I guess it wouldn’t be fair to say that all good stories start with an expulsion from the promised land, but at least this one does. I’d fought a good fight, and I’d been fighting it for years. Looking back, maybe I should have turned tail and run sooner than I did, but regardless, when it was time, it was time. I’ve told at least some of the story before – Mom had hit the bricks, Dad was dead, Brother and Sister oblivious, Grandma was suffering dementia, and I was fresh out of college and trying to hold the family farm together.
Selling the farm wasn’t an option. We were tied into farming it for a while due to an odd little chunk of estate tax law called ‘Special Use Valuation’. I’d done the best I could to keep the tracks turning and Grandma breathing, but by late 1997, my brother had moved back to town, and it was time to leave. The truth of the matter is, brothers don’t always get along and sibling rivalry is real. Ours was going to become tragedy if I didn’t put some space between us. It’s not that I wanted to go – I needed to go.
I’d grown up in agriculture, and it turns out people were needed out in Kansas to run spray rigs. So, I committed to go after I graduated from college. I think the people in Kansas were excited to have me, and the people in Idaho were definitely looking forward to seeing me leave. It was a good combination all the way around.
As I get older, I find that I really don’t care much for science fiction as a whole. I have, however, always liked Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. You might find yourself wondering what the distinction is? If you think about it, all three of them are heavily based in humanity. Star Was, a little less so, but they’re mostly centered around people with normal names, two legs, and two eyes – I find them relatable.
I was on my way back from interviews in Kansas when I turned on the TV in a hotel room and found the Star Trek : Deep Space Nine episode ‘A Call to Arms’ just starting. My circumstances at the time had left me without television for a while, so I’d had no idea where the story had gotten too. To say I watched intently was something of an understatement.
My heroes were facing a massive onslaught from their enemies on their home territory. They’d done what they could to hold off the Dominion’s advance, but the truth was simple – Captain Sisko knew he was going to lose. He had a choice – leave or die.
He did what it seemed like he could before taking just a minute to say goodbye to the people that circumstance had forced him to leave behind, thank them for the allies they had been to him, and then get the hell out of Dodge while he still could.
Just before the end of the episode, Captain Sisko’s archenemy, Gul Dukat, and his assistant, Damar, walked into Sisko’s abandoned office on the station he’d just departed. The place is notably empty, except for Sisko’s prized possession (an ancient baseball) sitting in holder in the exact center of the otherwise spotless desk.
After looking at it in confusion for a minute, Damar asks his boss, “What is it?”
Dukat informs his second that is a message – Sisko will be back.
It seems odd to say, given the fact that leaving home was the first real decision I’d ever made for myself, but I don’t remember vey much about the process of leaving, honestly. I know the bulk of my stuff was in the apartment I’d rented in Logan, Utah, so grabbing it and closing out my business in the town I’d lived in while going to college was first. Home - as it were - Idaho Falls, Idaho, was next on the list. I needed to pickup up the last of my possessions, say goodbye to my Grandmother, and visit a few friends one more time that had helped me try to hold things together.
To tell the rest of the story in context, I need to explain that a lot of my friends are always referred to as Mr. or Mrs. I also had an Aunt and an Uncle, too, as well as a couple of extra Moms. I’d known a lot of these people for a long time – some for all of my life. At least when I grew up, young people called adults by a proper title. Period. It was a sign of respect for a child, and these people seemed to understand that it was impossible for me to just ‘cast it off’ even though we’d been through enough together that the formality had probably been outgrown.
Trying to put the pieces together to tell this story reminded me that this was the last time I saw my friend Mr. Anderson alive. One of my other friends, Mr. Brown, once told me that he considered himself my mentor who had taught me what things could be done. He always went on to tell me my friend Mr. McCord taught me how things could be done, and Mr. Anderson had taught me all things electrical.
While that was true, it was incomplete. Mr. Anderson also taught me how to always do what needed to be done. They were all extraordinary men, but I think Mr. Anderson had probably overcome more personal adversity than the others. Since Mr. McCord survived depression era Nebraska, and Mr. Brown fought in World War II, I accept that it is quite the statement to make, but I’m comfortable with it.
At any rate, Mr. Anderson rode along with me to the farm to collect what I wanted and to say goodbye to my own personal Deep Space Nine. I remember this because he thought it was a little odd when I went into the machinery shed and started talking to the tractors and trucks I was leaving behind. It probably was a little odd, honestly, but I’ve never been so good with people. Not anthropomorphizing something that you spent uncountable hours with catches me as a little odd, honestly.
I don’t, however, remember him saying a single word when my last action was to leave my GI Joe ‘HAVOC’ (my most prized childhood toy) in the center of the floor with its weapons pointed at the only active doorway into the house.
Then I closed the door and left.
What else was I supposed to do?
Leaving didn’t bring the end to the fight with my family I’d hoped for. I’d never wanted to go in the first place, so it made it hard for me to understand that I wasn’t being allowed to sever all my ties, either. Somewhere in the following year, after more battles with my brother and grandmother, I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore and called my lawyer and told him I was giving up.
Even though overpowering force had taken over my home, I wasn’t Captain Sisko. I didn’t command the Defiant, Terry Farrell didn’t walk beside me with her arms clasped behind her back while we talked, and Federation reinforcements weren’t just over the horizon. My life had been something of a dogfight for the previous five years, and I was just tired.
Maybe it was a fallacy to believe that I’d ever find peace – particularly though surrendering, but things did change a little after that. I turned into a contractually obligated employee, not so much of my grandmother, but of the farm itself. That decision was all about tax law as far as the farm was concerned – without my continued involvement, things would have become terminally ugly for my grandmother from a financial perspective.
The contract didn’t save me from all of my headaches, but it bought me enough authority that I could more or less defend myself from my grandmother’s increasingly frequent brand of crazy. In many perspectives, I was the one in charge, so I didn’t have to listen to her anymore. I couldn’t sell the place, and I couldn’t buy new machinery, but outside of those two caveats I could do whatever was needed to get the job done.
No one answered the door or the telephone at the Anderson’s home when I finally made a trip back to check on things. I’d find out that while I was away, cancer had attacked Mr. Anderson with a vengeance, and he was busy dying a painfully slow death. I’d felt a little betrayed, but in actuality, he’d probably cut me off for my own good. It hadn’t been long since I’d watched my dad’s own battle come to its painful end – I knew what that kind of death looked like well. I only remember the healthy Mr. Anderson, and that’s just fine.
I’d also lost Mr. McCord during that same time. He didn’t die, but I think he had a stroke. His personality took a vast turn for the worst, and I found I was no longer welcome in his world.
The farm had also encountered its fair share of issues – there had been a couple of break ins on the buildings. Although I might have contractually had more ownership in it than ever, it felt like it belonged to someone else when I stepped back on the place. I’d been gone for better than a year, and it had been operated by my friend Uncle Jerry during that time. It wasn’t surprising that it had taken on his personality. After all, I’d thought I would never see the place again after I closed the door and walked away.
Such is the way of things.
Let’s talk about that closed door for a second. When I finally walked back through it, kicked slightly off to one side but still aimed at the door, upright and vigilant, I found my HAVOC. I had to have Mr. Brown mail it to me – I didn’t have room to carry it on to the airplane. The box is still upstairs, marked Baseball with his handwriting.
For those of you that aren’t Star Trek fans, I need to let you know that Sisko got his baseball back, too. He lost some friends along the way and made more than a few tough decisions, but he did what needed to be done.
That knowledge was more comforting than anything I could have imagined.