A Time To Heal
Regrets are a double-edged sword… I’ve learned that the hard
way - left to ponder the ‘what ifs’ in a darkened world of my
own creating while I passed the time examining the universe,
life and all their dizzying quirks. On the one hand they contribute
to the downtrodden nature of a guilty conscious, on the other
they help mold and shape fate - for would things turn out the
way they had if we had never committed any actions we would later
come to regret? Would history be changed? Did our regrets, while
weighing down our conscience like Atlas carrying the weight of
the world, also serve to make us humble, to help us grow up?
Did they serve to help us ultimately become better people? But
at what price? Was the heartache, the pain, the constant strain
and the wondering, all worth the knowledge eventually gained
from living to regret?
The first time I laid eyes on my daughter after over twenty years
of separation: fully grown, graceful, suave, more beautiful then
I could have imagined - I wasn’t sure any price was worth the
agonizing penalty of missing this lovely creature become all
that she was.
B’Elanna didn’t know that I was there when her ship landed. I
was there, lost in a crowd of people; a nameless face amongst
others more deserving than I to witness as their loved ones appeared
for the first time in seven years. In all honesty I don’t think
I could have stayed away if I tried. I had talked myself into
and out of going so many times that morning that I wouldn’t have
known up from down at one point, but instinct had prevailed,
and whatever natural parental inclination that still existed
within me demanded that I gaze upon my daughter with my own eyes:
see the brilliant chief engineer of Voyager, see the wife and
mother, see the woman who had explored uncharted areas of space
and had boldly gone where few had gone before. And finally, to
see what I had missed out on, what I had left, what I was undeserving
of having fathered - as a masochistic means of furthering the
punishment I inflicted on myself almost daily for twenty years
by facing what I had lost.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. Me, a grown man who had
once believed he could tame a klingon, cried unhampered and uncontrollably
as I watched her appear through the sparkling gleam of a transport.
It was the second most poignant moment of my life; the first
being bringing her into the world, and I was awed into reverent
silence. Twenty yards away she stood, straight and proud, sunlight
gleaming off her dark hair as contentment glowed in her eyes…
my eyes. In her arms she held a swaddled infant, my granddaughter,
and over her should draped the arm of her husband, my son-in-law,
and I can truthfully say I had never seen anything more beautiful
in my life. They were like an artist’s aesthetically pleasing
portrait of a family: of warmth, love, sunshine and happiness.
His love for her shown in his face, in the way he gazed down
at her - the way his arm lay firmly around her: protecting her,
possessing her and she returned his glow tenfold, gazing up at
him with unmarred adoration and something akin to peace before
they both turned to gaze down lovingly at the baby nestled safely
in her arms.
For seconds it was just them before me - the crowd around me,
the universe at large; all receding into a silent place as I
stared uninhibited at my legacy… my B’Elanna. It wasn’t long
before my view was obstructed and my daughter and her family
were swarmed by people, no doubt her in-laws, but that brief
picture of them, bathed in sunlight, home to the Alpha Quadrant
after facing many perilous journeys, would be forever burned
into my memory.
I walked away then, too much the coward to face her, just as
I had been a coward twenty years ago when I had deprived myself
of her adolescence. Watching her from afar was one thing, meeting
her face to face, actually speaking with her, was quite another.
It had taken every bit of courage that I had just to contact
her on Voyager a few months ago, but I had had to do that then
just as I had to come see her today, the guilt that tore my soul
couldn’t take her absence from my life any longer.
Years ago, before I became resolved to my isolated fate, I used
to dream of her. I dreamed of holding her as an infant, of watching
her take her first steps, of reading to her when she was far
to young to understand the words and then taking credit for the
fact that she became quite the little bookworm when she mastered
the art for herself. I felt her loss keenly: when I was asleep,
when I was awake - I am not so cold a man that I didn’t long
for my only child with every breath that passed through my body.
But at the time I thought I had done what was right, for both
of us. I longed for her, I ached for her, but I didn’t have the
strength to raise her, I didn’t have the valor to mend the tattered,
bruised wreckage my marriage had become.
Before I left B’Elanna and her mother I had a nightmare, I saw
my future unfurl before me, one long fight after another. I saw
B’Elanna as a troubled teenager - one who never felt comfortable
bringing friends over or even coming home after school because
her parents would more than likely be at it again. I saw anger,
I saw discord, and I saw emotions I was unable to control and
feelings I was unable to fathom. The dream, no doubt a personification
of my morbid thoughts regarding my failing marriage, followed
me into my waking hours. I couldn’t shake it, I couldn’t face
it, so I left, leaving behind probably the only thing I’ve ever
done right in my life… creating B’Elanna.
For twenty years I bore the brunt of my actions, I lived with
the guilt, the remorse, every other tangible feeling that went
hand in hand with my unfathomable act. I worried for her with
the knowledge that I no longer had that right as a parent and
I loved her with the regret that she would never know how much.
I followed her career from afar, delighting when I heard she
had joined the academy, blaming myself when she had dropped out,
both dreading and understanding her chosen path to the Maquis,
and then agonizing in her disappearance with unbearable sorrow
only to later learn that she was alive, and well, and a valued
member of a famed crew.
As a parent I had failed miserably, but there must have been
some part of me that did something right, some gene perhaps that
allowed for this stunning being who was half of me to show her
brilliance to the universe. In fathering B’Elanna I had given
Voyager its prized engineer, given Tom Paris his wife, and Miral
her mother. I had given the universe this bright, brilliant flame
that had burned her own mark into the history books with little
to no help from me.
It took me a day to work up the courage to call her after watching
her disembark from Voyager. It surprised me that I found the
strength to do it at all. I had long sense passed myself off
as a coward, for no amount of hatred B’Elanna’s mother or B’Elanna
must have felt over my desertion could have matched my own self-loathing.
But I think I had finally come to realize that my guilt, my regrets,
had made me stronger. Had taught me at an unconceivable price
that courage is often a mark of wisdom, and wisdom comes from
the many extremities that occur when you’re trying to get a handle
on this thing called life. My mother used to tell me this old
earth adage, ‘it’s not rough times that mold you but how you
deal with them’ and I had two choices: continue to wallow in
my mountain of remorse, or finally, courageously, face all that
I done and build some kind of future. It wasn’t surprising that
the latter was the more appealing course of action.
Surprisingly my daughter agreed to meet with me, as if the fates
had finally taken pity on me and had granted this one wish. I
don’t think I’ve ever been so truly nervous as I was when I saw
her approaching the table where I sat in a restaurant picked
by her for our first meeting. My eyes went immediately to her
face, memorizing it, assessing it, looking for traits of me on
her while I marveled over being in close proximity to her, at
last. I felt my eyes weld with more tears and did nothing to
prevent them from falling. It’s not often that a man gets a second
chance and I was damned if I didn’t allow myself to experience
every last bit of it to the fullest.
She eyed me wearily, part angry, part sad, completely untrusting,
not that I blamed her, and I could do nothing, say nothing, in
fear of doing the wrong thing and ruining this chance. I was
struck immediately by her uniqueness, even in her weary state
she had this glow about her, this way of carrying herself that
commanded attention although she didn’t seem to notice the gazes
that lay riveted on her as she walked passed. She was striking,
my daughter, the perfect blend of both her ethnic backgrounds
- the epitome of klingon grace and the personification of human
cool yet she carried both with an unassuming, humble air, as
if she was unaware of the charisma she radiated.
Her stride was purposeful, pausing in front of our table only
briefly before sitting down, waving with a flash of her hand
that she didn’t expect me to rise out of my chair to greet her.
Not that I would have been able to stand anyway, my heart was
pretty much racing uncontrollably at that point, fear of rejection
out weighing my manners. To say I was struck dumb would be putting
it mildly, and for the longest time neither one of us spoke,
she assessing me, me assessing her, both of us wondering what
walls to come out from behind of and what risks to take.
It was B’Elanna who broke the silence, B’Elanna who jolted me
out of my daze by getting straight to the point. Of the two of
us she has the more courage, I wish I could take credit for that
but I can’t. She must get it from her mother.
“Don’t expect me to make this easy on you,” she stated, looking
at me unflinchingly in the eyes, no ‘hello’ no meaningless small
talk, just simple, straightforward honesty. Yet she said it without
real anger, as if she were simply stating factual information
and not something that would send my heart sinking despite the
fact that I had partly expected it.
“I know,” I stammered, my heart beating even faster as I desperately
fought for the right thing to say, anything that would keep her
there in front of me and let me know that I still had a chance.
“I don’t expect you to. The fact that you are here is enough.”
“Don’t expect me to make this easy on you, because I can’t,”
she continued, as if she hadn’t heard me at all, that or she
felt what she had to say would invalidate my response. “I can’t
because I’m too busy trying to sort out what it is I’m supposed
to be feeling.”
And there it was, the truth as she saw it. My daughter was not
without feelings, was not without her own baggage, and rightfully
so. I had abandoned her, I had hurt her deeply, but there was
hope. There was hope because she was there, and as weird as it
might sound, there was hope because she admitted to me that she
was confused, troubled even, and that admission, freely given,
let us both know that she was willing to sort through that confusion
to contemplate a larger meaning.
I think it struck me then, more than it had before, that my daughter,
the little child I had left, was definitely her own woman. There
was wisdom in her eyes, a softness that contradicted her strength,
a set line in her jaw that spoke of her determination. This was
a woman who had come into her own, a person who had discovered
her identity somewhere out in the Delta Quadrant and now tried
to balance the experiences of life with all that she had learned.
I would be a fool to believe that we didn’t have a lot of hurt
and anger to work through before I could once again be a father
to her… a grandfather to her daughter, but the wisdom on my daughter’s
face told me that she had a rebounding spirit, one that measured
the good with the bad and tried to fit them together as best
she could with the precision of the engineer that she was – fitting
all parts to create the whole package, gaining completion as
best she could… as best anybody could.
“Tell me about yourself,” I couldn’t help but burst out, giddy
over the fact that my child sat before me, as if it was just
now sinking in: my child, my daughter, my girl - who now sat
before me in all her elegance… amazing. “I want to hear all about
you, Tom, Miral, your time in the Delta Quadrant… everything.”
The weary look was back in her eyes, but there was a small smile
just teasing the corners of her lips, as if she was mildly amused
or maybe even touched by my enthusiasm.
“That’s a lot to go over,” she responded bluntly, but there was
a lightness to her tone, one that hadn’t been there before. “How
about we start like this: Hello, I’m B’Elanna Torres-Paris,”
she said, holding out her hand in offer of a shake.
“Hello B’Elanna,” I said softly, taking her strong hand in mine.
I didn’t say my name because I hoped, eventually, that she would
call me ‘dad’ again, or at the very least ‘father’, so I gripped
her hand as firmly as I could without hurting her and left it
at that; returning her gaze in a way that indicated that stubbornness
wasn’t just a klingon trait.
“So tell me about yourself B’Elanna Torres-Paris,” I repeated
She laughed and it was music to my ears.