It appeared very late in the only season of the show. Waking up, awash in the sunlight from the early morning streaming through her windows and across her face, Angela Chase opened her eyes and – still lying on her pillow – broke into a wide and grateful smile. And as we watched her dance around her bedroom to Blister in the Sun, it became clear through her completely uninhibited expression of joy (and through that ever-present voiceover) that the time had come: she was fucking over Jordan Catalano.
I was at an age back then that I probably would have termed “youngish” when My So-Called Life aired on what I think was ABC, though now I would just fully coin that as a time when I was really young. But being young – or youngish – does not factor in all that much when there is a television show that finally speaks to you about what it feels like to watch yourself change and what it also feels like for people who have grown comfortable with the old you to watch as the changes go down. The show was different. It was well written and it really took its time exploring its many characters and they evolved tremendously over that single season. Some grew braver and some lost their confidence and all of them were tested and their reactions to those around them were not always so kind. I liked that an episode sometimes ended in bittersweet sadness or confusing contemplation because there’s pretty much nothing I hate more than a series that seems to follow a rule that each episode must end on a poignant and happy note like Full House used to. Remember that show? After some tame and floppy-limp hijinks went down, the studio scoring would start pinging softly in the background and the dad character would gather one of those blonde children into the crook of his arm and teach her a lesson that often began, “Well, you know Deege…” which was how he would address D.J., the oldest daughter, who in real life is about to star on a Netflix reboot of the show and is the sister of one of the biggest bigots on the planet who spouts his bullshit in the name of religion. But moving away from my little diatribe about why eighties heartthrob Kirk Cameron might not be the best person out there to decide who gets burned at the stake, it’s time to return to that moment of clarity on My-So Called Life.
That Angela was finally ready to think “fuck it” and move on from her Jordan Catalano fixation was a rather big deal. He was the first guy who ever made her feel things, and her confused and almost awed reaction to her own sexual awakening came off as real and clumsy and confusing and crazily exciting, which is exactly how it kind of feels in real life. And sure, Jordan was a guy who could barely read and he’d spent a lot of time making out with her in places like the boiler room of the high school so nobody would know that he was tonguing this strange freshman, but he finally came around a little and that scene where he made the bold trek across the hallway directly towards her while the hallway was crammed with people – all of whom were watching because he was Jordan fucking Catalano – and he reached for her hand and walked with her out of the school was for a very long time the most romantic thing I had ever seen in my entire life and might have even been better than the night the first guy I ever really cared about rolled me back onto a stranger’s front lawn and kissed me gently underneath the stars. It is of course possible that a televised moment involving fictional characters managed to be more romantic than a real event in my own life because of what actually happened next in my own life: I had peppermint gum in my mouth when he kissed me for the first time and so I took it out and flung it behind me onto the lawn and, even though it was the first time we kissed, we were already really good friends by then so we sort of felt comfortable with each other and we sort of rolled across the lawn and the next thing I knew, he rolled me across my own chewed up gum and it became attached to me in a disgusting ball on the back of my white v-neck tee, the one with flowers lining the low neckline, and so we sat underneath a streetlamp trying to pick it off.
But the thing about Jordan Catalano was that it wasn’t just that he was mysterious and cool and a serious challenge and the kind of guy who told himself that he never really wanted a girlfriend. Yes, all of that made him desirable – which is sick but it’s also true – but what really sealed the deal was that he was played by Jared Leto at a time when nobody knew who Jared Leto was and before the time he did shit like dye his hair blue and shave off his eyebrows and wear a kilt and get photographed making out with Paris Hilton. Yes, at that illustrious time, Jared Leto was a blank slate – a fucking gorgeous blank slate – and every girl who was youngish like I was back then felt a tingle start to spread across ever part of her body including her fingertips just by looking at his face and when his character picked up a guitar and sang, I literally remember whispering, “Oh my God.”
The power of exquisite beauty and a guitar has and will always be an insanely powerful thing. And any guy who tells you different doesn’t know how to play the guitar.
That a girl – a writer’s creation or not – could get over a guy like that felt surprising to me. I was never someone who could move on so easily. I’d get stuck in the could-have-beens and wish-it-was that would spin through my head like one of the cycles on a broken washing machine. I would dream about the people I’d lost. I would write about them sometimes and yet I never really talked about them. I’d be at a bar or drinking a latte with some friends and one of them would say something about how her boyfriend had the most uncomfortable bed in the world, and I would smile at her but feel myself begin to deflate and disintegrate on the inside because my mind would transport me back to his bedroom where I’d once spent a lot of almost-perfect time and now it was a place I’d never be again. The conversations would continue on around me then and I have enough of a natural social instinct that I’d know when to nod and when to smile but the ease of the moment – the carefree part of just being with my friends – was over for me that day because my mind dragged me somewhere else entirely. So when I saw Angela Chase ready to move on and feel like she was legitimately over a guy she used to think about far more than she even thought about herself, I’d found myself a brand new hero.
Okay, so the girl eventually did a bumpy backslide right into the arms of Mr. Catalano, but her hours of freedom spoke to me back then and I guess they still do because last night I was texting with someone and he asked me about some of my all-time favorite shows and I listed a bunch from a lot of different eras in my life: Lost, Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, The Wire, House of Cards, The Office, Parks and Recreation, You Can’t Do That On Television, Sesame Street, The Sopranos, season two of Entourage, and My So-Called Life. And as I talked about why I loved that show at a point in my life when I was trying to figure myself out, I flashed onto the scene of Angela dancing because she had swan dived across her pain and I realized that I’m over all of my past pain too.
That I don’t care about certain things and certain people anymore actually shocks me -- and I fucking love that I don't care, but I am very aware that it's not my typical way. I’m used to filtering everything through my head and having to cough when those unsettling feelings feel stuck in my throat and I’m just not doing that anymore. And it’s not just about men. I’ve had a lot of moments filled with sadness that was tinged with a ring of fury for events that felt compromised with some members of my family and some of my closest friends, but none of that is part of me now either – or, more likely, it is a part of me and it probably always will be, but I never let any of it reach the sunlight anymore so it can’t grow.
I’d love to say that I reached this moment of lucidity due to reading that book I recently bought about how to improve your life or because the meditation app I installed on my phone has finally done its job or that I recognized that, just like I do, other people have limits and I cannot control those limits and the only thing I can control is how I react to them. I could venture that I was moved far more than I even realized by a quote I saw on somebody’s Twitter page (I have a choice. I am in control.) and that there was something short and sweet and powerful about it and so I typed it into my phone and I see it every once in a while when I scroll through my Notes app to jot down that I need to remember to buy doggie kibble and mascara and sweet potatoes. But the truth is that I never finished the book on how to improve my life because it annoyed me that I’d bought it in the first place and the meditation thing was something I really attempted to do and I lit some candles and rolled out my yoga mat across the floor and I closed my eyes and tried to silence my thoughts to really get into wherever the soothing meditation man wanted to take me, but all that happened was that my mind wandered into unknown and unexpected directions and I finally remembered that I’d left my retainer in my friend Carley’s top dresser drawer when I was in the seventh grade. And the quote that I liked is something I still like, but it’s also something I have always known. I guess I just had to be reminded.
And now it’s Friday and today is my school’s Senior Picnic. I was hoping for some sun because I am still pale from the long winter, but there are definitely worse ways to earn a paycheck than by going on a picnic with your students and some of your friends. It’s also the weekend, and I’m looking forward to it in a way I haven’t in a long while and I’m really grateful for that – for the fact that I feel open and free and lucky and not angry and aware and so fucking tired – and though I tend to blast Springsteen during my drive home, I think today I’ll pop over to the eighties station on my XM radio and see if maybe I can stumble across at least the chorus of a song by the Violent Femmes.