News of the Death Hoax of Betty White on Thursday, I decided to share with you a poignant essay I wrote about The Golden Girls:
How The Golden Girls Saved My Life
High School can be a bitch for a young Lutheran guy with no friends.
The first day I started high school, I knew it was going to be rough. I dropped all of my books all over the floor in the middle of the hallway, I had no chance to go to lunch and I messed up my schedule so much that I missed band. I was not inept, mind you, I was just inexperienced regarding life in a big school. I had just graduated from St. Paul Lutheran School, as a valedictorian no less. But, in reality, our graduating class was seven people, so I don’t know how remarkable a feat that is. Our class of seven was tight-knit, like a little family. We literally did everything together- our entire social life was each other. We knew each others‟ foibles and ticks, down to every minute detail. We even went to Washington D.C. together for our final class trip. We fundraised and everything to make that trip a reality.
I knew transitioning from middle school in such a safe, cloistered environment to public high school would be difficult, but I literally had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I would be able to fit in with someone, or some group, as I always had. But that little shred of hope was taken away from me on that first day. Throughout that year, I was like a shadow walking the halls. I didn’t talk to anyone, nor did anyone try to reach out to me. I simply did my business, talked to the teachers occasionally, and went home. I was a shell, looking for internal happiness. I saw students, who had the luxury of knowing each other for years, palling around and having a grand old time. But, I literally knew no one. I stood at the end of a long hallway, filled with strangers, and feeling a feeling as I had never felt before – bitter, searing loneliness.
My family helped, as they always do. But, even they didn’t know the extent to which my melancholy grew. I would sit in my room each night, finished with my homework, having to face that awful loneliness. I would sit there, praying that the next day would be the one where I finally fit in, where I finally belonged. My prayers were never answered fast enough for me. In my mind, prayer left little comfort for me. I would imagine, each time I prayed, that I would be walking down the middle aisle of an abandoned chapel, once beautiful, now in shambles. I would walk to each pew and leave a handprint in the dust that had settled on the once beautiful wood. I would open bibles, coated with thick, black dust, and they would be empty. I could find no comfort even in the word of the Lord. I would walk up to the altar, the marble caked with blood, and I would kneel and pray. But, again, I found no comfort. The eyes of the crucifix above me seemed to be bearing down, boring a hole into my very soul. I had no comfort, no consolation.
Now, despite my bleak visions, I still had to live my everyday life. I made a promise to myself that I would never give up and I would keep waking up every morning and give it my all, no matter what happened. I used to be a bit of a forlorn optimist in my younger years, but years of sarcasm have squeezed that noisy little bug out of my personality. I would go to school, smile and get no response from anyone. I would simply go, do what I had to do and then check out as quickly as I could. For as sad as I sound, I really never thought much on the idea of suicide. It was too foreign a concept to me, and too rash. I knew it would never come to that (how wrong I was, more on that later), but at the time I knew if I just kept moving along, I would achieve happiness.
But, each day passed and I just got more depressed and more saddened that my efforts were all in vain. I would return each night to that abandoned chapel and feel the same cloying loneliness. I was nearing the point where I was going to need to take action, and I was nearly willing to give up. I was going to be content to just lay in bed all day and cry myself into oblivion. I loved life so much in middle school and now I was reduced to a puddle of sadness. I was beyond consolation, I thought. I couldn’t find solace in prayer or in any of the other things I so loved. Music even, dare I say, seemed dry and hopeless to me. The once dulcet tones of “Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schoen” from Mozart‟s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) seemed like a funeral dirge. I was beginning to lose hope in having a future worth living, worth loving.
But, one fateful night, I happened to turn on the television. Against all my male urges, I decided to turn on Lifetime: Television for Women. For all of you that know me, obviously I had no qualms in watching a television network that catered to exclusively women (a therapist would praise my ability to look past sex and gender at a later date.) I was just about to change the channel when the theme song of a television show started to play:
“Thank you for being a friend…”
I listened through the song, intrigued by the idea of friendship, a part of my life that had been sorely lacking as of late. The title of the show, as seen from the opening seconds of the theme song, was The Golden Girls. The scene opened on four older women who lived together: Dorothy, an intelligent, yet dateless, substitute teacher, Rose, a ditzy, yet lovable, grief counselor, Blanche, a conceited, yet charming southern woman who worked as a museum administrator, and Sophia, Dorothy‟s wisecracking Sicilian mother. I listened to these women talk about their problems, about the difficulty of living and loving at their age, and always being able to work things out, over a slice of cheesecake, of course. I watched as they lived lives that didn’t seem to altogether different than mine. I started to connect with them in a primal way. Over the next few weeks, I would watch The Golden Girls daily, without fail. It was always on the second I got home from school, usually around 4:00. I would throw everything aside and stare at the screen, entranced.
I watched Dorothy interact with her ex-husband Stan and try to figure out how such a peculiar creature could roam the earth. We all have a Stan in our lives, whether they be friends or family. I also watched her contract a mystery disease and break down crying because she couldn’t figure out what it was. I cried. Eventually, she found out it was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I cried, again, happy she had found her answers.
I watched Rose recount story after story about her hometown, St. Olaf, Minnesota, much to the chagrin of her housemates. I watched her interact with her dead husband, Charlie, as well as her constant lover, Miles. I hoped one day I would have someone as faithful and wonder as Charlie. I think we all do? I was also watching as Rose found out she might have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and her 72-hour wait to find out the results. I wept like a baby when she was given a clean bill of health.
I watched Blanche as she went on date after date after date after date after date after date after date after date after date with men, but still remaining feminine and beautiful. Blanche was, obviously, my crush out of the four. She was the beautiful girl I had always wanted, ever since I knew what love was. My grade school/middle school crush was my best friend Johnny‟s twin, Amanda. She was the only love I had known, up to that point. Blanche was my second. I was also watching as Blanche found out her husband, George, had cheated on her and had a child with another woman. I could feel Blanche‟s pain and her eventual acceptance of this new part of her life. Blanche taught me in that moment that life may not always go the way we plan, but sometimes even the darkest clouds can be a respite from the blaring sun.
And then, there‟s Sophia… what can you say about Sophia? She is the wise-cracking grandmother you always wish you had. But, behind the humor, she always had a poignant story and moral to tell, usually starting with, “Picture this…!” I watched as Sophia mourned the death of her son, Phil. Phil had never been a model child, but she loved him, with the pure love that only a mother knows. “If Sophia can navigate the death of a son,” I said, “I can make it through anything.”
Then, a marvelous thing happened: life at school became tolerable. And not just tolerable, it was interesting! I was finally able to fully open my eyes and see that what lay before me was not a confused muddle of emotion and fear, it was a brilliant new opportunity for me to explore. Each day, I remember what Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia had taught me. I remembered to always be my unique self, to be funny, to be poignant and to always look for the best in any situation.
I learned my wit from Dorothy, my innocent love of life from Rose, my new budding sexuality from Blanche and my life lessons from Sophia. Even my teachers started to notice my intellect. I had such a good time in school, that I was able to have one of the best times of my life, at Disney World with the high school marching band. That is where many of my high school friends came from. Friends! I finally had friends in high school. I thank the girls for that and I know they were with me as I was watching the fireworks light up behind Cinderella‟s castle, discovering life and love as I never had before.
I was now able to see life in a new light: suddenly the chapel was lit again, it was full, dusted and prayer helped me again. I was able to interact with people in school, usually pretending Dorothy was by my side saying, “You‟re a funny guy, Steven… don‟t mess it up.” I‟d have Rose pipe in, telling me to bake cookies for my new friends. I had Blanche telling me to GO FOR IT every time I saw an attractive girl, and I achieved my first kiss because of her. I had Sophia telling me the moral of the story and, whenever anything didn’t go my way, I would sit at the table with them and munch on my cheesecake until I was all better.
The Golden Girls did a lot for me. They taught me life was worth living, love was worth exploring and that, no matter what, I would always have people in my life who would shelter me from the storm. I learned to never feel empty inside again, because they were always with me. I knew that, as long as I had my girls by my side, I would be able to face any situation. So, now, almost eight years later, I still feel as though they are with me always. I know that anything that happens in life, I can turn to that wonderful show I discovered when I needed it most. The Golden Girls were there when I needed them most, and they have never abandoned me. Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, Sophia… all I can say is… “Thank you for being a friend.”