“To my tale fin injoy”
– Spongebob Squarepants and my brother
At 8:38 p.m. one January evening, my dad and brother were downstairs watching Star Trek, as is their custom. It goes like this: Around 8:20, David approaches my dad, places a leading hand on his shoulder, and sighs hopefully. In a different situation, my dad might pause and ask David to articulate his thoughts. But Star Trek is liturgy, so the sigh is understood. My dad takes the cue, they go downstairs, and they beam themselves into a far-off galactic quadrant.
David can’t—wait, doesn’t—wait, struggles to communicate what he’s feeling because he’s diagnosed with bilateral periventricular nodular heterotopias. His mental mapping is different. This is why he can tell you that October 26, 1955 was a Wednesday but he can’t tell you the name of his math teacher. Some days I still can’t understand this. Who’s your math teacher, David? He sighs again, not hopefully, but angrily, huffing air through his nostrils and flailing his arms. You can’t give the brain Alpine topography and ask it to traverse the Andes.
But TV is navigable. With my dad’s prodding, David can recall complex plotlines, separate good guys from bad guys, and hoot at subtle and barely-funny Star Trek humor.
Spongebob Squarepants is another staple in David’s television canon. Rarely is he more engaged than when relaying the details of Spongebob’s underwater undertakings. In his favorite episode, Spongebob gets a little self-absorbed after making a cameo in a Krusty Krab commercial. While on the job, he confuses a beckoning customer for a wide-eyed signature seeker. And who am I making this bad boy out to? Failing to detect the snark in the customer’s rejoinder, Spongebob signs the autograph “To my tail fin.” The customer swims off in disgust and leaves Spongebob, still oblivious, to hand the remaining autograph to the ever cranky Squidward and say, “Enjoy.” Each time he sees this, David cackles so gleefully that it makes me think for a second I’m just now understanding humor for the first time.
But evenings belong to Star Trek. This particular evening, they’re watching “All Good Things.” The episode hopscotches unannounced between past, present, and future to culminate in what my dad describes as “a kind of trial by ordeal to see if humanity has made enough progress to be allowed to go on.” David could explain as much in his own words. I know because he’s told me.
I’ve also seen the episode before (David is very content with reruns) and, not being the Trekkie my dad and David are, I stay upstairs to watch The Taxslayer™ Bowl or some other corporately hijacked sporting event.
It’s not long before my dad has come upstairs looking for the Versed (ver · SED) because David is acting weird. Versed is a sedation and memory loss-inducing DIY anesthetic. We use it when David shows signs of a seizure.
I run downstairs to see David on the couch. His skin is pallid, his arms are limp, and humanity is on trial before his eyes. I talk to him, ask him simple questions, and tell him to move his hands. I put my palm underneath his shaking jaw. He raises his arm, tries to open his hand but can’t, and grazes my face with his knuckles. Everything he says is muffled.
We load the Versed into the syringe and shoot it up his nostrils. He breathes a little deeper and struggles to keep his eyes open. We’re all down there—my mom, my dad, my sisters, even Millie, our dog—and we talk about David and his seizures, how this one isn’t as bad as the one in November. David lies on the couch and sighs when he hears his name.
Last year, David started texting. His texts often mention our Millie, and always open or close with his favorite phrase: “To my tail fin, enjoy” or “To my tale fin injoy” as he prefers to spell it. His texts are occasionally comprehensible. Once I was hiking in Austria, and he texted me “Come home now to my tale fin injoy.” But they are mostly baffling. I don’t pretend to know the meaning of “To my tale fin injoy you sleep on the roof with Millie” any more than I pretend to follow most Star Trek plot turns.
Humanity survives in “All Good Things.” Captain Picard successfully overcomes a discontinuity between past, present, and future to resolve a spatial anomaly in the space-time continuum. Q, the omnipotent Übermensch, then announces that past, present, and future have been reconciled.
We can be grateful humanity’s not on trial. If we were, I suspect only memory loss could save us. And there’s probably not enough Versed in the galaxy. So there are the memories that will always haunt us: David shaking on the couch, unable to say a word. But there are also the memories we hope for: David texting “To my tale fin injoy,” laughing uncontrollably, and everything making sense.