A Poem-Letter

Dear A,

I don’t know what you heard me say.

I don’t know what you told them.

I don’t know what you’d told them before.

I don’t know what motivations you might have for telling them things that aren’t true.

I don’t know if things inside you are broken.

I don’t know if things outside you are broken, and you have to build a protective shell.

I don’t know how to ask you these things.

I do know what I said.

I do know what they told my parents.

I do know how humiliating it was to have so many people involved.

I do know how it felt to have everyone wondering if it were true.

I do know that I loved you.

I do know that no explanation in the world can make it not have happened.

Love,

Alden

Filters off

Dear Mr. Z.,

You are a shit.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about you recently, but every time I have I’ve come back to a place of wonderment that I never said so, to your face. I probably would have been punished: teenagers don’t say things like that to authority figures. But it should have been said, and I wish like hell I’d said it.

I know my parents were over-involved and pushy. I know I was obnoxious and thought I was a special snowflake. But when I found out I was a National Merit Scholar, that should have been a pretty special moment to feel snowflakey about.

Instead, you came to me in the cafeteria and asked me to stand so you could talk to me about something. You didn’t lead me out of the room; you started speaking right there, in what was a surprisingly loud voice for something you’d implied was confidential. And you said, “I just need to talk to you about… are you using birth control? Are you being careful?”

I don’t remember how I replied: if I gasped, or made choking noises, or even laughed. My jaw may literally have dropped open. I remember that I noticed how quiet it had gotten in the area immediately around us, how many people were listening. I remember that I felt naked, like it was that dream where you’re naked in class, only it was real and it was an adult, a teacher, who had stripped me bare.

When you threw your head back and laughed and clapped me on the shoulder and said “Just kidding! You’re a National Merit Scholar! Congratulations!” I’m sure I laughed too. I don’t remember that. I remember the adrenaline buzzing through my limbs, the sick relief in the pit of my stomach. I remember sitting back down and going through the rest of my day in a vague sort of shock, not sure if it was the shock of a pleasant success or a profound trauma. I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, let alone to articulate what was wrong with what had happened.

I have the words now, though. And they are: You are a shit.

I don’t care why you didn’t like me. It doesn’t matter. That little stunt was inappropriate. You were the adult, I was the kid, and even if there hadn’t been a power differential you would have been out of line.

As I’ve gone through the years since, I’ve learned there are a lot of shits like you, guys who hide the misogyny and bullying in humor. Some of them end up having thriving careers as stand-up comedians or sitcom writers. Some of them run for Congress. None of them are really funny, and we need to practice saying so. If we can’t do it in the moment we need to forgive ourselves, but we need to circle back and say it later. Out loud, in public.

So here you go. You’re not funny, Mr. Z. I hope that somewhere down the line in your career someone managed to say that to your face. I hope that you learned to use your words when you were unhappy with someone. I suspect you didn’t. But rest assured that I learned, and that when I think of Men Who Are Shits, you feature among them. And I’m getting much better at not giggling.

Love,

Alden

Legenwaitforit… NOT (a slightly feminist rant about HIMYM)

It’s been a couple days since the finale of How I Met Your Mother, and the finale hasn’t grown on me. And yes, let’s go ahead and stipulate that no show finale is ever universally popular, and that in many cases you can love the show and not love the finale and be fine. But I keep trying to figure out why I don’t think that could be the case for me with this show — why the finale is going to leave reruns tasting bitter. And a week later, it’s still bothering me.

So I could write this rant including words like patriarchy and misogyny and mentioning that we don’t live in a vacuum. I could anticipate responses and comments and head off a conversation about being humorless. But I don’t want to do those things. I’m too drained to do those things today. And I don’t think I need to do them.

It occurred to me this morning that some of the most troubling issues about the finale (and now the show in general) can be summed up simply by comparing where each of the six major characters was in terms of a personal story arc at the end of the penultimate episode and where they were at the end of the finale. A ridiculous amount changed between those two points in time, but that was the writers’ choice, so it’s fair game to compare the two.

himym-finale-hed-2014

PENULTIMATE EPISODE

Ted: Perhaps a little sadder, but moving off to be a grownup without his Lily- and Marshall-crutches; generally optimistic about the future.

Robin: Facing her issues with family and self in a relationship with a man who didn’t expect her to overcome them and who embraced (and mirrored!) her eccentricities.

Barney: Realizing that growing up isn’t the end of everything and that there can be sweetness in maturity, honesty, and openness.

Lily: Having a career opportunity as well as a second child, supported in her process of self-actualization by someone she loves.

Marshall: Making a sacrifice for the woman he loves, who is pregnant with his second child — but a sacrifice with a theoretical endpoint that won’t ruin his life, and he gets the wife and kids he wants to boot.

The Mother: Desired, waited for, and welcomed by every member of this ready-made family (including the audience!).

So there’s sadness here, and the difficulties of growing up, but real character development. And hope and opportunity for each and every one of the six.

Now take a look at the finale.

FINALE

Ted: Victorious as a man, landing the woman of his dreams without betraying bro code or being disloyal to The Mother. Cake had and eaten.

Robin: Yes, she has a career, but more importantly she’s realized that she really did want that traditional relationship after all, so thank goodness she gets it and is finally complete.

Barney: Dude got his balls back, amirite? Thank goodness. And then he got even BIGGER balls when he realized he was now responsible for the training and protection (read: shaming and indoctrination) of a little girl. Maturity AND he still gets to be a horndog! Cake had and eaten.

Lily: Pregnant. Do we know anything else about where she is? She appears fulfilled by being Marshall’s wife, the mother of his children, and… whatever else it is she’s doing that isn’t important enough to mention.

Marshall: Okay, he had to go through some years of emasculation, but now his wife is pregnant with his third manifestation of virility and his professional peers recognize his prowess. Cake had and eaten.

The Mother: Dead.

I’m just saying. Here we have three men and three women. In the first ending, all six have bittersweet but hopeful futures. In the second, there’s a pattern. And the worst part is, I seriously doubt the writers thought about any of this explicitly. The penultimate episode felt unfinished, to us and to them, because it’s not how we’re used to stories being finished — and that’s what would have made it great. The final episode wrapped it up nicely in the way sitcoms “should” wrap up — including the latent misogyny with which we’re so thoroughly comfortable — and that’s why I won’t be able to watch episodes in syndication.

It could have been legendary. Unfortunately, in its final minutes, HIMYM proved that it was completely forgettable.