Star Trek: The Star To Every Wandering: Themes on Losses in Captain Kirk's Life
This is a continuation of the other article on The Star to Every Wandering. Here we will examine the portions pertaining to the losses that Kirk faced and how they motivated him throughout his life.
The Tholian Incident mentioned by author David R. George III (DRGIII) in 2251 is notable for likely being the first time Kirk was prepared to face his death as he got the base ready for depressurization. It would seem this was done on purpose as a point for Kirk to encounter his Echo and have a confrontation of sorts with mortality, a subject Kirk is all too familiar with. He lost his parents as a child, was witness to a massacre on Tarsus IV, and lost many under his command. Yet one of the deepest losses to hurt Kirk was Edith Keeler, and all the Kirks in this novel appreciate that and reference that for several of Kirk’s motivations throughout this novel. By reminding the Echo about this need to put oneself behind the needs of the emission, Kirk convinces the Echo to leave the Nexus.
Kirk’s friends recognized this pain from death, and they did try to help him. In Provenance of Shadows, Spock approaches McCoy shortly after the parasite infestation of Deneva about Kirk overcoming his emotions too quickly, especially with the severity and number of recent losses. This is because Deneva was just a month after “City on the Edge of Forever” and at Deneva Kirk lost his brother and sister-in-law. Kirk had to hold it together, but Spock wondered if Kirk was even showing any genuine emotions? Not to Spock, who feels Kirk is ignoring what happened to Sam and his wife as well as Edith. The Kirk, Bones, and Spock have a meeting together in sickbay over it and Kirk does not respond well to it initially, but when Spock proclaims his expertise on emotion, that gets everyone’s attention. Kirk mentally knows he is burying what has happened, but wonders if the fast-paced nature is helping him or not. His friends stress that the pain won’t go away unless dealt with, and so Kirk agrees to get help at Starbase 10….but did he? Would his friends investigate and violate protocol? We don’t know, but based on how Kirk is in The Star To Every Wandering, he learned to live with it, just like he told Sybok in “The Final Frontier.” Kirk needs his pain, because it’s his way to atone for letting Edith die. The loss defined him. All of them did.
And to compound that loss, Kirk only spoke about Edith to Spock and McCoy. No one else knew about anything from that fateful day in 1930, no one knew of the sacrifice history demanded of her and of Kirk. And it is even less likely that Kirk told Spock and McCoy about the night that Kirk and Edith talked about their families, and the loss they both had. Maybe the conversation between the two is further emphasis of Kirk’s feelings that he had perfection, even knowing he would have to give it up for the sake of his future. As a starship captain, he rarely could put his needs out there ahead of his crew, much less humanity. He had done that so much in his life even up to that point. And here he had a woman who had also suffered losses and also held such a bright vision for the future. But it didn’t matter, because Kirk always put the mission ahead of his needs and her death was required if the Federation was to exist. Kirk saved humanity but all it costed him was…perfection. And he can’t even fully articulate that to anyone. It’s all trapped inside Kirk, and he felt he would never have peace again.
Not that he didn’t try to find that again, as he had relationships with women afterward. The women to have contended with Kirk’s heart were numerous (watch the original series and you catch onto that quickly) but Antonia (from “Generations”) was the woman who was the closest to playing on the same field as Kirk, according to The Star to Every Wandering. With Antonia, I feel it can be seen that Kirk realized how he might be replacing Edith with this woman and that potential was too much. He therefore went back to Starfleet to escape Antonia and go back to the lifestyle that brought him to Edith in the first place. It is essentially his coping mechanism: he can run away to duty because it’s a noble cause and can be rationalized in Kirk’s mind. Yet while the book makes it seem like Kirk would avoid Edith memories, especially when in the presence of the Guardian, I think instead he seeks them out inadvertently because he goes back to Starfleet, the reason why the whole incident happened in the first place. Better the devil you know…
Now, how did that return to Starfleet go? Poorly. The last day Kirk and Antonia were together in 2284 should be an indicator of how Kirk hasn’t moved on from Edith and readily accepts the lonely route. With a sudden, cut action, Antonia removes herself from his life and in just a few moments, she went from the bed to dressed and out the door, never to be seen again by the original Kirk. All because Jim decided to go back to Starfleet despite him promising to make it work with her. Yet when he felt he had a chance to say something to make her stay, he chose to let her go. Kirk broke his original promise to her and for that he never forgave himself, but it has to be more than that. Was it the intent? Did he ever believe he would stay with her? Or did he know she would be so difficult that when the moment came it would be a clean cut so to speak and an easy way to being alone again (and in fact such a fast and seemingly permanent basis)? Who knows, but take that message into account which Kirk Echo sees. She clearly has forgiven him by 2293 and I think realized that it was right for Kirk to go back and do what he was meant for, what his best destiny was, as Spock would say. Kirk’s reasons for being in Starfleet after 2267 are definitely forever murky, but time and time again he does good. But will it ever be enough to make up for Edith?
Now for a change in track. The reference to “The Wrath of Khan” – “I’ve never faced death…not like this…” DRGIII tried to tie in all the losses of Kirk and say that he wasn’t being honest with himself at the time over the death of Spock and that in fact Edith was the worst. But that was a different kind of death. This, a friend from almost twenty years of service together, whom had on several occasions survived death, and for Kirk to suddenly be thrown from the victory over Khan to the loss of Spock would be a death that would be unlike Kirk had ever faced. That was family. So, sorry DRGIII, but I think Nicholas Meyers had it right, though I like how you tied Edith to it.
Amongst the losses of Kirk’s life, family is another major component. And for a man whose had living family members yet felt his family was his crew, Kirk’s house in Idaho is interesting. It was his Uncle’s and he loved it as a child because of the person it was associated with. Once gone, Kirk even admits to not taking good care of it, which can also be said of the relationship Kirk has with his nephews. Sure, they have other commitments too but Kirk never seemed to make it work. Yet the home where he had his crew, the Enterprise was cherished to the point of being on the plane of a soulmate. So, his biological family had its connections basically severed but his crew became Kirk’s family, and that is why the losses he encountered along that journey resonated even deeper with him. The fear of loss is powerful, and after losing Edith, Kirk never let go of that. The comment at El Capitan – Jim saw so many people he cared about die. Gary, Sam, Ma, Pa, David, and Edith to name a few. So when he feels he will die alone, he is really saying that anyone who cares about him will be dead. How. Horrible.
In The Fire and the Rose Spock knew that, and so knew there would be trouble after Kirk told Spock he left again in 2293. It was because of politics and also having to constantly save so many lives so he wanted to find some peace outside of the fleet. But Spock feels the decision to leave was more about Kirk isolating himself, becoming lonely, and so why he pursued the dangerous activities he did before the Nexus. That loneliness started with Gary Mitchel and only grew as family and lovers died while Kirk lived. As the years rolled on, Kirk grew more and more isolated until after the Khitomer Accords allowed him a clean break for complete removal. I personally cannot buy all of that especially with things like the movies and all the good he did, but to each his/her own.
One final thought: After Edith’s father died, she kept a calendar from that year. Only thing left from England. She didn’t get rid of it because it was not only her only remaining tie but also because she felt time stopped and she could not move on. Kirk was doomed to repeat that, with the time he spent in 1930 and the loss he incurred never leaving him.
© 2017 Leonard Kelley