Those of you who choose to purchase the book I have recently completed and am in the process of self-publishing based closely on this blog (and let's face it, I hope "those of you" are "all of you" because my laptop is dangerously close to just dying on me!) will read all about how I spent my formative years searching for the meaning of true love and depictions of happy couples within pop culture. But the truth is I leaned on the superficial, fictitious medium for oh, so much more! I didn't just gravitate towards shows like Days of our Lives, Friends and Melrose Place for their super couple but for the hodgepodge, unorthodox families created. Above all else, and certainly before I could ever even begin to think about a romantic relationship of my own, I wanted to find a place in which I felt like I belonged. I wanted my own little hodgepodge family unit-- or at the very least, the kind of "where everybody knows your name" community.
Since my aforementioned book looks very closely at the first two examples already, let's use the latter of Melrose Place, shall we? Some may say the community they created was a bit twisted. After all, there not only did neighbors know each other's names but also their bed sizes! There was a lot of backstabbing, stalking, and even attempted murder going on within the confines of the 4616 courtyard. Still, when the going got tough, they could turn to their left-- or to their right-- and knock on a door for a favor...and usually one much bigger than borrowing an egg or cup of sugar, too!
Growing up in a big city, even though my parents had lived in our apartment building since they got married ten years before they even had me, we didn't know our neighbors. We barely even made eye-contact with them if we passed them in the hall or shared the elevator with them. Sure, we knew the two families that lived in our immediate nook, but that was one out of three per floor, with six floors, and two sides to the building. Even I can do that math and what it equals to is a sense of isolation even while being (literally) surrounded.
And that's how I always felt about New York: you can never have true privacy (because the walls are paper thin), but you can never have true camaraderie, either. You are forced to live in this odd little purgatory, as if you're all moving along in enclosed bubbles, seeing each other's business but only as a voyeur.
As a kid, I found I felt best-- and thrived-- when I was the big fish in the little pond because then I was always coming out on top. I probably got the biggest taste of this when I was in junior high. Between the creative writing class that allowed me to really explore my passions, being on the yearbook staff, and chatting up teachers about our shared love of specific television shows to the point where it got me out of assignments, I wouldn't say I ran the school, but I certainly got away with a lot! I had my first taste of what it was like to be small town royalty, and I loved it. Unfortunately from there, things could only go down-hill, as I was thrust into a high school that had 750 in each graduating class and in which I had no desire to shine because it's math and science base was, I felt for my chosen profession, unnecessary and a waste of my time. I began to fear that I was truly a small town girl at heart, but having never actually lived in a small town, I couldn't prove such a statement.
When I left for college, I found myself not moving to a Carolina or Tennessee (because let's face it, even if I wanted to learn to slow down and get to know those around me, I needed the option of movie theaters, coffee shops, and shopping centers just right around the corner!) but instead out to sunny Los Angeles-- the home and heart of the relationships of Melrose Place and (I hoped) the answers to my desires.
See, from the very first Christmas episode (1.18: "A Melrose Place Christmas"), where the tenants stood outside by the holiday lights-wrapped banisters and pool in short-sleeves, sipping egg nog and toasting their friendships and the new year that would lay ahead, I knew that was what I wanted. Like Matt and Jo, I was trying to shrug off somewhat unapproving parents and some negative memories of holidays past.
In my house, the holidays were always small and somewhat solitary. My mother had this habit of putting the wrapped presents under the tree as she bought them, often weeks before I would be allowed to open them on Christmas Eve. As I came home from school to an empty house-- or to my father snoring in their bedroom-- I would sit by myself and carefully peel back the tape to peek at the gifts that lay inside. I knew, oftentimes for weeks, what I was getting ahead of time, so I would always tear into them on Christmas Eve when my mother was distractedly looking for a garbage bag for all of the paper or trying to focus the camera. That way I wouldn't have to feign surprise at what I got. I never was a good actor.
Some years I would attend holiday parties of my friends' families since my own, in our cramped one bedroom apartment, never did that sort of thing. Through no fault of their own, though, I often stood off to the side of adult conversations, shoveling in cookies while eavesdropping on others' family business. I always felt somewhat out of place among people who didn't quite know what box to put me in. I wasn't the girlfriend of someone's son or an adopted niece or cousin; I was simply the kid who wasn't satisfied with what she had and wanted to infringe on others' time. And I felt increasingly guilty every time a friend's family member gave me a stocking of my own, too!
But it wasn't just about the holidays. I loved that on Melrose Place everyone found each other intertwined in their lives-- work, home, love, and all! Sure, I knew it was written that way for maximum drama, but I loved that it meant they wouldn't just be flitting in and out of each other's lives. Sydney started off just visiting her big sister in the big city but ended up moving in-- as permanently as one could on such a melodrama. The building appeared to be the magnet that pulled people back together. No matter who left for marriage or a beach house in Malibu-- with the exception of Rhonda and that southern actress woman-- they couldn't quit each other forever! And the idea that people would stick with you, through the good times and the bad, was quite refreshing because (as you'll learn if you read my book), I had made a habit of immaturely screwing up relationships. But so did Alison, Jake, Michael, Sydney, Jo, and Billy, and they were functioning okay and learning together from their mistakes.
When I moved into my first apartment, I picked one with a courtyard, still influenced all those years later, though admittedly the pool was not in the center. And I quickly came to learn that the building was full of families and older professionals, so I pretty much kept to myself the way I had while living in New York. It was disappointing, sure, but I was still in college, so I was building my own little community through people I met there. I even began hosting my own hodgepodge Thanksgivings for those of us who didn't have family in the area.
It's five years since I graduated from college, and I'm still living in the same courtyard apartment. A lot of change has come and gone: the color of the building and our patio fences have been rejuvenated; I am on my fourth building manager; dogs are allowed here now. And a lot of change has come to me, as well: I have gone from being a student to a Script Supervisor to a Producer to a Writer; many of my little college family have left the state; I have lost my mother but become one to an awesome little dog. These might not be as drastic as bombs exploding in 4616 or the quickie marriages and divorces of one infamous doctor, or even the career advancement of a cabbie to advertising exec (Billy) or hooker to art dealer (Sydney), but it still counts. And that's why I stay. Because those of us who are still here are closer because of all we went through together.