­hib­ited from serv­ing on Fed­er­a­tion ves­sels like the En­ter­prise. Tarses’ Ro­mu­lan grand­fa­ther made him only three-quar­ters hu­man and in­el­i­gi­ble from serv­ing; his en­tire ca­reer was made pos­si­ble only by claim­ing on his ap­pli­ca­tion that his grand­fa­ther was from Vul­can – a Fed­er­a­tion planet whose peo­ple are ge­net­i­cally sim­i­lar to the Ro­mu­lans. While not guilty of the trea­sonous crimes of which he was ac­cused, he was fac­ing, early on, the un­rav­el­ing of his en­tire ca­reer based on things he couldn’t con­trol. I won­dered if he’d con­vinced him­self the lies were true, won­dered what else he’d risk to pre­serve him­self.

Just af­ter mid­night at the Root Cel­lar, peo­ple started talk­ing about mov­ing to an­other bar, and I couldn’t find Patrick any­where. I thought per­haps he’d gone to the bath­room and kept danc­ing with my friends. To one, I con­fessed that when I was drunk I only wanted to know where he was, to be with him. Later she’d tell me that was the first nice thing I’d said about him in months.

When I’d made it to the next bar and still couldn’t find Patrick, I texted to ask if he was com­ing. Nope, he wrote, and ig­nored my fol­low-up ques­tions. Why? Where are you? Are

you home? Are you okay? I told my friends I was go­ing to look for him. When I got to his apart­ment, I’d al­most given up knock­ing when he fi­nally an­swered wear­ing only box­ers, look­ing more like he’d been pre­tend­ing to sleep than sleep­ing. He didn’t want to tell me why he’d left. I asked again, then more gen­er­ally what he was up­set about. This was the trig­ger: He didn’t like that two of our gay friends were danc­ing when they didn’t like each other. He didn’t like that I was “pres­sur­ing” him to take me home for Thanks­giv­ing. He didn’t like that I was writ­ing about old lovers in my po­ems. He didn’t like that I was tak­ing pho­to­graphs of other men.

“How am I sup­posed to feel?” He screamed. “I don’t know,” I said, and left. The walk back to my house was quick. Be­cause it was driz­zling and I was drunk, I didn’t no­tice I was cry­ing un­til I got in­side and opened Net­flix. The first op­tion it listed un­der ‘con­tinue watching’ was Si­mon Tarses’ episode The Next Gen­er­a­tion. I pressed play. When the episode had fin­ished, I de­cided I needed to know ev­ery­thing about him.

I ex­hausted var­i­ous Star Trek wikis, made a list of books the char­ac­ter ap­peared in, checked it against the li­brary’s col­lec­tion, and went on Ebay look­ing for copies of him on trad­ing cards. One seller listed a col­lec­tion of hun­dreds of Star Trek col­lectible game cards de­tailed with how many she had of each, and you could buy up to 50 of them at a time. She had 12 copies of Tarses’ card, so just be­fore go­ing to bed I or­dered copies of his card – and a few of Satie’s for good mea­sure.

Patrick and I went for a rather long, tense walk the next day, the Satur­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing. “So what’s up?” He said af­ter we’d been walk­ing for a few min­utes in si­lence. I told him I didn’t think I could stay in town a third year, that I felt like he was ashamed of me, that my par­ents wanted to know why they hadn’t met him yet, that af­ter two years he should trust me to take pho­to­graphs of men I had no in­ten­tion of sleep­ing with. It seemed – fi­nally, bluntly – our ideas about fi­delity and our fu­ture had never ac­tu­ally been com­pat­i­ble, and I thought about break­ing up with him, rip­ping off the prover­bial Band-Aid.

In­stead I said, “I think we should take a break un­til I can find a job.” He agreed and headed for home. I wanted to turn away too, but I couldn’t keep my­self from stand­ing still, from watching to see if he’d turn around to look at me. It would be a sign, I thought. He didn’t.

On Mon­day I went to the li­brary and checked out David Mack’s Star Trek Des­tiny tril­ogy, in which one of the wiki pages promised Tarses would fea­ture. It made an in­tim­i­dat­ing lit­tle tower on my night­stand, but I knew I’d have the time over Thanks­giv­ing. On Tues­day the cards I’d or­dered ar­rived much sooner than I’d ex­pected. The in­for­ma­tion listed be­low Tarses’ pho­to­graph em­blem­atic of just how lit­tle he mat­tered in the Star Trek uni­verse: “Crew­man First Class Si­mon Tarses is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Starfleet med­i­cal tech­ni­cians.” His only spe­cial skill is “youth.” Out of ten, his cun­ning and strength are fives, his in­tegrity a six. But what re­ally mat­tered, his pho­to­graph, was per­fect: the blue of his uni­form

“Over two years I’d let my­self be­lieve we were smoothly mov­ing for­ward.”

bounc­ing against the blue of the back­ground, his hair shim­mer­ing in the light, his brow fur­rowed with worry. He was adorable. I laid the 12 out on my desk.

The tril­ogy turned out to fo­cus on hu­man­ity’s role in cre­at­ing the Borg, a geno­ci­dal race of cy­borgs bent on as­sim­i­lat­ing ev­ery species they en­coun­tered. It was a dizzying read, stuffed with four star­ship crews, diplo­mats, mul­ti­ple time pe­ri­ods, and I couldn’t stop think­ing about Tarses, trapped con­duct­ing au­top­sies in the med­i­cal bay while the rest of the char­ac­ters got all the ac­tion. It was ob­vi­ous: The books had noth­ing to do with him. My life, even, had noth­ing to do with him. He was a dis­trac­tion from Patrick, noth­ing more than a man I’d love to take por­traits of. I re­al­ized then Patrick was only in­ter­ested in me su­per­fi­cially, as I was for Si­mon. He didn’t see that I’d loved him for more, he had never wanted what I con­sid­ered a real re­la­tion­ship.

Patrick re­turned from Michi­gan on Satur­day, and I asked him to go for an­other walk on Sun­day af­ter­noon. I broke the déjà vu of ini­tial si­lence with what I’d prac­ticed say­ing on my way to his apart­ment.

His “okay” was fol­lowed by more si­lence. When he asked why, all I said was how I didn’t think it was fair of me to keep him wait­ing. I knew he was ex­pect­ing more, but I couldn’t give it to him. How could I say ev­ery­thing I wanted when we lived in such a small town, when we shared so many mu­tual friends and would have to make things work in pub­lic

“I’m gonna go home then,” he said, and asked me for a hug. I couldn’t re­mem­ber the last time he’d been that af­fec­tion­ate in pub­lic.

I con­tin­ued walk­ing for over an hour, and there was a Face­book mes­sage wait­ing for me when I got home. Can we at least still be friends? He’d writ­ten. I know it sounds stupid, but I’d re­ally rather not never see you again. I cried, sud­denly ashamed even I knew I’d done what was best. Of course, I wrote.

I looked at the pile of Si­mon Tarses cards on my desk and felt an over­whelm­ing urge to throw them out. I shoved all but one in my junk drawer. I held the last in my hands.

“I won­dered if he’d con­vinced him­self the lies were true, won­dered what else he’d risk to pre­serve him­self.”

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