We were in Seattle last week, celebrating the anniversary of my birth and also spring break.

We did our usual visit to the Museum of Pop Culture, MPop. You might know the museum by its former name, the Experience Music Project (EMP). It looks like Paul Allen went on the Ultimate Geek Culture Buying Spree so the mission of the place needed to be broadened and rebranded. Cool, cool. I’m completely and totally down with the evolution.

So, there’s a resident exhibit at MPop called Taking Punk to the Masses. Its focus is the Seattle/Pacific Northwest music scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s and I am, of course, so beyond there for it that it’s ridiculous. The main focus is on Nirvana, how could it not be, but Sub Pop gets a fair amount of love and there are at least mentions of just about every band I loved squeezed in somewhere and I love it. I love it so much (said in a Duckie voice while slammed up against the wall of the exhibit).

My love stems from how the whole exhibit speaks to my soul. It reminds me that there was a time when I was, I’m not even sure how to articulate it, but it was the very closest I ever got to being the real me. During those years, I didn’t waste a fuck worrying if I was being “too much”. Of anything.

Just calling up those memories and standing in a room where the collective effervescence of that era is celebrated is exhilarating. There was a delicious freedom in that time of my life that I can feel again when I look at Kurt’s old sweater or the wall of album covers that are the exact same ones that I collected. My family indulges me while I range through the artifacts of the history that still feels fresh to me.

But anyway, the story I wanted to tell you was…

We went up to the Star Trek exhibit, which is also permanent, and if you are a Trekkie, I imagine it is nirvana (See what I did there?). There is just a lot of stuff to look at and read and it feels very lovingly curated.

Now, I’m not a major Star Trek fan. I mean, I watched the reruns of the original a lot because I am of a certain age and our local TV station played them on weekend afternoons. An episode was usually playing when we were at Smokey’s Pizza on Saturdays eating pepperoni and olive pizza and drinking grape soda. I’m conversant in Trek but nothing beyond the original, really. But I have seen the Chris Pine movies, because, Pine.

There’s a clever little booth that’s part of the exhibit where you can film yourself mimicking James T. Kirk screaming the iconic line “Khaaaaaaaan” from Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan. (Note: after the Star Trek: Pine reboots came out and our son liked them, we thought it would be great to introduce him to the old movies and started with this one because my husband and I both agreed that in our memory this was the best one. I need to warn you if you’re thinking of doing this that it does not hold up. My recollection is that we made it roughly 20 minutes into the flick and turned it off with an apology. Disagree with me if you will, but I speak truth.). The booth has pretty cool technology and what a perfect thing for the geeks to experience.

There’s also a mini sound stage where you can watch yourself on a monitor as you film a short, Trek inspired scene. All the scene options allow you to use the transporter room and a phaser. I shot a scene, much to my kids’ dismay, and emptied my phaser into the engine of a spaceship like true G. My kids were not impressed with my skills. Whatever.

Back to the Khan booth, which is where I want to focus right now. The first time I walked by there was a family a four inside. A couple and two young-ish kids, like early elementary school. Mom and Dad were about mid-30s, fairly typical bearded Dad, both wearing some performance fabrics and Dad’s pants were those Dad Loose Fit khakis you see everywhere. I did a slow circle around the room because I wanted to film my own Khan face when they were done. Mostly to mortify my kids but don’t judge my motivation. I’m pretty sure my acting style is akin to Bill Shatner’s so it felt right.

I made my way back by and peeked in to see if they were finished and was surprised to observe that at that moment Dad’s face was buried in Mom’s shoulder and Dad was sobbing. Sobbing. Like, my dog just died sobbing. Mom was rubbing his back in circles and speaking very softly into the top of his head.

To be real, I am an unrepentant eavesdropper and collector of other people’s public moments, so I was delighted by this turn of events. The exhibit got a whole lot more interesting. I hovered by the Next Generation costumes near the Khan booth, hoping to hear what Dad was saying, because he and Mom were now murmuring between his sobs but too low for me to hear. I texted my sister so she’d know what was up.

Then, I found Eric and hiss whispered to him, “Dude, that guy in the Khan booth is sobbing. Let’s go check it out.” And he’s so much more appropriate than I am, so I walked off really fast, figuring he didn’t hear exactly what I said and was more likely to follow me if he didn’t fully understand what was up. He’d want to, like, give the guy a moment or whatever.

When we made it back around, they had moved out of the booth but Dad still had his head on Mom’s shoulder. He was coming down though, the sobs were softer and he was doing the hiccupping thing that comes on when the emotional shitstorm begins to lift.

“It’s not even the best scene in the movie,” Dad said into Mom’s shoulder.

OK, up until this point, I had assumed that Dad had suffered some grievous loss and was overcome by being surrounded by all things Trek. The backstory I’d already assigned him was that his own father had died recently and they had bonded over their love of Star Trek and that somehow, being in the Khan booth had allowed those emotions to bubble to the surface and spill out all over Mom’s shoulder. Maybe screaming “Khaaaaaaan!!!” popped the cork of grief repression and this was the explosion.

I suspect that’s the story I made up because it is totally something that I fear could happen to me. I was raised to keep a death grip on my emotions, so I didn’t exactly feel any of the harder ones until roughly 4-5 years ago and now my emotions leak out all over the place sometimes. It sucks. I hate for anyone to see me cry, which is likely why I was so turned on by Dad’s public display of strong emotions. Like an emotional zoo situation, where I could observe him displaying grief in his natural habitat.

On my third pass by them (or it could have been my fifth, I don’t know, I wasn’t keeping track), Dad was bending down, talking to the kids. I went in pretty close to hear what he was saying about the kid’s grandfather. That’s how fucking invested I was in my own take on the situation. Instead, Dad was explaining to them the plot of Wrath of Khan, in fairly elaborate detail.

And…I got kind of pissed.

He’d gotten that jacked up over Khan? He lost his shit in public over a movie? What the hell, Dad?

But here’s the kicker. I’d just been downstairs, getting misty over Cobain’s old sweater and guitar fragments. Where did I get off judging this guy for having an emotional release, obviously needed, over some piece of art that clearly meant so much to him on a deep, deep level?

Then I wanted to go over and hug his crying ass.