There is nothing more exciting and horribly nerve-wracking than sending a model, precariously balanced in high heels backstage, onto the runway wearing the physical embodiment of your dreams -- and hoping that the audience will love your vision as much as you do. At the first flash of Michele’s Morrow’s “Live Long and Prosper” gesture to the audience at the Her Universe Fashion Show last month during Comic-Con, everything else melted away. My long journey to San Diego did not matter, for I could hear cheers in the audience loud and clear and I knew my Trekkie family, old and new, was proud.
But let me go back a few steps. My name is Laura Desch, and I grew up in a family where Asimov was a household name and stars were more than things for wishing upon. My bedtime stories were more of the alien variety than princesses. And I loved it. Science fiction was full of everything I liked about the world: discovery, adventure, and mystery. I was a child who looked at fireworks thinking they were galaxies and wanted to see them closer.
My father, whose bookshelf spilled over with sci-fi, was so happy to see that I had inherited the gene and gladly shared his collection with me. I was too young for most of his novels, but that didn’t stop me from trying. And that was when it happened: Having given up on finding anything to watch one night, my father settled in with reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series and I was utterly captivated. It became our family fun time, watching reruns together and bonding through Star Trek. My mother and I were already close (years of Girl Scouts had seen to that), but Star Trek became the foundation of my relationship with my father.
The next few years were full of the classic reruns as well as devotedly watching any new Trek episodes (Enterprise at the time). In between new episodes we would go back and watch Voyager, TNG or DS9, my dad catching me up on all that I had missed. To me, Star Trek is about family, both the family of characters I watched on TV and the ones surrounding me as we watched.
Fast forward to a decade later, and I, as a sci-fi fanatic turned art student, practically jumped on the chance to combine both passions into one. The Her Universe contest announcement couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I was finishing my last year on a fashion degree, unsure on how to proceed post-grad from there, and trying very hard not to think about it. A fashion contest devoted to making couture for geeks and by geeks seemed almost too good to be true. Suddenly, anything seemed possible. Having experienced first-hand what fashion thinks of geeks, and what geeks think of fashion, I was eager to show both worlds that science fiction and fantasy was a treasure trove of inspiration for the fashion world, one often ignored or mislabeled as too “costume-y.”
So of course my first thought was Star Trek. Coming off the tails of a new surge of popularity due to the reboot, Star Trek seemed like the perfect ambassador to bridge the worlds of nerd and fashion in a way that was relevant and refreshing. My sketchbook quickly filled with ideas, and after a few (dozen) phone calls of encouragement, I had submitted a Mirrorverse Kirk design to the contest and had a vague plan as how to get my Midwest self out to San Diego on the rare chance I would be selected.
Life went back to normal as I waited for the announcement. I threw myself into frantically studying for finals and sewing my thesis collection, keeping myself afloat with caffeine and my favorite episodes of TOS. Meanwhile, a few states over, my father began a struggle of his own.
Things got better before they got much worse. I was one of the chosen few for the Her Universe show and I was beyond excited. My ridiculous passion for all things Trek had translated into a couture design I was proud to have the chance to make and share with everyone. I was just about to graduate and everything, quite surprisingly, seemed sunny. It was short-lived.
My parents had waited until I graduated to tell me. “Your father has been having stomach pains,” my mother told me. “We’re sure it’s nothing, maybe an ulcer, but nothing untreatable.”
It was cancer.
It’s hard to explain what I felt in that moment. I can only say that I felt young again. There’s something about the suffering of a parent that makes you feel at a loss of what to do, what to say. The ones who spent years caring for you all of a sudden need you to care for them. “It is treatable,” doctors said. “It is lucky you caught it when you did.” But the big C word still hung heavy in the air, making everything tenser and scarier than it seemed before.
We watched Star Trek like we always did when I was home from school, but this time I worried intensely about how many years of watching together we had left. The emails from Her Universe were in full swing, discussing scheduling and plans, and I struggled with the decision I felt I had to make. It was selfish, I thought, too selfish to run off to San Diego when I was needed more at home. I didn’t want to hide in my sewing room for a month working on a gown, a fantasy and a dream, as I watched my father struggle through chemo and long hospital stays. I knew I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t stop the cancer with wishes and hopes. But I could offer support and my time to my mother and father, taking care of pets while they were at the hospital, running errands, and picking exactly which VHS episodes of TOS to take to the hospital. Like with everything in my family, we tried to solve it with the comfort of a well-loved Star Trek episode.
I sent my email to Her Universe still with torn emotions, stating that I couldn’t compete when confronted with my father’s cancer. That I wouldn’t be able to construct my design in the way I wanted or the way that the Her Universe show deserved. It was hard, but it felt necessary.
The response my email received shocked me. It was full of such love and support that I was speechless. The team was genuinely saddened by my news and wanted to work with me to find a way for me to still compete. My friend Katie Elhoffer, who was currently designing Ashley Eckstein’s gown for the show and had heard about my father’s situation, called me almost immediately. She offered up her place in Los Angeles as a studio space, volunteering herself and her time to also take me to San Diego when the time for the show came. And she went one step farther, calling upon her network of Los Angelian friends to find me a model, fellow giant Trekkie Michele Morrow. All the logistical concerns I had about the Her Universe show were rapidly being solved. I was grateful and overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness. I had only just one more thing to figure out.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I was so worried or so torn by my decision. My parents were already so proud of me. They wanted me to go to San Diego just as much as I did. My mother pulled me aside during one visit with my father in the hospital after a bad round of chemo to tell me “Dad will recover whether you’re here to watch or not. Go to LA, finish the dress, and make us proud.”
And I did.
The week of the contest was a whirlwind of late-night sewing, model fittings, and the type of adrenaline that gets things done. The day of the show was here and somehow I was in San Diego, my Mirrorverse gown was finished, and my model looked superb. It was practically a shock to look in the mirror and realize this was actually happening. The day was no longer about whether I won or not; I was proud of myself no matter the results. The show had become, to me, about the support fellow geeks show each other when one is struggling and how Trekkies are really one big family. I know that I would have never made it to the Her Universe show if not for the kindnesses of Katie, Michele, and the Her Universe team. Their belief in my design and in me gave me the support and strength I needed to leave my family and take a chance on myself.
It is true, as it always has been for me, that Star Trek is about family, hope and love. I love Star Trek. Michele loves Star Trek. Katie, Her Universe, and many others all love Star Trek. And just like my actual family, we have bonded together over Star Trek in a way that has deeply affected my life.
It is now my turn to queue up our favorite episodes of Trek as my father sits exhausted, but alive (and recovering) on the couch, ready for the return of family fun night. He is proud of me, even though I didn’t win, and so am I. I can’t say it enough: Star Trek has never been about winning or losing; Star Trek is about family. Mine, yours and ours -- all of ours.
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