To keep going I watch The O.C.
I was eleven when it first aired in Australia, back when I lived in a pale pink house with a big tree out the front. It was close to school, and so kids could always identify it, could always say to me, ‘you’re the one who lives in that pink house.’
To validate my guilty pleasure I read Fredric Jameson and in it I find Ryan Atwood. I did not expect him there. ‘But you’re from Chino,’ I say to him. ‘What are you doing here?’ He turns to me with his burly frame, his Ken doll hair glued to his brow. ‘And where is that?’
I admit I did not know, not at age eleven, nor now. I realise that perhaps Jameson is right about Ryan, that the characterisation of the poor man’s cognitive mapping really is “sheer theme and content.” The classic anti-hero, the class chameleon, the character from that elusive place: Chino. The place that bright orange sunset light doesn’t touch.
Nothing lasts in The O.C.: people die after one season, friendships flounder as quickly as they flourish, there’s kissing one scene and then there’s not.
I stumble on your name: O-li-ver. The archetypal rich kid with the messy mind. You were my first real boyfriend – you’d appear in the frame and give me those sweet little butterflies, your fierce eyes cutting me somewhere I was too young to locate. You, you tragic boy. I admit your disappearance struck me. Tell me, what does six episodes equate to in ‘real time.’ I remember trying to peek behind the camera, trying to pull away the screen and ask where it is you went. Take me to your penthouse, I imagined saying, let me administer the intensity you so clearly crave. I fell for you at age eleven, and since then versions of you move through my world, transient and beautiful, never staying long enough to explain to me their origins, their history a murky subplot that I never have the energy to wade through. My feet get bogged down, I get stuck in the one place, nostalgia washing over me. The only thing I can do is watch them go.
The truth is that I don’t know where my memories begin and Marissa’s end. By thirteen I was maybe sneaking out, loitering on the wide, dark driveways that curved upwards into the moonlit sky. I can still locate that acidic burn: it sits right at the back of my throat. It comes from the buried place in the bottom of my bag, the bottle transparent and unforgiving. We both knew how to supplant real memories with those of flat tummies and sunset skylines and glamorous galas where the mothers appeared far too young and the daughters too developed. We both knew how to hurt.
The proximity to this lightness, this superficiality, offered some sense of reprieve. I crave the days that were once marked by various versions of Marissa: the debutante, the bisexual, the troubled teen passed out in T.J. There was a soothing predictability in her fluctuant character, something maybe I could relate to. From week to week, the dramatic events that took place in Orange Country validated her vacillating emotions, her extreme reactions, her swift changes in character. The banalities of my suburban world did not justify any of this, my place entirely mismatched with the inner turbulence of teen-hood. I borrowed from Marissa, that much I know. I am left to wonder daily: where are you now?
But this is not just about The O.C. It’s not even just about a broken heart, or all the broken hearts that litter the narrative – Anna, for one, the quippy short-haired siren who deserved far more than she received. Then there’s Kirsten. Like her, we all trusted Sandy. Cynicism ran rampant in the mid-2000s, but it was the rupture of their union that truly embedded in me a scepticism about the sanctity of the domestic realm. Fragments of these broken hearts continue to circulate, errant and unheard, like ineffectual dust particles.
It’s times like these where everything feels like an unwanted metaphor: walking head-on into wind, an ambulance siren that sounds fuzzy against your teeth. One went by when I was waiting for the tram; I caught a flash, a glimpse, of the old woman beside the driver in the front. Her hair was done up, her lips curled downwards, her hands wringing her handkerchief in her lap. I could only imagine who it was that was strapped to the stretcher in the back, what they meant to her. What she might be left to do once they’re gone.
To get rid of metaphor I begin to map. To get rid of these memories, prosthetic and detached, I pull up the screen. I think: maybe if I can locate it, maybe if I know the numbers, the distance, the route, then maybe I can replace it with something real.
I try to get there.
Alana Bridget Scully is a writer and student from Melbourne. Her fiction, memoir and essays have appeared in various publications including The Suburban Review, Seizure and SPOOK. Subscribe to her TinyLetter for the occasional email filled with prose on bodies, love, or whatever film she’s encountered that week: tinyletter.com/alana-bb