Growing Up With Buffy:
Reflections on the End of an Era
I read Saturday that Buffy was ending on May 20, but somehow, for the first 24 hours, I didn't think that much about it. I figure that was because shock always takes some time to wear off but now the pain is slowly seeping in. I started watching Buffy with Welcome to the Hellmouth and since then, I have only missed one episode. Seeing this show end is like watching a chapter of my life come to an end.
I realized today that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a part of my entire adult existence. I moved out of my parents' house in December of 1996, to a small, quirky apartment right back in the neighborhood I grew up in. Buffy started the next month, and out of boredom and some curiosity-- I had, after all, enjoyed the movie-- I started watching and was immediately hooked. The dialogue, the humor, the fact that I am admittedly easily amused, all of that ensured that I was completely enraptured with the show. My roommate and closest friend had been out that night, but by the time the next episode aired, I managed to talk her in to watching. Hanging out together watching and then discussing Buffy became a weekly ritual for us.
I remember that after What's My Line, Part I my fiancé Nathaniel, who lived 300 awful miles away from me in Wisconsin, called me and asked me if I would be his cradle-robbing, creature of the night girlfriend and I said that I thought I already was. It remains one of my favorite memories of him; it was so out of the blue, so spontaneous, that I practically fell in love with him all over again.
I moved from Chicago to the Twin Cities at the end of season two, with no idea how Angel would survive being killed by Buffy and heartbroken at the sad twists and turns in their relationship. The huge unknown looming in their lives and love reminded me of the unknown in my own. That move to Minnesota was the most terrifying choice of my life; I was leaving a good job and a good home to live in a state I had visited three times, a place I had decided to move to on the simple fact that the Twin Cities had more trees than Chicago. My best bet for a job involved nepotism, and even that didn't seem to be working too well. My fiancé and I barely even had a home-- the first three months of our lives in Minnesota would be spent house sitting for assorted family members. I think that we moved once a month that summer. Buffy had no idea of where she had sent her love and I had no idea where mine had brought me. Television was suddenly seeming less like escapism and more like a mirror of my reality. I tuned in to the Sunday reruns of first season whenever I could because it felt like stability.
Happily, by the time the new season began, my fiancé and I had our own place and real, honest to goodness jobs. We even had two cats to liven up apartment living in a suburb we had never thought we ever drive through again, much less live in. Buffy was on the run in Los Angeles, a city I had personally hated since being ruthlessly courted than dumped by one of its residents. I could see why a person would run away there and could understand even better why they would run right back out again. Nathaniel and I watched the show together, and that was great, but I still missed Tuesday nights watching Buffy with my best friend. Rebecca and I started phoning each week after Buffy, to compare impressions and obsessions. It wasn't the same as being with her, but it's kept us together for five years now. Buffy was settling into her new life, the one without Angel, and I was settling into mine, the one without Rebecca. Adjustment time all the way around.
Nathaniel and I had planned for a Halloween wedding and my bridesmaids had all managed to make it into town by the Tuesday before the big day. To calm nerves stretched tight by a new home, a new job and a wedding I had mostly planned while living 750 miles away, the five of us settled into my barely unpacked apartment and watched the rerun of the Halloween episode. Together for the first time in months, we all sighed together at the sheer tragic romance of Buffy and Angel. What can I say? It was a week for love.
Buffy was a freshman in college the year I first visited the Bronze. As a complete novice to internet, I was hopelessly confused by the linear board, and pretty much repelled by the chat room. The threaded posting board, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for me and I felt almost instantly at home there. I was a regular for two years at the Bronze, longer than many of my friends managed to stay there. When the Bronze shut its doors just months after Buffy's death, it was a blow, despite the fact that the majority of my friends were long gone from the site. When I first discovered the internet, I had thought that all online communities were like the Bronze; it didn't take long to see that almost none of them were. As an overworked and underpaid city teacher, I never did have enough money or time off to get to one of the posting board parties, having to content myself instead with reading the threads from the people who had been able to go. I read recently that I've just lost my last chance and it made me sad, despite the fact that it's been years since I considered myself a Bronzer.
With a weird synchronism, my mother and Joyce were diagnosed with their tumors in the same year. Joyce had a brain tumor that looked pretty benign; my mom had a cancer I had to practice to pronounce in a body part she wasn't supposed to have. After watching Buffy cry on Spike's shoulder after Fool For Love, I went to cry at the Bronze, whimpering that I wanted more of an escape in my escapism; that was the week I had come home to Chicago to be with my mom before her surgery. Shyler wrote back, saying she was in total sympathy with me, seeing as her mom had cancer, too, and so did her boyfriend. It was such a relief to talk to someone who understood. Shy had gone through everything I was going through and she had done it twice. She became the closest to a support group that I ever found for the children of cancer victims. After my mom's surgery, when it became clear that my mom's cancer had moved to a familiar yet more deadly location, Shy was the only person who was able to give me any comfort. Don't worry, she wrote back almost immediately, my boyfriend had that and the chemo knocked it right out. She was the first person who could offer any assurance that my mom hadn't just been handed a death sentence.
When Joyce died, it hurt; Mom was doing better but she was a far cry from being out of the woods. I watched Buffy and her friends try to deal and I cried the whole episode through, not just for Buffy but for myself. The phone rang as soon as the episode was over and it was no surprise to hear my Rebecca's voice, asking how I had gotten through the episode. My mom lasted almost two years longer than Joyce and of those years was a one very good one where she was almost healthy and we had the chance to do some of the things we had always wanted to. During the last few weeks of Mom's life, when there was no denying the reality of the situation, I found myself reading the transcripts of The Body and over and over. At the part when Tara says, it's always sudden, I could feel the words twist deep inside me. It felt like she was talking to me. I had more time than Buffy to say the things that needed to be said, but when the call came that said I needed to come home, it was still too soon, too sudden. The months I thought I would have had suddenly changed to hours and all could think was, Tara was right. I made it home in time, which is more than Buffy can say, but Tara's words to Buffy on losing a parent remain some of the truest I have ever heard spoken.
I watched Beneath You the next night in a haze, so lost and alone I wanted to do anything to take me away from reality. I watched Spike rave in his insanity, rest himself on the cross and let his skin smoke and I could understand the need, the desire behind the action. If there had been something I could do like that, something that could take the pain from my heart, where it felt like it was eating me alive, to something as insignificant as my flesh, I would have taken it in an instant. I taped the show that night, and every time I got a moment to myself that week, I watched again. I didn't want reality anymore, it hurt too much.
The numbers of times I have watched Buffy and felt amazed at Joss Whedon's incredible ability to mirror parts of everyday life in a fantastical universe have become too many to count. Some of the moments so closely match my life that I find myself remembering times I've said some of those exact words to people. I don't know what Whedon's life is like, that he has such an uncanny affinity to understand the pains and the pleasures of growing up, but I have stood in awe of his skill for seven years and I know I will still feel that way years after the show is gone. As Buffy ends, I feel sorry for those people who never understood what the fuss was about. They'll never know what they missed by dismissing this show as nothing but a pop-culture throwaway, a piece of empty fluff. As people say about miracles, for those who never understood Buffy, no explanation about its quality is enough, but for those who did, none is necessary.
I turn thirty in August, a major landmark in the map of life. Earlier this year, some mental-health hotline counselor spouted that stupid cliché to me, that one that says you are not an adult until you lose a parent. Before I turned twenty-nine last year, I had been dreading thirty. Now I actively look forward to it, because it will mean that the worst year of my life is officially over. I catch myself finding significance in inconsequential things this year; I see symbols in everything. Because of that, it almost seems to make sense that I lose Buffy this year. If that cliché has any truth to it, this is the year that I finished growing. I am now, officially, an adult, so it ought to be okay that I won't have Buffy anymore. Unfortunately however, I I just feel like I'm losing the last part of my childhood in the year I need it the most.
Goodbye to you
Goodbye to everything
That I knew
Michelle Branch Goodbye to You