Life and My Box: Dear Sally

Kate Zahnleiter was raised by a single working mother and a television. She writes that “not a day goes by in which I’m unable to relate something which occurs in real life back to an episode of something I watched as a child, teenager or young adult.” In Life and My Box, Kate shares the lessons she has learned from TV. 

I once met a cute boy in the waiting room of a London recruitment agency. We connected over a mutual love of puns and dogs that look like humans and his beautiful face. I made a joke about working hard or hardly working, and he laughed, because either he understood humour or was polite, and I appreciated both qualities.

The consultant arrived to inform me I had a sweet gig waiting in a psychologist’s office, using keywords like “networking opportunities” and “skills development” and assuring me it was fairly similar to my previous position so I would stay on track, career wise. Cute Boy, on the other hand, was on his way to a hospital records department, where he would be filing patient notes in a basement.

“Shame,” Cute Boy said as he left, a perfect smile on his perfect face. “Would have been fun to work together.”

And just like that, I requested a transfer.

My first day at the hospital I arrived wearing a slouch backpack and shapeless woollen jumper. The layers of knots I’d been unable to brush out of my hair gave the illusion of whimsical curls. I rocked out to the music on my iPod, which, due to what I like to call my “Melancholy Madness” phase, was all Sarah McLachlan all the time. I failed to notice these signs, however, so it came as quite a shock when I walked in to find Cute Boy making out with his beautiful girlfriend up against the personnel cabinet.

“Oh, hey,” he said, when he noticed me. “You look familiar. Have we met?”

It was obvious that I had just Felicity’d myself.

Felicity, from, of course, Felicity, falls in love with popular Ben when she holds a pint of his bodily fluids during their high school blood drive (which is gross, but also maybe symbolic, but really mostly gross). She doesn’t talk to him for another three years, but, come graduation, Ben writes a nice note in her yearbook. Felicity decides it’s worth ditching an all-expenses paid position at Stanford Medical School to follow him all the way across the country to the University of New York, which accepts her on the basis of an application essay which is basically the paragraph I just wrote (because apparently fictional universities have weird selection criteria).

I don’t think I really need to explain the dangers of Felicitying. Basing a major life decision on a boy you’ve just met seems spontaneous and romantic up until the point where it becomes clear it’s freaking mental. Suddenly, I realised I had stalked my way into a creepy hospital dank hole populated with staff who were constantly coughing and sneezing and doing all sorts of things into handkerchiefs. Unless employers were looking for a girl who had excellent low-light vision and could find her way around a staple-remover, the job wasn’t really adding anything to my future prospects. There was no Pink Power Ranger to become my best friend. No secondary love interest in the form of a Super Cute RA (Yep, I’m going on the record to say I would choose Noel. I would. I’m not even ashamed of it) to whom I could over-disclose a lot of personal information. Instead, my confidante was Gary, the overweight, middle-aged orderly who said he had a thing for girls who “covered up” and kept asking if I wanted to “split a potato” with him at lunch. I didn’t, Gary. I really didn’t.

I wrote emails to my ex-boss, telling her about my situation. Yes, I did consider sending her a letter on tape instead, but one time a friend and I recorded a radio play and sweet Jesus I am so sorry for anyone who ever has to listen to me say anything out loud ever. My boss told me I could have my old job back any time, but she also said my situation sounded “character-building” and would allow me to “have my mettle tested.” I remembered Noel’s impassioned speech in the pilot episode: Stay in New York or perish. Felicity decided to stick it to her overbearing parents and stay at UNY for herself, not Ben, and work out what she really wanted to do. I decided to do the same, though I suppose in this analogy the Porters are played by the recruitment consultants, who were really just very nice and helpful and probably not all that invested in my life journey, to be honest.

So I got a metaphorical pixie cut and I persevered. I sent more messages to my own personal Janeane Garofalo, who said that they were so entertaining she had printed them out for new employees to read (because fictional universities aren’t the only places that have weird selection criteria, I guess). So I kept emailing her, and other poor suckers who I thought might be interested, and soon coming home to my computer and writing was the best part of my day. My anecdotal emails turned into stories, which I sent to even more poor suckers who I thought might want to read them, and much to my surprise, some of them did. I had found something that really was worth following.

Perhaps the real danger in Felicitying is having the whole thing work out. If Cute Boy had confessed his love for me as soon as I walked into the room—in black and white and slow motion, while somewhere off camera a woman made half-singing, half-chanting noises—then it would have been about me giving up something for a dumb boy. I might not have learned how short term mistakes can lead to positive outcomes in the long term. Which I guess is what Felicity was trying to say, even if they did have to go through a weird time travel storyline to get there, and even if Felicity did (SPOILER ALERT) (maybe I don’t need to give a spoiler alert for a show that finished in 2002, but I still haven’t seen the Breaking Bad final so I’m going for some good karma here) end up with Ben. Yes, his dad might be John Ritter, which is fucking great, but Ben also has a family history of alcoholism, develops a gambling problem, has a kid with someone else, and cheats on Felicity a whole bunch. I think finding a new life path is a bigger win than that.

Lesson learned: It is not always a bad thing to stalk Scott Speedman.

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