Patient’s Name: Sulu, Hikaru
“Then there’s Sulu who was a pilot and is still the pilot of Jim’s ship […]” – A World of Crazy
Young Hikaru thinks, as he flips through a lovingly ragged comic book, that he should be a superhero. So he sneaks into his father’s study, removes one of the beloved katanas from the wall rack (had to stand on pile of books, he’s a bit short for his age). Then it’s a matter of snitching a blanket from the hall closet and a wide belt from the back of his parent’s bathroom door.
They live up high, in an entire half-floor of a tall building of expensive lofts. The balcony is more of a patio, stretching the length of one glassed side. His mother has a special garden at one end and a small make-shift greenhouse which Hikaru pretends, sometimes, is a great big jungle. (In his late adolescence, he’ll come to appreciate the greenhouse for what it is and does—and the beauty therein; it’ll be his go-to place when days seem bad.)
The boy is smart enough to stay away from the edge—not from fear of heights (he loves being up high) but to avoid upsetting his parents. So he settles for running, leaping and kicking back and forth across the patio, his blanket satisfying catching air and billowing. The sheath is still on the katana (if it gets scratched, he’ll be in serious trouble) as Hikaru swings it around and cuts down invisible enemies.
There’s also one other thing he settles for; that’s scrambling to the top of low brick wall which separates the barbecue pit from all else and jumping out with his arms spread and the katana an arc in the sky. He wants to fly.
Superheroes fly. Hikaru is a superhero. Therefore, he’ll fly.
He talks his father into letting him sky-dive when he’s sixteen; his father thinks he is going through a phase, will settle down (join the family corporation when he’s ready). Hikaru knows different. It’s thrilling, the free fall, as he plummets in open air and is no longer bound to the earth. So it’s no surprise that the next year, Hikaru Sulu extends his desire a little further. He gets his private pilot’s license. That is even better, to see the ground so far below (only tiny dots of life) and still. By then his talk of becoming a pilot is not just fantasy. It’s a reality he is living; one he loves every minute of. The first time an engine hick-ups mid-air, his heart jumps but then the training kicks in and he checks a few instruments, decides he’ll be okay. There is always danger and unpredictability, but Hikaru has the confidence to believe he can handle it.
At the age of twenty-one, he is a pilot of small runner planes used for medical transport. It makes him feel worth-while, knowing that he helps save lives by doing what he loves. Life is good, even though his father gives him the silent treatment for disrespecting his father’s (long-held) wishes and choosing a career not in keeping with the golden plan laid down since his birth.
Then it happens.
Night is closing in and it’s cold in Denver, Colorado. Hikaru straps himself into the cockpit, checks his instruments, waiting for the fuel line to be detached from the plane. An ambulance comes barreling down the runway, sirens blaring and red. There’s a heart needed in California by early morning for the transplant of a fifteen year-old dying girl. Hikaru vows to himself that he won’t let her down.
The plane is almost past the Rockies when it gives a lurch in a strong gust of wind (a front coming in). Hikaru is calm, rights his balance to compensate for the air currents. He’s in the zone, counting down what little time they have left to get to the coast. Then a light starts flashing—a warning that makes his heart plummet and the left wing engine cuts out. The rest is a blur, as he does the best he can to get them to a safe spot and control the diving of the plane. The last thing he remembers, right before the crash, is when the terrible ringing in his ears suddenly dies into silence. (Then the plane hits the top of a grove of trees, comes down hard into the earth.)
Hikaru Sulu lives.
The rear of the plane is crumpled and torn apart. One medic dies, impaled on metal; another injured but survives. The heart is gone; the rescue team finds an overturned, half-smashed cooler some distance away from the crash site.
He learns, waking up a week later from a coma, that the girl in California died. His arm is broken, needs three painful surgeries, and is slow to heal; his mind even slower. The first time (two months after the plane went down and Hikaru felt an unimaginable fear) he tries to go back to work, his hands shake too badly and the co-pilot’s eyes are all sympathy.
He can’t get off the ground and cannot figure out how to make his brain return to the serene state in which it used to live. So he lays at home, in bed, and doped high on pain medication to ease the throbbing of his arm. That is how Hikaru falls asleep, most nights. The medication takes him away. That he dreams about flying and falling, over and over, he tells no one—not even the therapist his mother talks him into seeing.
The doctor says it’s okay that he feels so depressed he stays in bed for a day or two at a time. She says it’ll pass; his parents pat his hand and tell him it’ll be okay. Everyone says the same thing. One night, when he awakes from a dream too blurry to remember, he thinks on their words, cries silently in the dark. His heart says it’s not alright, won’t be okay ever again.
Two weeks later, he’s in his mother’s greenhouse, slowing scraping through dirt as she tends an orchid when the urge to get into a plane and fly strikes him out-of-the-blue. He drops the trowel, tells her, “I want to go flying today.”
She smiles at him, “If you call up Manny’s, you can probably schedule a short flight tomorrow morning.” Manny’s is a local, private airfield with two hangars—the place where Hikaru took his first flight lessons.
But that’s not good enough. It has to be right then; he feels like the world will collapse otherwise. So he returns her smile and says, “I’m going out there now.”
Manny—a friend of his father’s and a long-time friend of his own since he was a teenager—won’t let him use a plane. They argue about it for over an hour, Hikaru riding high on a wave of anger. Manny explains that he doesn’t have any available, that Hikaru ought to wait until he or a buddy can go up with him.
“I don’t need a fucking babysitter!” Hikaru screams. “I’m not some fresh-faced idiot, damn you, Manny. Let me go up!”
His reactions are crazy, out of the ordinary; Manny tries to calm him down, tell him he’s worked up for no good reason. Hikaru doesn’t care, only thinks about getting off this earth that’s binding him. In the end, he waits until Manny turns his back and then makes a break for the hangar in the distance. Inside is a small plane, much like the one he crashed, and he tries to force the door open.
Manny and two of his crew manage to pull him off the plane; it takes a good hard punch to his jaw to put him down, and he lands on his bad arm. The pain is sharp, like a knife cutting through layers that had fogged his mind. It’s all Hikaru can do, panting on the ground and listening to his mentor tell him “Just get the fuck off my field, Sulu.”
They say it’s being cooped up so long (earthbound) that made him snap like that. They say—his family and doctor—that perhaps he is ready to fly again. Manny, however, won’t speak to him; Hikaru never attempts to go back there.
He manages to get a plane into the air before his whole body starts vibrating like a tightly pulled string. The co-pilot has to take them down, and Hikaru cannot find his initial sense of elation. It’s dissipated as if he’d never felt it. He spends the next four days moping about his apartment—refusing to see anyone. Because, he realizes, it’s still not okay. He takes his pain medication and sleeps for hours on end.
That’s how the pattern emerges. He’ll stay reclusive and uncaring for days until the need to fly hits him hard enough to prompt living again. Those moments last longer and longer, each time he thinks it means he’s ready to take to the air again, to retrieve his old life. He no longer sees the concern lining his mother’s face when he bursts into his parent’s loft and announces, “Today! I can do it today, I swear!” There is only the euphoria of being healed and the itch to fly.
His body doesn’t cooperate with his brain. He sweats and his stomach continues to roil once he’s in the cockpit; sometimes he gets physically sick after take-off. It kills a part of him every time, and he feels like he’s suffocating. So he goes home, tells people to go the fuck away and cannot find the will to make himself a bowl of cereal in the morning.
His mother comes over during these periods, holds his face between her hands as she whispers, “Love, there’s something wrong with you. Let me help.”
Eventually, he agrees that he wants help—during one of the bad times—and ends up poked and prodded by several different people. He has to keep a journal and rate his level of happiness, once in the morning and once in the evening. This takes months, the evaluation and appointments. They try several drugs, attempt to wean him off his painkillers. (He starts buying a black-market replacement, which he keeps secretly; they help him sleep.)
His friends stop checking in on him; his mother worries constantly and his father won’t talk about Hikaru’s problems at all. The world shrinks down to a narrow cycle of emotions. It’s as if he has forgotten other feelings, like simple comfort or mild annoyance. There is no middle ground, only drama that won’t stop and sucks him in like a blackhole. Sometimes he’s aware of it, how he is acting; other days, there is no room for introspection.
They try to soften the blow to his family by explaining that it is likely a genetic disposition triggered by an intense life event. Hikaru thinks, then, about almost dying—the sounds of screams from the medics echoing in the early dawn—and wants to laugh hysterically.
“Can you help me?” he asks instead.
“Yes,” everyone promises. “Yes, Hikaru, we will help you.”
Except his father. The man thinks solely of shame, contacts a lawyer and an old friend by the name of Dr. Puri. Hikaru’s life-that-was slips away with one phone call. His father escorts him to Georgia and tells his only son, from the inside of a dark-tinted company car (while Hikaru is motionless in the hands of two white-coat men), “Do not contact us until you have control of yourself.”
Dr. Puri’s greeting is “Mr. Sulu, welcome to Fleet Heights. We will take excellent care of you.”
As weeks progress into years, Hikaru has a moment or two of lucidity which almost brings him to his knees. He realizes Oh God, I am not getting better and knows the taste of true despair. Then the moment passes and he is consumed (and lost) again.
This series is complete. Spock’s back-story shall remain untold except through snippets elsewhere; he’s engimatic, the Captain’s Vulcan is. ;)
Here’s the chronological order of patients’ arrivals at Fleet Heights (first to most recent):
-Spock (during Jim’s one-year absence)
There is approximately a five-to-six year gap between Jim’s arrival and Sulu’s. After that, the crew begins to collect rather quickly. :)
Thanks for reading!