I had started to write a rather awkward, stilted post about the complications and vagaries of friendship in my life, how it’s always been hard for me to make new friends and how it takes me an unreasonably long time to believe that someone might actually want to hang out with me for reasons other than sympathy or convenience. About how, until I graduated college, I had more male friends than female, and eventually, over time, my friendship scale began to lean more heavily toward the estrogen side of things. I named some names, shared a few anecdotes, and then stopped and read it over and thought, “Boring. Predictable. Pedantic.”
All of which has its place in the world, of course, but I thought instead I could focus on the TV show Friends, because it’s a little less cerebral but still carries relevance through a big chunk of my life.
I didn’t watch the first several seasons. It debuted when I was right in that target demographic, all college-studenty and angsty, but that was in my I-don’t-own-a-TV phase. For a few years, I did actually own a television set, but only as a conduit for the VCR, which took blatant advantage of the local video store’s five-for-five-for-five special (5 non-new-releases, 5 days, $5). When I moved to Boston to start grad school, the TV didn’t come along at all. I just wasn’t that into it. Plus, I was super-busy, with a full-time day job and full-time night classes in Boston, and I was living 25 miles outside of the city, so there was a commute to factor in. I simply can’t remember having down-time, much less feeling bereft without the boob tube to keep me company.
Then things got weird.
My little truck – a pocket-sized red Mazda with about a million miles on it and of dubious parentage – died at the side of the Mass Pike in the middle of the night, as I was driving home after dinner out with a friend. OK, with my ex-fiance, but we really were just friends at the moment. He came and rescued me that night, and the next day the mechanic stopped being my friend when he informed me that there were just too many things wrong to even try fixing it. He felt so bad for me that he didn’t even charge me for having it towed from the highway.
Chaos ensued, and I ended up leaving my job (for reasons unrelated but that still piss me off now) and parting ways with my roommate. For the next few weeks, I camped out on that same friend’s couch while I scouted out a new job and a new apartment. Still attended grad school at night, but there were a few weeks in which my days were painfully unstructured.
This was a two-bedroom apartment, but I was sleeping on the couch instead of getting a room to myself because there was an actual other roommate in that second bedroom. He was an odd duck, just unusual enough that I remember him being a weird guy without being able to remember much about the specifics. But he had every episode of Friends on VHS tape, with most of the commercials cut out, and he was more than happy to share his addiction with me, so I started watching. I got all caught up in those weeks, and continued to return to their apartment on Thursday nights after I’d found a new place, just so that I could keep up with the storyline without, you know, paying for it myself.
Over the next few years, I kept track of the show without being fanatical about it. Eventually, Willem moved down to Massachusetts, and his tiny little television set (13 inches, baby) tagged along. We moved north, got a bigger TV, and still, the show remained somewhat peripheral for me. Cute enough, but the characters were starting to become caricatures of themselves, overemphasizing their idiosyncracies and peccadilloes until my eyes would ache from the rolling.
Then, the 2003-04 season started, amidst much fanfare about how it was the final season ever. A few weeks in, I had a late-term miscarriage, and started actively seeking out old, syndicated episodes on late-night television when I was awake and depressed. Several more weeks passed, and I found myself pregnant again, but this time in a high-risk situation and on full bed rest. Suddenly, I had gone from someone who barely knew how to operate a television set to someone who was on the couch 24/7. Lucky for me, I was still in grad school and my professors were happy to assign extra reading to let me keep up with the classes. Still, the television took on a greater role in my life, overnight.
In very early February 2004, I think the 3rd, my friend’s husband was killed in Iraq. Her story is a long one, and not mine to tell, but the end result was, I was stuck in bed, in agony for her and worried about her, and she was living eight hours away, alone. A month passed, and I was allowed off of bed rest right about the time she moved back into town, and so I started to commandeer her on Thursday nights, ostensibly to watch Friends. She’d join us for dinner, hang out with Emily, watch me lumber through a stressful pregnancy, and continued to come over once a week long after the series had ended. It was a vessel, in the same way that Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor have become an excuse and a reminder for Gretchen and I to get together now.
When they came out with the big Friends box set, all ten seasons, I thought I really wanted it. I thought it would be all sorts of nostalgic and sweet. And it kind of is; Willem has bought the first three seasons for me, at various gift-giving moments, and we have watched quite a bit of them. But I don’t have any need to sit and watch them all, consecutively, because it was never really about the show.
It was – because, come on, can’t not say it – about the friends.
Yep, it’s carnival time… this week’s topic, “Friends.” Also playing:
(Please let me know if you play along, I’ll be out of the house most of the day and won’t be able to check in on Bloglines and such until later…)