by Melissa Lewis.
“All I wanna do is graduate from high school, move to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.” –Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)
I do not remember much from when I was three years old. Who does? The memories are more like photographs– of a big slide at a park, the mesmerizingly large entrance to a pizza place where we ate after my father’s baseball games, and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer every day. That is not an exaggeration, I watched that movie after getting home from preschool almost every day. Thinking about it now, my mother was very tolerant of that daily repetition in her life. That tolerance waned with time; my adoration of Buffy did not.
There once lived a shy twelve year old girl who used to hide behind her father’s legs when people talked to her. She did this whenever a person would approach, including family and friends. To force the girl to interact with people more, her parents signed her up for soccer. The tactic worked, and the girl became much more comfortable talking to people, even becoming close friends with a few girls on her team.
Delighted with their success and their daughter’s athletic capabilities, the parents decided to try out other sports to see if the girl would take to them as she had to soccer. She competed in basketball, karate, and swimming, trying to find the sport that brought her the most joy. The girl found that joy in volleyball. She joined her junior high school’s team, and was advised by the coach to join a club team to refine her athletic capabilities. Her parents agreed with the coach, so she tried out for the best club team in the area, where she was placed on the top team for her age group. It was for this reason that her school coach selected her and a few other girls for the much coveted positions of helping him coach the boys’ volleyball team.
The boys’ volleyball team was not taken seriously like other teams at the school. Volleyball was a fun way for the boys to learn a new sport while goofing around and flirting with the girls who coached them; not that the girls really minded that fact. The shy girl was particularly excited to coach the older boys’ team because the boy who held the desperate, twelve-year-old’s affection was on the team. The first week of practice went by smoothly, the lovesick shy girl succeeding in making conversation with her eyes’ desire without totally making a fool of herself. This would not last long.
I rediscovered the Buffy the Vampire Slayer in TV format when I was twelve years old and on vacation in Cancun. My brother, father, and I were waiting for my mom to finish her makeup, and decided to pass the time by watching the insane Mexican game shows on the TV in the room. When the one we were watching ended, I made it my personal endeavor to find a new one. Flipping through the stations, I became distracted when a man with bleach blonde hair caught my eye. He was speaking in a British accent and had a Billy Idol-esque look that had me drooling instantly. A few scenes full of demon battle later, the Billy Idol lookalike reappeared, reciting a speech to what is revealed to be a mannequin. Getting frustrated with his speech, the English chap smashed the box of chocolate he was holding over the head of the mannequin, which calmed him down from his frustration. He rearranged the mannequin, ostensibly ready to try practicing his speech again.
“Buffy, there’s something I wanted to tell you…”
My eyes swelled with excitement. I immediately turned to my father and began rambling in a voice that was probably three times too loud for the hotel room.
“Did you hear that? He said Buffy. Buffy! It’s a TV show? Since when? Why haven’t we been watching it?”
My father was just as excited about the discovery, and we (he more than me) immediately took to buying the DVDs for all the seasons we had missed in our ignorance.
It was an overcast Tuesday when the boys volleyball team had its last practice before the first game. They seemed more focused than usual, their competitive nature allowing for one practicewith focus and actual effort.
“Who wants to lead stretches today? I did it last time.” A girl with curly, dark hair asked the rest of the gathered group of twelve year old coaches.
“I will,” the shy girl volunteered, noticing the victim of her affections sitting at the front of the group of waiting boys. She approached the boys, and began the exercises with the ones that are done standing up.
Upon completing the standing stretches, the shy girl directed the team to sit down for more intense leg exercises. Spreading her legs wide open, the shy girl swayed her torso to the left, grabbing her toe with her head facing the floor.
“One, two, three, four…”
“Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten! Great! Other leg!” The dark, curly haired girl cut in, sitting in the empty v space between the shy girl’s legs.
Baffled, the shy girl glanced around the room in an effort to figure out what was going on. The boys had various expressions, ranging from horror to shock to avoiding eye contact completely. Feeling a tug on her hand, the shy girl stood up and was dragged outside by one of the other girl coaches.
“You have blood on your pants.”
“What? Where? I don’t remember hurting myself today…”
“No, like blood. Did you start your period today? I think I have a tampon in my backpack.” The other girl left to look through her backpack for the spare tampon.
The shy girl’s face was overcome with mortification. Now aware of the slick slide between her legs, the shy girl looked down to see a lake of red staining the vivid blue of her jeans. Her friend offered her a tampon, which she gladly took to clean up in the girls’ locker room.
Realizing that she could either go home and think about the horrible incident or go out and continue the practice, pride won out and the shy girl decided to stubbornly face the boys. She walked out with her nose stuck primly up into the air, internally terrified of what the boys might say. For the duration of the practice, none of the boys mentioned it, and she thought she just might get away with never hearing of the incident again.
I watched every single episode of Buffy that was available to me with the restless energy of an addict. TV Buffy kept the same spunky spirit of movie Buffy, while still being different enough for both Buffys to stand as their own characters. While movie Buffy is quietly strong and confides in only Pike and Merrick about the struggles of her new role in life, TV Buffy has had time to adjust to her position as the Chosen One and has Willow, Giles, and Xander as her support system. This three person group grows throughout the seasons, extending to Buffy’s love interests and the love interests of the other three in the group as well.
Since TV Buffy had exposure an hour every week for seven seasons, she is a much more developed character than movie Buffy, who had an hour and a half total for her audience to get to know and love her. TV Buffy is more open about her secret role as savior of the world, but she is still quiet about her personal struggles with that role. She is vastly stronger than anyone around her, which emasculates her male friends and intimidates her female friends.
Romantic relationships are virtually impossible for Buffy. Due to her strong nature (physical and mental), her dates usually end in disaster. Her only long lasting relationships are with a brooding, yet powerful vampire who helps her defeat her foes, a clean cut college guy who is part of a secret military organization that fights against the same supernatural forces she battles (but with less of a success rate), and a cocky slayer-killing vampire who began as her enemy but fell in love with her over time. She ends up fighting all three of these men at some point in her relationships with them and winning. Two of the three ended up leaving her shortly after that point in their relationship. She struggles to find any seemingly normal relationship with a human man because she intimidates them too much.
The morning after the incident, the shy girl gathered on the grass field with her friends. The boys from the volleyball team were standing nearby, excitedly chattering about their upcoming first game. As she talked with her friends about which boys should fill which positions for the game, the tallest boy from the team began speaking in an overly loud voice to an enraptured audience of laughing boys.
“Did you get all the blood washed out? I hear it’s hard to wash out blood stains. Good thing you’re a girl and you know how to-”
She had known the beautiful silence about the incident wouldn’t last, but her sensitive soul couldn’t handle the acknowledgement. The shy girl tackled the tall boy to the ground. Her knees pinning his arms to the grass and her grip firmly on his chin, she forced him to look at her enraged face.
“Do you want to know how hard it is to wash out blood? I can help you figure it out right now, if you want.” The shy girl had never exploded like this before, but it felt good to take control of the situation. The tall boy wriggled beneath her, probably uncomfortable being underneath what he knew to be a bleeding vagina. Raising her hand, the shy girl slapped the tall boy, sending a resounding crack through the silent crowd. The noise snapped the shy girl from her rage. She slowly stood and walked away from the scene.
At the end of the series, Buffy is alone. She cannot exist in a relationship because the only men who understand her plight are the ones that she is sworn to slay and her friends and loved ones will never truly understand her, because the is the Chosen One. As the opening narration states, “Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.” It reminds us of her forced independence through its pronouncement of “one girl”, “a chosen one”, and “She alone”. Even among people she knows and trusts, she is still alone, because they will never truly understand her.
It is for this reason that I instantly loved Buffy. I was a rather eccentric child. My parents are full of stories about odd things I used to do that embarrassed them. For example, a poem showcasing what I learned about ants featured the fact that they reproduce and die afterwards and not the popular fact that they carry ten times their weight and my reindeer were always colorful, patterned creations that stuck out in a sea of brown-furred, red-nosed reindeer. I used to keep to myself and come up with fanciful stories in my head or play games with the boys during recess. I found it hard to relate to the silly girls who hosted tea parties and wanted to play house. It was hard for me to relate to anyone closely enough to call them a “best friend”.
For a lonely girl, it was a blessing to find myself in such a strong, beautiful character. The popularity of the show and the knowledge that other people existed who felt the same way gave me strength of character and the ability to shed my shyness. That turning point came for me that fateful day in junior high where I stood up to a boy who harassed me for my bloodstained jeans. Nobody mentioned the incident after that, and my peers had a new respect for me that replaced the odd looks and glances I used to receive. I continued living my life in my own independent little bubble, taking a cue from Buffy and not caring what people thought about aspects of myself that I couldn’t control. Strong and different in similar ways, I saw myself in her. A girl who discovered a fierce spirit within herself that made her comfortable enough to trust a small group of people enough to call them friends. A girl who cannot seem to click with any man on a romantic level because she repels the ones she attracts with that fierce spirit. A girl whostill feels alone, especially when surrounded by friends who seem incapable of understanding her.