I have a lot of favorite TV moments, mostly involving soap operas. Especially watching Laura come back from the dead.
This was 1983, in the sad days before my parents bought a VCR. My family never had anything first (apart from five damn kids), so I had to watch General Hospital after school at my friend Heather's house. It was winter and in the winter it snowed all the time. There was never not snow in the winter in Wisconsin in the '80s. It wasn't even possible. In early November it started snowing, it was always cold and always snowing and the snow was always higher than your knees. This is true, by the way. You don't need to go "confirming" it with outside "facts."
Heather had a new house in a new development in what used to be the woods where we used to build forts in the summertime, so her backyard was mostly trees. Nothing but trees and snow outside a big bay window. We sat on the floor in her living room—as close as possible to the TV—at twilight and watched it grow dark. No; we sat on the floor in her living room and watched the night fall. I love that: the way the night falls and the day breaks. Time, huh? Fragile but determined!
All we cared about was Luke finding Laura, which took months and months of screen time. Laura had been presumed dead for a couple of years—which was a tragedy because together they were LUKE AND LAURA, and without her he was just luke—but of course she had actually been kidnapped by Luke's evil nemesis, Stavros Cassidine, from whom she eventually escaped in order to sneak back to Port Charles and stalk Luke. Who had recently been elected mayor.
I'm a little fuzzy on the motivations driving this narrative arc.
Remember that song "Think of Laura" by Christopher Cross? "Hey, Laura! Where are you now? Are you far away from here? I don't think so, I think you're here..." General Hospital took those words literally. For months, every time a character would mention or even think about Laura, that opening "Hey Laura" refrain would waft over the soundtrack, and Laura the character would be hovering right there in the background, watching from behind a flagpole while wearing mysterious sunglasses. So you go download that song from iTunes and play it on repeat two or three hundred thousand times and maybe the storyline will work itself into your brain through aural osmosis.
What I do remember is Luke being sworn in as mayor and then returning alone to his big mayoral mansion (?) and wandering alone onto the balcony with a bottle of champagne. Although he should be celebrating, he is melancholy. His love is gone, his victory meaningless. And then, suddenly, he gazes out at the wide expanse of lawn—the same lawn on which he and Laura had been married years before—only to glimpse on the grass, far below, the very wife whose presence he (and his hollow heart) is still so desperately missing.
He stops. Stares. Sets down the bottle. Stares some more. Oh no, her back is turned, she's walking away, she's walking away!
He says nothing. Turns and slips. Runs. Scrambles down the steps, onto the lawn. She's almost gone...
"LAURA!" he screams. The music stops.
"LAURA!!" we scream.
Well, you can go watch it on Youtube if you want. Elizabeth Taylor is in the flashback at the beginning, looking glossy.
We rewound that scene at least 25 times, both of us crying, because say what you will about daytime soaps, they had the best payoffs. They made a moment count. For 35 months you watched and waited—they are masters of the close call—and then finally, whammo! With the dramatic hair and the pauses and the horrible dialogue? You cannot believe the romantic hearts that flutter in some 13-year-old girls over shit like this. Somebody ought to sell old episodes of General Hospital on DVD now because I would buy it all.
Even better than the reality of it was leaving Heather's house that night, stepping back outside into this white and blue world—pristine bright sparkling snow under a dark velvet starry sky, and so quiet—and walking home slowly, rewinding, remembering, wanting it to last and last and last, and just feeling ... lucky.
You know those moments you have sometimes, when the world feels very small because you know exactly where everybody you love is? When you just close your eyes and breathe deep and it's like being held in somebody's hands, and feeling safe? I felt like that a lot when I was little: safe. Cocooned. Small town, small house, small life. (My father hates it when I refer to our house as "small." I guess that's why he finally moved across the street.) I very specifically felt that way that night, and I knew it even as it was happening. I knew everything was right with the world and my place in it, if only for that moment, and all because of TV.
I took a deceptively circuitous route to get to my point here, which is that I canceled my cable service earlier this week. Time Warner is sending a guy to pick up the box Saturday morning between 8:00 and 10:00 — "if it's God's will," according to the customer service rep I spoke to on the phone. I have no idea what this means. But I suspect that even if I manage not to get sucked into the hellmouth, my best TV days are still far behind me.
Currently playing in iTunes: Think of Laura by Christopher Cross.