First of all, TWENTY YEARS? Holy shit. I feel incredibly old right now.
The X-Files premiered on September 10, 1993, but with the on-screen date of March 6, 1992.
Why does this matter? Why should anyone, including you or I care?
Well, for me, The X-Files was a life changing event. The show changed the way I looked at the world around me, for good or ill, and it helped me hang on when I was so depressed that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it to the next episode or not. For the record, my obsession was so great that I honestly think my need to find out what would happen next (and when would they hook up, damn it) trumped any suicidal thoughts that I possibly had at the time.
When The X-Files premiered, my parents were fairly recently divorced and I was spending the majority of my time with my mother, in a town that was roughly 30 miles away from where my dad was living. My sister and I spent every other weekend with him, when he would drive over, pick us up, and take us to his place.
Which sounds all well and good, except that my father worked in construction, as an electrical contractor, and he had very early mornings. He needed to be out at the shop by 6:30am, so he would hit the hay very early, sometimes before 8pm the night before.
What this meant for my sister and me was that we would get to his house, have a weirdly uncomfortable dinner with his wife at the time (number 2, he is now on number 3) and possibly my step-sisters (who were way cooler and way thinner than I was, and they knew it, so I wasn’t exactly the person they wanted to hang with on a Friday night), then my dad would hit the sack, and everyone else would shuffle off and do whatever. My little sister would be reading or playing, and if I didn’t have a strong desire to join her, it meant that I was on my own.
Let me just say that getting dragged out into the country, ostensibly to spend time with your father, and then he goes to sleep before most senior citizens, does not feel great. In fact, it feels pretty shitty. The additional fact that he would do all sorts of things around the house over the weekend, many things which did not include giving us his undivided attention, also felt shitty. It’s the kind of thing that makes a person feel more like a possession than a child who is loved and adored.
(Look, I get that this is all first world problems. Really, I do. I’m working on it, okay? Also, as a side note, someday my father is going to read this blog and he is going to be really upset that I’ve thrown all my dirty laundry out there. Can I just say that I could give two shits?)
On this particular Friday night, I was alone in the den, trying to figure out what to watch on TV. My father’s house was (and still is, come to think of it) in the middle of nowhere and he did not have cable. (Although not for lack of trying. The cable company refused to run lines out to his house, even though he was less than a mile from the city line. He offered to run the line himself [remember- contractor] but they still refused him the service. The magic of DirectTV had not yet been invented, or at least was not a reasonable choice at this time.)
He did have an antenna that allowed us to get a few different stations. The TV up in the den was older, and still had the two dials, one for UHF (which always made me happy, if only because of the mental UHF/Weird Al references that I would make in my head). I could get the Toledo NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and PBS stations, as well as some religious station, and that was about it.
I had been flipping through channels, which required that I stand in front of the TV and turn the knob, which was actually harder than it sounds, because there was some serious resistance on that knob and sometimes you had to work to make that bad boy click over to the next fuzzy station.
My plan, I believe, looking back 19 years, was to get around the commercials and watch some TGIF on ABC. However, I stopped turning the dial when I hit the following:
The X-Files is one of the first shows that I can think of that I got in on at the ground floor, but that I didn’t MEAN to get in on. I chose seaQuest DSV like I would choose a puppy. I jumped on the Firefly train because I was obsessed with Buffy (which I didn’t get into until season 3) and Angel (which I was in on the ground floor BECAUSE of Buffy). I hated the pilot of Supernatural on first viewing, only falling into the series when season 1 came out on DVD and I was suffering from extreme food poisoning.
The X-Files was a lucky mistake. I’d like to believe that I would have found it anyway, even if it was later, but I love the fact that I was there on opening day, so to speak.
The X-Files spoke to me (and still speaks to me) on a level that very few things ever have. There was something about the trust between Mulder and Scully that I was envious of and longed for in my own life. There was a loyalty there that I wished I could have with my own friends and family. I think, looking back, that I did have a loyalty like that but it just hadn’t manifested in the same way. Either way, I watched that show and I wanted the kind of emotional connection that they had, even with the banter (or perhaps ESPECIALLY because of the banter) and the bickering.
There was an unspoken language that Mulder and Scully had. Looks they exchanged that said more than words ever could. Small touches, like when he would guide her around crime scenes (and everywhere else) with his hand at the small of her back. The way that he became overprotective after her abduction, the way that he fought with her and for her when she was diagnosed with cancer. The way she could say things to Mulder that were snarky and condescending but woe to the outside person who tried the same thing.
It was more than just dialogue, more than just words, that tied them together, that showed that they cared, that they loved each other (even if you never believed that they were IN LOVE with each other). I soaked in all those little details, classified and catalogued everything as I watched, memorizing everything part of it because it was what I wanted, what I hoped for, what I wished my life could have in it.
I became obsessed with the show. I bought TV shirts, I taped every episode and watched them multiple times. I knew (and still do, to some extent) the names of every episode through season 7. I had X-Files viewing parties in high school, made easier when the show moved to Sunday nights, and continued those events when I went to college.
Stupid story: I, and others in my dorm, made angry calls to the Detroit Fox station when they started cutting off the previews for the next episode during the credits of the current episode with a preview of the upcoming news program. I mean, the news is going to be on in less than a MINUTE (which they helpfully told us, as they were cutting off Mulder’s face with the inset of the evening news set)- why do we need a preview like that? It’s not like we have to wait a whole week or anything.
We burned pictures of the news anchor in effigy, mostly as a joke, but from that point on, I refused to watch any segment or program with that guy as the lead. My little circle of college friends laughed about it, but a part of me, deep inside, wasn’t kidding. This ass was the reason that I missed the trailer for next week- he kept me from my fix and I was ANGRY about that.
I imagine that this behavior is similar to that of an addict. I am sure that I was. I am sure that the way I behaved was a combination of addictive personality and the desperate attempts of someone drowning in depression to find something, anything, to cling to in order to make things better. I latched my hooks in The X-Files and for a brief moment, it was better.
I read fan fiction, I posted on group e-mail loops, I forced my friends to watch the show, to talk about it. I found friends who were just as obsessed as I was. We had in-jokes, things that we understood in mere seconds but would take me at least ten minutes to explain to an outsider.
I took my X-Files seriously and expected others to do the same, if not being as obsessed as I was, then respecting my obsession and not calling me on X-Files nights.
I suffered from depression in college, I realize as I look back on those days. I was never officially diagnosed or medicated, but I contemplated suicide once or twice. I’m not sure it was chemical depression- my step-sister suffers from that and I wouldn’t want to marginalize or lessen her issues by comparing them to my own- but it was more than just melancholy. I was angry, with a hair trigger temper, and I was sad. My heart hurt, all the time.
My father left my mother when I was in the 3rd grade. From that point forward, I had anger issues, issues with authority, and problems with trusting people. I was sad, I was mad, and I was desperate to find someone or something to believe in. My father left his second wife in the fall of 1997, when I was a freshman in college, and took up with a woman that he told me was new in his life but turned out that she had been his mistress for over five years before that. This did not help with my issues, as I had long been connecting my personal happiness and satisfaction with my relationship with my father.
I felt betrayed by him, not because he had cheated on me, personally, or that he had cheated on my mother (although it was revealed that he had done that as well, when they had been married). I felt betrayed because my father had forced this second family on me, had forced me to accept these new people into my life with all kinds of rules and expectations that it turned out he had no intention of keeping himself. To add insult to injury, he lied to my face on more than one occasion regarding his girlfriend and how his marriage ended, meaning I felt used and manipulated and small.
I spent many of my college years feeling that betrayal and wishing that I could trust my father, in any way. That I could believe the words that came out of his mouth. That I could trust that he would choose to be with my sister and I, and that he hadn’t used us as excuses for when he would sneak away to see his mistress, or that he would choose to be with her in the brief free time he had, instead of us.
TRUST NO ONE was a pretty powerful message to me. It was reminder that trust was a precious thing that shouldn’t be given out willy, nilly. You only break this rule with the people who have really earned it.
I watched The X-Files with all of this baggage and there was something very powerful about these two people who only really had each other. They could only really trust and count on one another, because there wasn’t anyone else that they could trust out there in the world. There was a devotion to their relationship that bordered on obsessive and unhealthy, which the show touched on, but in the end, time and again, it was proven that their paranoia was not unfounded, and their love and respect for each other was stronger than any annoyance or anger could ever be.
It wasn’t a perfect relationship, by any means, but it was something that I longed for, that I dreamt of. Someone I could trust, someone who could and would trust me, someone that I could count on to have my back, when I had theirs, and that would love me no matter how stupid I acted or how selfish I could be.
I realize, in all this introspection, that I am totally Fox Mulder, as lame as that is.
Feeling betrayed by the parents that he should have been able to trust and count on completely? CHECK
Selfish and self-absorbed? CHECK
Obsessed with things that other people think are crazy? CHECK
Believer in the supernatural, mystical, magical, and just plain weird? CHECK
In love with a red-head (Bear is kind of red-headed, at least his beard is, so I’m counting it.) who puts up with my shit but gives me a lot of shit for it? CHECK
I watch The X-Files now, as an adult who is in a committed, trusting relationship, with slightly different eyes. I can appreciate the conspiracy episodes more now than I did in the past. I’m not quite as invested in the “are they/aren’t they” relationship stuff as I was when I was a teenager. I understand why Mulder is an asshole and why Scully would react to him the way she does better than I ever did in the past.
But I still see all those things that originally drew me to the show in the past. I can still see why I loved it then, why I felt like it saved me, why I thought it was something that I could hang on to when times were really emotionally tough for me.
So, yeah, the 20th anniversary of the meeting of Mulder and Scully is a big deal for me. Happy anniversary, you crazy kids! Glad I could be there from the beginning. It’s meant the world to me.