Negotiations and Lovesongs
by Michele Masterson
Disclaimer: “Star Trek” and all characters therein property of Paramount Television. Title and lyrics from “Train in the Distance” by Paul Simon.
Everybody loves the sound
of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it’s true.
You fell asleep in your uniform. Again. I awake sometime in the middle of the night to find you sprawled on the bed next to me, above the covers, arm flung carelessly over your head, mouth open, snoring softly. Exhausted.
I feel as if we have been tired forever. No hope for reprieve. No amount of sleep or shoreleave ever completely assuaging the crushing fatigue. It has become a part of who we are now, always an antagonistic alien race to war with, supply problems to keep us up at night, worrying. Truth be told, if a we ever came to a point when we actually had time to sleep, time to live a life instead of run from death, I’m not quite sure what we’d do with ourselves.
I’m not quite what you and I would be, if that eventuality were to occur.
Born out of chaos and uncertainty, this life that you and I found ourselves sharing; always defined by crisis and calamity. It is all we have ever known together. And as your chest rises and falls heavily, the weight of your body leaden, so terribly tired that I’m assaulted by my familiar secret guilt, I watch you. Torn between fearing that you and I will only ever know dismay and turmoil, and fearing that if we someday are broken free of this weight that has become us, we will never last. We will never be the same.
Sometimes I think that the longing was easier.
There was a time in the beginning of our journey when just the thought of you sent a thrill through my body. I would save those thoughts for times when I was especially low, or uncertain, or homesick, or tired of the struggle and the sacrifice and the loss and the hopelessness of our situation. And for a moment, for a brief instant, time would stand still and the only thing that mattered was that you were here, you were with me, and that knowledge allowed me to continue, allowed me to believe that everything that had happened to me was not pointless, everything I’d seen and done wasn’t futile. And in those moments I was only thinking of me -- nothing else existed, I wasn’t the captain of a lost ship, I wasn’t responsible for so many people that the sheer burden was nearly killing. I was just a woman who knew that she had met the other half of her soul.
I loved you for that.
I was surprised, and unprepared, when thought became action. Nothing cataclysmic or provoking brought us together in the end, just another endless string of days and nights of toiling, trying, fighting to squeeze out one more ounce of power, jury-rig one more system to operate under conditions that it was never designed to handle. And one midnight we walked into your quarters, a place I’d been only rarely, and as soon as the door shut we both collapsed, crying, really crying, holding onto each other because there was nothing, no one else, no other person who could fully understand. I brought you finally over to your bed with some idea of putting you in it and staying until you fell asleep, and then I was in your arms again and seeking your lips madly, blindly. And as tears still coursed down my face, I made love to you with desperate abandon, arching and crying and shouting out my release, collapsing on top of you and trembling so fiercely that I know you were afraid.
That night you told me you would love me for the rest of my life. I told you to never leave me, never stop holding me. Never.
It took me a while to realize that both of our declarations that night had exacted promises from you.
And then I realized that they were promises you shouldn’t have made. I shouldn’t have asked.
The longing, in many ways, was easier.
You laugh at me for my romantic heart. A dichotomy, so opposite my scientific approach to the universe, my militaristic bearing. One day waging a horrid war, the next dressed in 19th century garb and rushing through the halls to begin yet another old-fashioned holonovel. You find it charming. Perhaps it is one of the things about me that you hold most dear.
But we romantics are a strange lot. We live to long. We live to conspire, to ponder, to imagine perfection and convince ourselves that we can find it. And so we love from afar, we long in our hearts, and as painful as it can be, it is also glorious. For everything unrealized is also full of promise. Everything unrequited seems to be the ultimate truth.
But then, somewhere along the line we romantics figure out that, in the final analysis, these things are untrue. Not a lie really, but an illusion. And the reality can never approach the promise.
I’ve risen now, as I am wont to do when my mind is racing in the middle of the night. An unfortunate characteristic that has stayed with me since I was a student; the night slips by as I watch the chronometer and beg myself to sleep, promise myself that I’ll close my eyes, but my body and my mind refuse to listen. Instead the chattering thoughts chase around my head until I am clenching my jaw, an unnamed anxiety coursing through me like a current. It is on those nights that I most wish I could go back to the way things used to be with you.
Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and lovesongs
Are often mistaken for one and the same
Rounding the bed quietly, though I know you are so tired that my movements won’t wake you, I make my way to the foot of the bed. Carefully, I unfasten your boots and try to slip them off without jostling you too much; you inhale deeply and shift a bit, but remain soundly asleep. Such a handsome man. I would be dead not to notice, not to have noticed as soon as I met you; even before that when studying your file at Headquarters. But your face, your body, isn’t what first attracted me to you; it was your quiet strength, your honesty, your dedication to what is right. Your dedication to me. I am not a vain person, but I am human, and I could not help but be flattered and surprised that you seemed to want to follow me, be with me, no matter what happened.
Perhaps that, in the end, is what finally brought me to you; that sense that you would do anything for me, would to anything to stay by me, and ask for nothing in return – that fact alone made me feel as if I had to give you something in return. Not obligation, really. But responsibility – I took responsibility for you and your feelings. And you share in that responsibility, I know you do – you try and ease my quiet fear that someday all of this will end, that you and I might not finish this journey together. Of course, neither of us can guarantee the outcome – another promise impossible to keep.
So here we are together, months having past, and though everything has changed, nothing has truly changed. There are times, those low times, when I feel that we confused a love affair with something that is simply the product of another negotiation, another treaty, another truce between two parties – compromised from what we both truly wanted in the first place. I’m not sure if we ever wanted the same thing, though of course I don’t remember what exactly I wanted in the first place. And you – I know this isn’t what you imagined. I know this isn’t what you’d planned. And if I’d had a plan to begin with, this wouldn’t have been it.
I know I sound regretful and sad, and I am grateful that you aren’t awake to witness these midnight lamentations. It isn’t that I am unhappy with you. I think that I am unhappy with me. I wish that I could be different for you, I wish that I hadn’t condemned us to hell, I wish that I could love you as you deserved to be loved, completely and fully, without constraints or qualifications. I do love you, but it is in a way that I know is sometimes burdensome to you, as if I am waiting for something to happen that will prove to me that I was right all along, that I shouldn’t have succumbed to my weakness, I shouldn’t have allowed myself to build a life as my crew dies, one by one. And here we are in the ashes of my convictions, daring to seek hope and happiness while others perish.
But, true to form, I do harbor a characteristic romantic hope – perhaps we will be happy, forever. Perhaps I will take the peace you’ve always offered me. Perhaps you won’t be killed, leaving me alone with my self-righteousness and my empty existence. Back where I started. The vicious circle of life.
I move to your side of the bed and sit gingerly, reaching below your chin to unfasten your jacket, try and maneuver it off of you. But as I pull the fabric from your chest, you jerk awake, startling me as well.
“What?” you breathe, confused, eyes darting about, expecting one more crisis. It kills me to see that called up inside you so easily, to feel your heart hammering away at my palms. I try to soothe you, brushing my hands over your chest, your face.
“Nothing,” I whisper. “Let’s take this off.”
You grunt and push yourself up slightly, allowing me to pull the jacket and then the turtleneck off. Before we can start on the rest, though, you’ve fallen back on the bed, pulling my arms to take me with you.
“Sleep,” you mumble, pull me over you and tuck me under your arm. It feels so good, so right that I want to sob because I don’t know if I want to feel this good right now. I don’t think it is wise. I think it will only make things worse.
But I say nothing, and swallow back the tears as I listen for your breathing to steady, feel your grip on me loosen a bit. You are asleep quickly, and after a while I force myself to disengage from your arms. I can’t do it tonight, can’t push away the demons. It seems to get harder and harder with each passing day.
I sit up in bed, swing my legs over the side, but find I can’t stand, can’t walk away from our bed. This, I realize, is another one of those low times – yet when I think of you now all I can feel is a sense of dread, a sense of foreboding and fear, and it is all I can do to push it back down. I need something new to think of, I suppose. Home used to help. But I don’t think it will anymore.
“It will get better than this.” Your voice, steady, quiet, washes over me and I am suddenly so tired that I fear I’ll tumble out of the bed.
“Will it?” I whisper, hoping you didn’t hear it because I shouldn’t have said that. Of course, you know already. You know how it is for us.
“It will get better than this,” you say again, and I turn back into your body, hardly feeling your arms close around me, barely registering your hands in my hair, your whispers in my ear, because I am already asleep, though I remember thinking that it’s probably just as well.
What is the point of this story?
What information pertains?
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly into our hears and our brains
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