I am a little embarrassed to write, but it is true, that I got a bit teary eyed several mornings in a row, and a few evenings last month when the Today show and Nightly News both did some stories about the 25th anniversary of the first episode of FRIENDS. That was a show that I did not know I needed until I was in love and hooked…
From the time I was about 15 years-old I made a series of unfortunate decisions, over and over and over made really bad choices, and by September of 1994 was fully engaged in living with the consequences. My “plan,” well not a plan really at all, a dream perhaps, a longing for something other than what was, when I was a teenager was to get out of the conservative south Jersey county where I lived and where my family had lived since the mid 1800’s and get myself to the city, a city, any city where I would be a writer…maybe where I would work in advertising, or some kind of fabulous high end retailer to pay bills, but where I would write something grand and live my best life; surrounded by interesting food, interesting buildings, interesting sounds, smells, sights…interesting people who read thick books while they rode on stinky subway cars, people who took a walk at 1 o’clock in the morning because they got in the mood for a slice of pizza, people who took a tap class on Saturday nights or went to lectures at museums on Sunday mornings…THAT was the life I imagined I was going to create for myself…I dreamed to be an interesting person in an interesting place…
THAT was not the life I created for myself. THAT was what I dreamed of…25 years ago I was trying my best to be a good mother to my smart and imaginative 8 year old daughter, and I really liked my job (working in a fabulous high end retailer I might add) and I really loved being in college, I loved my professors and loved how hard I had to work to do all three things at once: work, school, mother, but despite my love of my life at that time, or perhaps I should write that I loved my abilities in making the best of the life I was living, it was not at all, in any way whatsoever, like the life I had imagined for myself.
25 years ago I would make dinner after work and get my daughter her shower and then read her a book and have her in bed by 8 pm so I could watch “must see t.v.” and have my few hours a week where I forgot about life for a while. I remember being excited that I did not have any college classes after work on Thursdays that semester and remember my sister and I feeling excited for a new show. When I write that I could forget about life for a while it is not a joke, I watched FRIENDS with an enthusiasm that was as if they were MY friends. Perhaps not the first episode and perhaps not the first few airings but I kid you not, within a couple of episodes, I was there for them, every Thursday, and if ever I was NOT I had a blank tape in the vcr and programed to record. I needed the laughter and the wit and it is not an exaggeration to write that MANY many times my phone would ring while I was wiping tears of laughter from my eyes during a particularly funny episode, and it would be my sister on the other end of the line, just laughing so hard, saying no words, laughing with me from her house, literally sharing a laugh…we are very different in many ways but have always found the same things hilarious. Our sense of humor is probably the thing we most have in common and FRIENDS hit the spot.
Off the top of my head PIVOT, comes to mind, as do the Leather Pants and Tanning Booth episodes, the one where Phoebe tries to teach Joey to speak French, the one where Rachel got the recipe wrong for the trifle, and oh, my heart, the one where Ross comes in to Monica’s apartment and says “there’s my sweater!” You would think it is silly perhaps for a grown woman to find so much comfort and joy and laughter with television characters, but I did. I HAD friends. I still have friends, however, at that time in my life, I had almost nothing in common with ANYbody I knew…I did not know one other woman who was working full time, raising a little girl, and taking a full credit load in college…there was no peer group for me. There was no social media to find like minded women dealing with the same challenges I was dealing with. I NEEDED the “relationships” that that show provided me…they were living a life so different from mine and I loved that escape from my life into theirs for a half hour a week. A half hour was enough to escape into some other place and I was faithful to that show.
When it ended in the spring of 2004 I really needed that show…that show had carried me through college graduation, moving to Maryland for a job, moving back to NJ, buying my first house, setting up my home office, quitting that stressful corporate job and starting my own small business, raising a teenager, that teenager falling in love on spring break in Myrtle Beach in her senior year of high school and then insisting on marrying that boy that summer…the spring of 2004 was incredibly sad and stressful for me, a lot was happening and that half hour of FRIENDS was exactly what I needed and that final episode was hard for me because it was really like an ending, and you might think it goofy or weird for a grown up to be “attached” to the characters in a show, but I was.
My daughter moved to North Carolina that summer and I sold my house and for years I lived in a small room that I rented from a friend, no television, no FRIENDS. A few years later the complete series came out on dvd and my sister bought it and I would borrow a disc or two at a time from her, and the laughter was still there, and even though I knew everything that was eventually going to happen, I still laughed. I moved a few years later and got cable television and was more than pleased one night, when I could not sleep, to discover that FRIENDS reruns were on multiple cable channels and while I seldom have sleepless nights anymore, I like knowing that if ever I do, they’ll be there for me, like I was for them, because really, isn’t that what friends are for?