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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Memory Of Blood

Grief, Star Trek & the Generational through line. 

On Thursday 1st of May 1997, at around 6pm, I sat down in front of my old beat up portable
tv in my bedroom ,to watch an episode  of one of my favourite tv shows,  Star Trek Deep
Space Nine. By this point, BBC two were up to showing season four of the successful Star
Trek spin off, in it's regular early evening slot, and the episode broadcast that night was 
called, "The Visitor". 

I had no idea when I started watching, that this particular story would have such a profound
and lasting effect on me in the weeks, months and ultimately years to follow.

I was twenty eight, still living at home with my parents, unemployed, and, still harboured 
fantasies of becoming a rich and famous songwriting rock and roller of some kind. Although 
I didn't particularly want to work, I half heartedly applied for all manor of jobs that, well, just 
didn't inspire me. I was what you might call, an unemployable work shy fop. The government 
had tried to coax me into work by enticing me onto several so called "promising" training 
programmes designed to develop long term layabouts such as myself, but they had all failed. 
Despite being the voice on the other end of the phone for morning tv's Anne & Nick, and 
their glittering parade of caring sharing celebs; and a stint under the Princes Trust, I was still 
a faceless nobody, trying to stay afloat in a sea of souls fighting to get noticed. And although 
that in itself wasn't a job, I was doing very badly at it.

Sitting on my bed in the room I had spent most of my childhood in, I watched as another 
episode of Deep Space Nine unfolded before me. The confines of space and time, of love 
and loss, and the merging of the invisible through line that is passed down through generation
upon generation, would all be explored using the miraculous vehicle of science fiction, where
literally anything is possible.

Now, in order for you to fully understand my reaction to watching Deep Space Nine that night, 
you must allow me to take you through the TV screen and tell you the story of "The Visitor".

DS9 is set on a Space Station way off in the distant future. The station lies near a worm hole, 
which is a passageway to another quadrant of the galaxy that has been largely unexplored. 
The station becomes a centre for interstellar trading, exploration, and rivalry between races, 
and is acquired by The United Federation Of Planets in order to maintain some kind of 
peace. The series revolves around the main crew and other inhabitants of the station, their 
lives, and experiences. 

"The Visitor" focuses on just two of these characters. Captain Benjamin Sisko, a widowed 
Starfeet officer who has been placed in charge of the station, and his teenage son Jake, an 
aspiring writer. 

At the beginning of the story, which is set some seventy years on from the normal time line 
of the series, we are presented with Jake as an old man. He is seventy years old and living 
alone in a house on Earth. It's a stormy night and rain lashes at the windows. He is looking 
nostalgically at some momentous on his mantle, the personal effects of his father. Including 
a photograph of them both when Jake was seventeen and living back on Deep Space Nine. 
He looks longingly at the picture and then takes out a hypospray and injects something into 
his neck. He moves to sit down but is interrupted by the door bell. 

A young teenage girl, an aspiring writer called Melanie, has sought out his house, and on 
inviting her in Jake discovers she is a fan of his literally works, having found an affinity with 
his writing. She is, however, puzzled by the absence of any of his writing after the publication 
of his collected stories many years before, and wonders why?

Jake smiles and tells her "If you'd shown up yesterday, or last week... I'd have said no and 
sent you on your way. But here you are, today of all days. Somehow... it seems like the right 
time for me to finally tell this story. It begins many years ago when I was eighteen, and the 
worst thing that could happen to a young man happened to me. My father died."

We are then transported back in time to see young Jake on Deep Space Nine. He's trying to 
write a short story and is having some trouble. His father, Sisko, suggests he take a break 
and accompany him to the Gamma quadrant to see the worm hole undergo something called
a sub-space inversion. An anomaly that only happens every fifty years. Reluctantly Jake takes
his fathers advice, but even aboard the shuttle ship on route he continues to pour over the 
text of his story. His father advises him that even as a writer he should be aware of his 
surroundings, "It's life Jake, and you can miss it if you don't open your eyes."

Jake heeds his fathers advice and agrees to take a break. At that moment the shuttle craft 
jolts violently and goes into red alert. The worm hole is interfering with the ships warp engine. 
Sisko, with Jakes aid, manages to avert a breach of the engine core, but a stray bold of 
energy from it leaps out and hits him. Jake looks on helplessly as his father falls to the floor 
and then seems to phase in and out, eventually dematerialising all together. He is gone.

After a memorial service we see Jake struggling to come to terms with his loss. He is well 
looked after by his fathers friends but is distant and removed. 

One night while Jake is sleeping in his quarters he is awoken by a crackling surge of 
electricity, only to find his father seemingly sitting on the floor before him, with charred burns 
on his chest. He calls out to his dad who asks what happened, but just as before, Jake 
watches as his father phases in and out, before vanishing completely. Jake is agonised. 
Was it really his father? Maybe his ghost or just his own imagination. Confused, he tries to 
put the incident out of his mind.

Time passes and before long a war between two alien races threatens the stability of the 
station, an evacuation is ordered but Jake doesn't want to leave. The station is his home 
and he can not bear to leave the place where he has so many memories of his father. He is 
told he can stay a while, but moments later while walking down a corridor, he again 
witnesses a blue flash of energy. His father materialises again. This time Jake reaches out 
and touches him, realising, he is very real.

Sisko is examined and it is thought that he is trapped in some kind of sub space, existing 
outside the parameters of space and time. He is shocked when Jake tells him a whole year 
has passed since the accident, though for him it seemed only moments before. 

The crew desperately try to keep the captain from leaving again, but he and Jake know they 
are fighting a loosing battle. Jake is racked with guilt and anger that he didn't take action 
when his father first materialised in his quarters but his dad reassures him that he could have 
done nothing. "I need to know you are going to be alright?" Sisko asks Jake but his son can 
not answer the question, overcome with emotion at the thought of losing his father all over 
again. The attempts to keep Sisko's body from phasing out again fail and Jake is left staring 
at the empty place where his father lay.

Days, months and years pass and despite some research, suggesting his father's accident 
is linked to the inversion of the worm hole, events and life overtake both the station and Jake. 
Eventually, with a war looming, he is forced to leave his home of five years. He goes back to 
Earth and lives with his grandfather. And he goes back to his writing, finishing his novel. He 
eventually marries and moves to the house we now see him in as an old man. His book is 
received well and he begins work on a collection of stories.

One night while working late, Jake and his wife are shocked when his father once again 
materialises. Jake had always thought that once he left the station he would never have 
any chance of seeing his father again. How could it be that he was here now on Earth?

The two men look at each other in shock. Sisko looking at a man, his son, now in middle 
age. Jake's primary concern is getting a medical team to his father but Sisko is eager to find 
out what he has missed in Jake's life. When Jake introduces his wife, the gravity of how much
time has gone by since their last encounter clearly shakes his father. When he see's Jake's 
published books a proud smile beams on his face. "I always knew you could do it" he says. 
Jake can hardly contain his emotions and the two men, so close, but separated by the 
confines of time, embrace. 

Jake makes an apology to his father for giving up on him, but Sisko insists that there was 
nothing he could have done, that he had a career and a wife to think about.

Just as before, Jake's time with his father is limited. In only moments, his body flickers and is 
gone. With a new drive to find out what is happening to his dad, Jake devotes all of his time to
research, and discovers that the accident created some kind of sub space link between him 
and his father. This was why his father always appeares near him. He also discovers that the 
next time his father will appear is when he is an old man.

At this point Jake abandons his next book and goes back to school to study sub-space 
mechanics. All of his energy is consumed with finding out how to save his father. As his 
studies enter there final years he doesn't realise is wife has become estranged, they are no 
longer together, he has lost her. Determined, he continues and discovers a way to re-create 
the accident that took his father away.

So, some fifty years from that faithful day, Jake travels back to the worm hole with his fathers
friends, aboard the very same shuttle craft. The wormhole is about to invert again and this 
might be the last chance he has of brining his father back.

They set up an apparatus that Jake has designed, the culmination of years of research and 
labour. The shuttle lurches as a wave of energy is thrown out from the worm hole, but this 
time the shields have been modified to absorb the hit. As before all those years ago, a blue 
bolt of energy leaps out of the warp core, but the device Jake has built harnesses it. A shape 
begins to form from it, the form of Sisko. As his outline becomes bolder they realise 
something is wrong. Both father and sons energy signatures have become weak, they are 
being pulled into sub-space. As their friends look on, they both dematerialise and are gone.

The next scene finds Jake and his father standing in a vast whiteness that stretches on 
forever. Sisko explains that this might be a fragment of sub space. Jake desperately tries 
to make contact with the shuttle in order to salvage the rescue attempt but can not. His 
father realises that his son has become obsessed and consumed with finding a way to save 
him, he asks what has happened in the time since they last met. What of his wife? Does he 
have grandchildren? Jake explains that she left him years earlier. Sisko is visibly shaken 
by this and asks about his sons writing. Again Jake shakes his head, "there was so much 
to do; this has taken years of planning."

"Jake, what's happened to you?" a confused Sisko asks.

"This is the last chance I'll ever get to help you", replies his son. 

Jake's body begins to flicker. His father knows that he will soon be gone. "Let go Jake, if not 
for me, for you, you still have time to make a good life for yourself. Promise me you'll do that. 
Promise me?" Before Jake can answer his father, he is back on the deck of the shuttle.

At this point old Jake stops telling the story to his young fan. He asks her to get something 
from his writing desk. It's a hand written draft of a new set of stories. Jake tells her he decided
to honour his fathers wish and rebuild his life. He gives her these original papers when she 
asks for a copy. She asks why he hasn't published them and he makes a joke that no one can
ask for rewrites when you publish posthumously. He tells Melanie he wanted to write another 
two stories but there just wasn't time. Melanie is now suspicious and asks him why?

He decides she deserves the truth and explains that after the failed attempt to bring his father 
back he thought long and hard about what went wrong. He came to understand that his 
father was kind of frozen in time at the point of the accident, and a connection, akin to an 
elastic cord, existed between them. When the cord became tight it would pull his dad forward 
through time, but only for a moment. He realised that if his existence through time stopped 
the cord would slacken and his father be lost forever. But if the cord was cut while at its 
strongest, when they were both together, his dad would return to the moment of the accident.

Melanie now suspects Jakes intentions. Jake asks her to promise that every once in a while, 
when studying his stories, she poke her head up once and take a look at what's going on, "It's
life,and you can miss it if you don't open your eyes."

Old Jake bids goodbye to his young visiter. After she is gone. He takes a copy of his stories 
and falls into slumber in one of the armchairs.

Sometime later he is woken. His father is before him, glancing at the old man his son has 
become. Sisko's face is full of love but tinged with sadness at the time he has clearly missed 
with his son. He holds a copy of his sons manuscript. Calmly, Jake tells him he has been 
expecting him. His father smiles and tells him he is happy that he got back to writing.

Jake's body tenses for a moment and he loses control of his breathing. Sisko is concerned 
and asks what the matter is. The spasm passes and Jake asks him to read the dedication 
on the front page.

It reads, "To my father, who's coming home" Sisko is confused but Jake explains, "It was me, 
I've been pulling you through time like an anchor, and now it's time to cut you loose."

Jake's eyes glance at the table and the hypospray. His father immediately examines the 
empty vial and realises his son has poisoned himself. He panics and can hardly get his 
words out. Jake's body tenses and his father realises he doesn't have long to live. Jake 
explains that when he dies, his father will go back to the point of the accident, and to 
remember to dodge the energy blast from the engine.

Sisko can not believe what is happening. "Why? You could still have so many years left" he 
asks. With his breathing laboured, Jake replies softly, "No, we have to be together when I 

"You didn't have to do this for me", his father says. 

"For you and the boy I was, he needs you more than you know. We're going to get a second 
chance", replies Jake weakly.

Moments later Jake dies with a peaceful smile on his face. His father gathers him up in his 
arms. Just then Sisko's body begins to flicker and he is gone.

He is back on the shuttle craft just moments before the accident. He dives sidewards to 
dodge a burst of energy and tackles his teenage son safely to the floor. Sisko looks at his 
son, who only moments before had died an old man in his arms. Young Jake is puzzled as to 
how his dad knew when the blast was coming, "I guess we just got lucky this time." replies 
Sisko full of emotion. 

Jake asks his father if he is ok, as he senses his highly emotional state. Sisko embraces 
him and tells him, "I am now Jake , I am now."

As the episode came to a close I sat on my bed in my room, my mind full of what I had just 
watched. I felt an almost unbearable amount of grief bearing down on me. The pressure of 
which was so suffocating I could hardly contain it. It seemed to well up from somewhere 
deep within me and when it broke the surface i found myself sobbing uncontrollably for what 
seemed a long time, unable to stop or calm myself. It was as if someone had released the 
top of a shaken fizzy drink. I had never before had such a strong reaction to watching 
something, especially science fiction.

Eventually, the attack of sadness and grief subsided and I resumed my daily activities of 
doing very little. Over the next few days though the story stayed with me, until, eventually 
fading into the back of my mind.

Some three weeks later, on the evening of the 20th May 1997 my mom passed away after 
suffering a massive heart attack. That night the life I'd known for twenty eight years was over. 
I had reached a fork in the road and had little choice but to take it.

I suppose everyone deals with grief differently. It doesn't matter how you deal with it, only 
that you find a way to cope with the unbearable feeling of loss. And grief, at least in my 
experience, isn't affected by the laws of time. By its very essence it exists beyond the limits 
of time. It has a hold that seems to reach outside of normality and pull you into a timeless 
inner world. And it can be triggered just moments, or many many years after a loved one has 
passed on by any one of the senses. 

When we are born it is as if a giant record button is pressed and our brains start to 
remember everything that we experience. It's a vast library that fills up as we grow, 
short term memories are transferred to it for safe keeping, locked away in our sub-conscious. 
Lying in wait for the day when something seemingly insignificant triggers them and opens up 
a world we thought we'd long forgotten...

...A bite of apple pie that your nan used to bake when you were a boy; the wheezing sound 
your father used to make while sucking on one of his cigarettes; the crunch of your first snow 
fall underfoot; the view through the toy shop window that you were taken to on your seventh 
birthday; an old black and white movie that played constantly in the kitchen while the Sunday 
dinner simmered away; the recalling of a magical book with transparent images of skylines 
and cityscapes that you borrowed from the library and held in much smaller hands; of 
Greensleeves blaring out from a distant Ice Cream van with the promise something soft, 
sweet and cold enough to quench the thirst of any game of hide and seek; the taste of tea 
from a flask that was left lovingly for you everyday when you came home for lunch from 
junior school; that liquidity of perspective that exists in the height of a childhood fever, where 
time and space shift; and on and on they go, fragments of memories, all shuffled up, and 
ready for a random imaginary sensory finger to select.

You can't turn them off. They are markers of time. They show us the path from what we 
once were to who we have become and what we can potentially be. They are a comfort to 
us in times of sadness, a familiar friend when we are alone, and, perhaps more importantly, 
a way to deal with the process of loss. It is by remembering in a balanced way that we keep 
those who have died alive, in a way that we can deal with. Memory, in some ways is our 

Memory is the time machine of the mind. In it, we can travel through our experiences and 
review our life. But I think it's reach goes beyond that, I have always suspected that our 
mind is capable of picking up senses, memories or feelings which have not yet been 
imprinted on the fabric of our lives or others in the here and now. We have all shared the 
experience of walking into a space and feeling elated or heavy with sadness. Even 
somewhere we haven't been before can impress it's subtle energy on us. Mystics might 
call this an imprint left by a living being. I tend to think that that imprint is in itself a memory 
which has been left behind, and which can be tuned into with the help of a sensory trigger. 
Just as we can tune into our own memory by using the same technique, would it not be 
possible to get a sense of another's memory if the bond were strong enough, while they 
were still alive?

The bond between a parent and a sibling is perhaps one of the strongest in nature. Now that 
I am a parent myself, I fully appreciate that. The very act of combining two life forces in order 
to make another is a link that can never be broken, whether physically or spiritually. Added to 
that the strengthening of that bond by becoming a provider, of life giving food and water, 
clothing, warmth and love. By teaching right and wrong. Caring in sickness and in health. 
Providing an environment of happiness, nurturing and support. Knowing when to make a 
decision on their behalf or when to let them take responsibility for their own actions. These 
and many other factors bare down on a parent. And it is these commitments that make the 
bond in life between them a miraculous one. But does it go deeper?

Mothers often relate accounts of telepathy between themselves and their baby, often 
waking up just a few minutes before a feed is due during the night. This could relate to 
synchronistic sleep cycles or being in tune with milk producing rhythms. But there are some 
further accounts, of instances when the responsibilities of nursing and feeding fall on the 
father (for example if mother is to weak after childbirth), where the fathers sleep pattern will 
change dramatically, waking moments before the infants cries out for a feed. 

A parent can sense the onslaught of illness in their child before the signs have even broken 
the surface. If we extend this skill a little further we enter the seemingly uneven ground of 
psychic abilities where the majority of it's proponents are pedalling a fraudulent power fuelled 
by greed. But what if the bond that is fuelling the ability is love between a parent and child. 
Is it something imagined? Is it something to be feared? Or, is it a normal measured response 
by nature? Just as in the fight or flight response.

Could it be, therefore, that the consequences of watching the parental bond between Jake 
and Sisko play out in "The Visitor", so fully charged, triggered such a reaction in me, and 
tuned me into something that was coming down the time line shortly? A glimpse of a future 
that my sub-conscious understood, but my rational self could not make sense of. Something 
which would be so life changing I could pick up the effects of it weeks before it actually 

It is perfectly possible in my mind that this is what I experienced. It's also reasonable to 
suggest that I just had a normal reaction to the nature of a very well written and emotive 
drama. But what puzzles me though, and tends me to believe otherwise, is the over bearing 
strength of the reaction. It was an outpouring of grief. And by its very nature it prepared me in 
some way for the loss that was to follow only weeks later.

After the initial shock of loosing someone so close, I felt surprisingly calm. Although I was 
obviously upset, I don't remember breaking down with the same intensity that I had 
experienced just weeks before while watching DS9. How could i have been more upset by 
a tv story rather than something so devastating in real life? I reacted to others around me 
but inside I was calm and relaxed. Had I already grieved in some way already?

I watched the world go on around me and felt like i was cocooned inside a protective shell. 
Strangers approached me and seemed concerned that i was alright. I remember one 
occasion when I was standing waiting for a bus home late one night in the city centre. 
A young guy who was also waiting went out of his way to offer me one of his sweets. 
There was no agenda to his offer, no other communication between us. In my experience 
strangers don't exhibit this kind of behaviour, and I have never since encountered its like.

It is for these reasons that I have a strong connection to this exquistely told sci-fi story. I 
recently went back and watched it again, and though it wasn't as intense an experience as 
watching it all those years ago, it still packed an emotional punch. I'd like to think that it 
helped me in some way. Because having watched that episode, which dealt with he subject 
of losing a parent in such a deep and profound way, it prepared me, on some level for the 
ordeal of the real thing. Not only that of course, there are also many parallels in it to the 
realities of the parent-child bond.

Jake had lost his father, and because of a connection so strong, filled with memory, love, 
and longing, had been pulling him along through his own life, as perhaps the memories of 
our loved ones do for us in our life. In the end, in order to save his father Jake has to sacrifice 
his life, not only mentally but physically too, in order to release his father and give them both 
a second chance. In reverse a parent must make sacrifices in their own lives to allow a child 
to share both space and time. With the arrival of a child some aspects of life seize to be 
important and consequently whither and fade. Within the safe confines of science fiction 
Jake's character was able to give back what his father had given him. Life itself.

The realities that real life throws up are somewhat different but the lessons "The Visitor" 
teaches are not. My responsibility is to try and hand down the wisdom and love that I felt 
from my own parents. I am not only my sons father but his grandmother and grandad 
combined. And, perhaps when he has grown into a larger pair of trousers he will read this 
himself and feel their hands resting reassuringly on his shoulders.

It is only now as a father, that I am able to appreciate the huge level of energy and 
commitment that my parents bestowed on me. Standing here on the high generational 
middle ground, looking up the line at the ever growing small Treadwell, who is able to  take 
on the world in a way that I never could. Every milestone he passes along the way, no matter 
how big or small reminds me of myself at his age. And this in turn leads me back along the 
generational line to my own folks. I guess it must have been the same for them when I was 
a boy. They would have been reminded of themselves as children, and their own parents 
would not have been far from those thoughts too. Just as young Treadwell is oblivious to 
the constant uncovering of childhood memories in his dads time travelling mind. In those 
moments of quiet reflection, of seemingly looking into the far off distance of nothingness, 
that place where memories and day dreams co-exist together, my mother and father were 
no doubt lost somewhere along the invisible through line that bonds parent with child. Just 
as Sisko was lost to his own son Jake, in a place called sub-space, being pulled along 
Jake's life line toward it's inevitable conclusion. 
I do hope that when short Treadwell becomes tall Treadwell, when he grows tired of Ben 10, 
Spider-man and the likes, that he might show an appreciation of Trek itself? In whatever 
incarnation or time line it may be in. In fact he's already stepping into more mature Sci-Fi 
already, he's been quite taken with Doctor Who lately, which i'm very pleased about. Yes, 
around tea time on Saturdays the Treadwell men take to the sofa and watch Matt Smith 
having another adventure in his trusty blue box. Just as I used to peep out from behind the 
sofa watching Tom Baker battling with green one eyed plastic blobs, so Max will hide from 
Ice Warriors, Cybermen and Weeping Angels.

Inevitably as child grows into rebellious teenager and young adult, common interests tend 
to go out the window. However sometimes these interests reconnect, as with myself and 
my moms enthusiasm for science fiction, especially Star Trek. Many a long afternoon was
spent out in space watching Pickard, Janeway and Sisko boldly going where no one had 

During this period in 1997, I listened a lot to two pieces of music that were composed for 
Star Trek episodes. "He's Toast" by Dennis McCarthy from Deep Space Nine episode "Life 
Support" and, "Tasha's Farewell" by Ron Jones from Next Generation episode "Skin Of Evil." 
They come from an album called Space And Beyond by the City Of Prague Symphony 
Orchestra, which i obtained sometime around February 1997, I was listening to them in the 
weeks leading up to moms heart attack. You don't often find music associated with TV sci-fi 
to have such a deep rooted effect on the psyche, but both of these compositions have a 
timeless haunting ethereal like quality, they both possess a quiet stillness that lulls the 
listener into a place devoid of time and thought. I still sometimes drift off to sleep with them 
taking me out in the vast glittering void of space, filled with majesty and mystery.

In the Star Trek canon the benchmark that "The Visitor" achieves in its writing and acting 
has very rarely been equaled for me, and it leaves behind a legacy for future  generations 
of science fiction fans to be inspired and touched by. It was deservedly nominated for a 
Hugo Science Fiction Award for best drama. If you haven't seen it i would urge you to seek 
it out. It is effortlessly acted out by Avery Brookes (Sisko) and Tony Todd (future Jake), and 
beautifully written by Michael Taylor. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially for 
parents, and especially fathers of sons. It is not merely another throw away tv si-fi story, it 
is food for the soul itself. It is art at its highest possible zenith, allowing us to look deeply at 
ourselves, at life, and beyond. And learn what it is to be human.

Whether or not the story tapped into some kind of subconscious vein that heightened my 
feelings and ultimately facilitated a connection to a nexus point of immense change, or just 
simply evoked a strong emotional response, really doesn't matter. The healing effect it had, 
of release and relief does, and continues to do so to this day through its central message - 
that the cord between blood relatives can and will always exist, no matter where you are in 
time and space.