TV Taught Me How To Feel (Essay)

Illustration by Tessa Chiu.

Words by Sofia Soter. Illustration by Tessa Chiu.

Trigger warning: The following essay features explicit, potentially distressing language.

Fours years since it’s been over, and I’ve blocked most of it out. Here’s what I remember:

Like in all teen movies, our prom is eventful. Twice as eventful, because we go to two different parties. In the first one, we take our prom pictures–he’s wearing an ill-fitting suit my family lent him. I’ve got a fresh haircut, shiny lip gloss, and a white sequined dress that makes me look even paler than I am. We dance together. As I’m talking to a friend about some other tangential high school prom drama, he makes out on the dance floor with a girl who’s been my friend since the 5th grade. I call him out on it. I call her out on it. There’s shouting, things are thrown around, and we make everyone’s night–until the model, who’s also a kickboxing champion, punches a drunk guy in the face, and we’re out of the spotlight.

He sleeps over my house, but thankfully he’s too drunk to fuck.

SERENA: Hey! There you are. Where’s the prom king?

BLAIR: We broke up.

S: What? But everything was so perfect. It was like a fairy tale.

B: Turns out fairy tales end when they do for a reason.

(Gossip Girl, “Valley Girls”)

The next night, at the next party, he gets hammered after seeing another one of our friends (with whom he’d been sleeping with and thought was in love with him). She kisses another guy. I spend the rest of the night with him in the emergency room while he gets his stomach pumped, and in the morning I take him back to my place and throw him in the shower.

When he finally wakes up, he says he loves me.

I consider it a successful weekend.

LOGAN: I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me.

VERONICA: Epic how?

L: Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed, EPIC. But summer’s almost here, and we won’t see each other at all. And then you leave town…and then it’s over.

(…)

V: Come on. Ruined lives? Bloodshed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?

L: No one writes songs about the ones that come easy.

(Veronica Mars, “Look Who’s Stalking”)

Years: six. Continents: three. Lives ruined: lost count. Bloodshed: mine. We fill the requisites for EPIC; we’re a success story. No songs have been written about us, that I know of.

MICHELLE: You know what? I never realized how fucking knackering it is to know you, Tone.

TONY: It’s fun, though.

M: You think? Anyway, what you want?

[Hesitation]

M: You know what? Tell me you love me!

T: You know I love you, nips.

M: No! Tell me like you’d die for me! Like nothing else matters, like your world stops turning because of me! Like you mean it, you little shit! Go on.

T: I mean…c’mon.

M: Wrong answer, Tony. Fuck off, I’m busy

(Skins, “Michelle”)

I decide to move on, and I go to a party with a friend. He’s there, we don’t speak, and then he leaves with another girl–another friend or former friend of mine…I lose track. I decide I owe it to myself to have some fun, to remember what it feels like to laugh and dance and flirt. I flirt. I have fun for a second; a cute guy kisses me. It’s so quick, it’s almost chaste. The world comes crashing back down. He’s back at the party with the girl. He’s back and he’s drunk, drunker; he’s back with a glass bottle in his hands and blood in his eyes. He yells, I cry, he cries, I cry, he yells, I yell, he grabs me, I run for cover, my friend—the one who came with me, the one I also owed fun to—drags him outside and tries to calm him down.

The guy who kissed me doesn’t know what to do. That’s not what he signed up for. He didn’5 sign up for a crying, crazed girl with a bruise blossoming on her arm and begging him to call her a cab. He’s terrified, terrified for him and for me, terrified of the guy with the bloodshot eyes and the bottle that he waves around. He calls me a cab. We run into each other once again, years later, and pretend we never met.

As I leave, my friend is still with him. He drank what was left in the bottle and threw it away, shattering it against the door. There’s glass everywhere. I ask my friend to come, to leave him, to help me—but I’m the one who looks in control. I’m the one who’s in a cab, and he’s the one ranting and raving and sobbing and chain-smoking, so she stays.

He spends the rest of the night texting to say he loves me and that he hates me and that I’m a bitch and that he’s sorry. I can’t sleep.

CHUCK: In the face of true love, you don’t just give up, even if the object of your affection is begging you to.

(Gossip Girl, “Much ‘I do’ About Nothing”)

We’ve been fighting all morning. I need to leave. I missed school and I’m late for therapy. He needs to leave my bed, leave my room, leave my house. I don’t trust him with my things, and my mother has already told me he isn’t allowed to be anywhere near the place. I’ve been trying to make him leave since we woke up—since before we went to sleep, really.

He refuses.

I tell him he has to go.

He refuses.

I tell him I have to go, I have therapy.

He refuses. He says I can leave if I want to, but he’s staying put.

I tell him he has to go, it’s my room and he must leave when asked.

He just lies there and shrugs.

I say I’ll call the police, but I need to go to the living room to get my phone. He says he’ll lock himself in if I leave.

I miss therapy. I hear the phone ringing and can’t get up to answer it. I wait for him to go, crying and hopeless, curled up in the corner by the door.

He turns around on the bed and takes a nap. It’s four hours later when he decides he’s slept enough and it’s time to go. It’s dark outside, and I haven’t moved. I’m terrified of him. I’m terrified of my mother getting home before he goes. I’m terrified of what he could do to her, what he would do to me, if she came to ask him to leave.

When she gets home, it’s just me. Alone. I’m still crying. I refuse to explain why I missed therapy. I throw a teenage tantrum, close my door, and listen to loud music because that feels better than trying to explain.

KILGRAVE: What revisionist bullshit!

JESSICA: I remember everything.

K: You didn’t jump.

J: Because I wasn’t fast enough. Getting you out of my head was like prying fungus from a window. I couldn’t think.

K: I know your face. I saw you.

J: You saw what you wanted to see.

K: I remember.

J: I remember everything!

(Jessica Jones, “AKA 1,000 cuts”)

He’s my date to my uncle’s wedding. It’s a fancy affair, so my father lent him a tie, a blazer, and a pair of nice shoes. Me and my mother have to go do our hair and makeup, and we’re late, but it’s a day of celebration, and things have been quiet between us, so when he asks to stay behind at my place for a second more to finish getting dressed, we let him.

He calls me 20 minutes later, screaming. He went through my drawers, through my closet, looking for my journals. He read quotes from it, things both true and untrue—thoughts, questions and fiction—and he’s mad. He tells me he’s going to burn them, because if someone ever finds them and sees the bad things I wrote about him, they will believe me. They will believe me, and they won’t believe him, and, he yells, “You’re a liar.” Even worse: I’ll read them, and I’ll remember. I need to put these delusions in the past.

I run out of the makeup chair, crying, and smudging up my makeup. I beg him not to, beg him to leave them there and come meet us; we have a wedding to go to. I beg him not to make a scene, because if he makes a scene my parents won’t let him come with me, and I want him to come with me. I want him to be happy. I don’t know what he’ll do if he’s not happy. I promise him the journals are all fiction, all of it, sometimes vaguely based on experiences, but all lies, nothing but lies, not the true things I’m afraid to say out loud, not the violence I can’t express because I’m so afraid.

He comes to the wedding, whispers he loves me during the most romantic parts of the ceremony, tells me he forgives me, asks me if I will be his real official girlfriend again, and promises me true love. I say yes, and I feel grateful. I say yes, and I look at the happy couple getting married, and I think that I might not be happy, but at least by saying yes I might be safe.

ANGEL: No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take that away and what’s left?

BUFFY: Me.

(Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Becoming: Part 2”)

It’s almost like being in a movie. It’s too fucked up to be real, so it must be a story, fantasy, or maybe just a joke. Like when I was a kid and we used to act out episodes of Sailor Moon during recess, except now it’s all the TV dramas I watch religiously, and we act all the time. I’ve always wanted to be a writer—sometimes I tell myself this is just research.

I have hours, days, months, years worth of stories. I can go for shock value, talk about the times he raped me, talk about when he hit me, talk about things broken against walls, about bruises in my neck, about all the bathrooms I locked myself into so he wouldn’t touch me. I could look through old boxes to jog my memory, I could say his name, I could write a book.

“Write what you know,” they said. What they didn’t say was the cost of it, what they didn’t say was that sometimes, four years later, you’re lucky if you only remember about half of it. What they didn’t say was that you’d keep trying to write what you know, but writing what you don’t know is a lot easier.

It’s not a movie, not a story, not an overreaching character arc in my favorite TV show. There’s no redemption at the end, there’s no saving, there’s no healing.
What’s left is this: my pulse quickening when I cross certain streets, my journals pushed to the back of the closet, four years of time, and distance; me, moving on.

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