History has overlooked one of my favorite Star Trek characters. You never hear her name any more, even though you hear Uhura all the time. But no one ever mentions Nurse Chapel, but I loved Nurse Chapel as a girl.
Because she loved Spock.
The thought of the unrequited love that this fine young woman (played by Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett, who was also the voice of the ship’s computer) held for the calm, logical Mr. Spock delighted my teenage heart. Especially in the Amok Time episode, where she looked so hopeful when he suddenly got emotional.
I felt so sorry for her.
(Amusing note: Until this very day, I had always thought it was called Amuck Time…meaning the time when Vulcans’ emotions went amuck. )
I loved Spock, too. And like Nurse Chapel, I longed to have a chance to draw his attention. But even more than that, I wanted to be Spock.
The first step to being Spock was to look like Spock.
I was a slender girl with long hair, so that did limit my ability to look like him…a bit. Other than that, though, you would think a Star Trek uniform would be relatively easy. Blue shirt. Black pants. Gold braid.
But no. My parents felt that was not done for girls to wear black pants. Apparently, this was a thing back then, thinking that only mature women were allowed to wear something that scandalous. So, no black pants.
However, I did cut my black bangs straight across my forehead. And I wore a blue sweatshirt that Mom and I had sewed gold braid onto the sleeves there-of.
I remember the one time I got to borrow a pair of black slacks and wear them with my blue shirt. I felt so Spock-like walking down the road.
But the real kicker for me was not the lack of black pants, it was that I can’t raise just one eyebrow. My mom can do. And I worked at it and worked at it…to no avail. When one brow goes up, so does the other.
Truly a sad thing.
(My favorite Jim Butcher line is still: He spocked an eyebrow.)
But I did not love Spock simply for his outfit or even his eyebrow. I loved him for his Superversiveness.
How was Spock superversive, you ask? Spock was the single impressive symbol of self-control in an age that celebrated indulgence.
Everything in our modern culture screams self-indulgence. Do drugs. Have sex. Let it all hang out. Scream and shout in public like sit-com characters—only now real people act that way, too. Do it your way. Don’t repress. Drink. Smoke. Life is a party. And anyone who says otherwise is a Victorian. A prude. A symbol of ridicule.
But not Spock.
He was the champion of logic. He was the Knight of Science. Kids could admire him and his reserved ways without anyone associating them with the Old Guard of the previous culture, who were so despised.
To quote Spoke himself, he was “fascinating.”
I read an article after Leonard Nimoy’s death praising Data for wanting to be human and condemning Spock for struggling not to be human. I could not disagree more. I loved Data, but he was trying to achieve something we already have, because he suffered from a lack of humanity.
Spock was not like that. He had plenty of humanity, but he tried to resist the worst of it. The fact that he occasionally failed was one of the things that made him so utterly delightful.
Or should I say fascinating?
Spoke was delightful in a way that the other Vulcans in Star Trek never quite achieved. Some of them were cool or fun to watch. But none of them had that magical twinkle nor the drama that came from the battle of two natures.
That battle of two natures was a familiar one to teenage me. As an overly-emotional teenager living in an overly-emotional environment, I could have used a lot more Spock-like qualities in my environment.
And I knew it.
I wanted to be like Spock partially because I so obviously wasn’t.
I was around ten when we first found Star Trek. My brother and I discovered it through the Saturday Morning cartoon, which I still love. They were terrific.
The involvement of Star Trek in my life went beyond just watching. My father distributed television programs, and for one short time, he was distributing some Star Trek episodes. I worked for him. Ordinarily, I made $2 an hour (not a bad wage back then for a teen). But because he considered me an expert, when I did work on Star Trek for him, I got paid $10.
It was Heaven.
My father believed in fresh air and used to send us outside for much of the day. One summer, we kind of tricked him. We figures out how to turn the space under the front stairs into a fort…so we could sit around even though we were outside.
All summer we played Star Trek. I was Spock. My brother was Sulu. My cousin Ariel was Kirk. Our story involved the crew as kids. Their parents all had the exact position they later had, while Kirk, Spock, etc. snuck around through the ship using secret passages the adults either didn’t know about or couldn’t fit through. (There was also a sister ship that had an equal and opposite compliment of crew of the opposite sex, so that everyone would have someone to marry. The only one I still remember was the brash female captain counterpart for Kirk, whose name was Cindy.)
That version, where all the crew were young, yet still living on the ship together reminds me obscurely of the new movies…where the whole crew ends up together when they are barely out of college, instead of after much life experience.
Just before Leonard Nimoy died, I had a conversation on Facebook with friends about whether or not the new movies undercut much of Spock’s appeal when they gave him a girl friend. Sure, it was shocking when we first found out, but once the initial surprise was over…did it take away from the character that he was no longer the tremendously aloof?
Different friends had different takes on this subject. But I feel that a lot of the mystery was gone. There isn’t nearly as much draw to try and figure out how to win the heart of a guy someone else has already won. (Not to mention that we didn’t even get to see how she did it! Really, a romance that won Spock’s heart should have been onstage. )
Also, I love Uhura as much as the next gal. I’ve played her in roleplaying games. But…it should have been Nurse Chapel.
I mean, after all these years of waiting!
So I wanted to write this to remember Spock and to remember Leonard Nimoy, the man who brought him to life with such wit and…dare I say it?…humanity.
PS. I never did get to be Spock, but I did get to marry the most logical, Spock-like gentleman I have ever had the honor to meet. (Nowadays, my husband is more Chestertonian, but when we were in college, he was very, very Spock-like. )
Which goes to show: way back when, when I watched those early Star Trek shows and I felt in my soul that I really could be the one to melt Spock’s cold Vulcan heart—I was right.