A Look Back in Appreciation

I was less than a month from my thirteenth birthday when my younger sister was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and my whole concept of stability and self-worth just crumbled. I was of course concerned about my sister, but we were right at that age where siblings naturally drift apart for a few years of angsty adolescence, and I was more concerned about the fact that my parents suddenly didn't seem all that interested in anything to do with me. Being fully aware of my incredible self-involvement only compounded my depression ("I feel bad, but I think I should feel worse, and not feeling worse makes me feel bad all over again."); I knew I was being a spoiled brat, and that bothered me a lot, but I was at that age where I was unable to properly process these things.

Earlier that year, my two best friends and I had had a falling out with practically the entire school, and my family had become basically all I had when it came to social bonds. When the diagnosis turned my home life into a competition between me and my sisters' blood glucose levels (and of course we all know who won THAT fight – and rightly so), I found myself turning more and more to the television for solace.

While it could never be said that I had a sheltered childhood (we watched Married...with Children as a family for its entire run), my parents did have very insular ideas about what constituted acceptable programming, and I was convinced from a very early age that only juvenile delinquents watched [hushed voice] MTV. So, naturally, thirteen-year-old Robin, upset with her parents for making her go to classes about living with a diabetic sibling, waited until her parents left her alone one evening and turned on the [hushed voice] MTV. Sex! Drugs! Rock and roll! Maybe even [extremely hushed voice] rap!

What met my rebellious eyes was not the sort of frenzied debauchery Byron would have been proud of, but instead three animated girls. On a Ferris wheel. One of whom was inexplicably wearing a medieval gown and bawling over some guy.

Well, damn. No wonder this channel was so popular with teenaged hooligans. My parents weren't protecting me from lascivious displays of Naughty Things, they just knew it was nothing but the same inane tripe I had to put up with at school. So much for rebellion.

And then, just as I was about to return defeated to my Darkwing Duck tapes, I heard the line that would most directly influence my outlook on life for the next seven and a half years*:

"Unless you did something really stupid, like bore him with your petty problems and convoluted logic."

I discovered only a few days later at a going away party for one of my few remaining friends that Bridget and Larissa - my Jane Lanes at the time - were watching Daria on the sly, as well, and it almost instantly became our Thing. Nearly all of my fondest memories from junior high have something to do with the show, whether it was gathering round the telly for premieres, being ejected from the Gap at the North Star Mall for monopolizing the fitting room while in character as the Fashion Club**, coming up with the idea for PPMB user and Charles Ruttheimer III uber-fangirl "Pandora Spocks" while on a field trip to the condemned county courthouse in Corpus Christi, or laughing (somewhat bitterly) as Pandora's intentionally horrendous fanfiction received more positive feedback than the stories we wrote as ourselves.

Eventually, we escaped from junior high and from Texas***. The show ended. I lost touch with Larissa and Bridget. I found my niche, made friends, moved on. Daria was still a part of who I was, and I thought of her often: When my sister started dating a senior the moment she got to high school. When my tenth grade English teacher made me write about love every time she gave an assignment, and I struggled to come up with ever craftier ways to get around it while still maintaining an A average. When there was a flap about soda machines in my high school. When my father had a serious health scare and my sister went off the religious deep end. Every single time my mother makes frozen lasagna, or I hear about Guy Fawkes Day, or I find out there's a hurricane on the way.

When I entered into my first relation-date-ship thing last summer, I pulled out my Daria tapes and reconnected with my old friends. I wanted to revisit the series because it had been several years since I had watched it, but it was doubly important to do so because it allowed me to reconcile with the final season and reclaim it as a legitimate part of the story. When taken as a whole, Daria's message is one that I was not, at thirteen, or fifteen, or eighteen, able to fully appreciate. I had instantly connected with the first half of the series and its insistence that it is okay to be bitter; I didn't get that message from any other source back when I needed it, and I wasn't ready to hear anything else from My Heroines. I had to grow up a bit more and find a few new heroes before I was able to watch Season Five again and understand what exactly it was saying:

It is okay to not be so bitter anymore.


September 5, 2009

* Which is not to say that it doesn't still influence my life, just that it was replaced in prominence in December of 2006 when I heard the final line of the Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters" (“When you're a kid, they tell you it's all: Grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid. And that's it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It's so much darker. And so much madder...And so much better.”)

** I was a much poorer Stacy than Bridget was Sandi, and I certainly was no match for resident thespian Larissa's spot-on Tiffany.

*** Although I did not realize the significance until later because it was never stated in the show where Lawndale is, I moved to Southern Maryland for high school.