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Television Friends

Square and ordinary in shape. Most don't have a fancy color, or a fancy name. Yet, beyond the screen that is static to the touch lies a world that has influenced my life. I am speaking of the television, a medium that has been an element in my growing years. As I began to reflect on my childhood, my favorite shows surfaced and I was able to contemplate their influence on the person that I have come to be.

My hands placed underneath my chin, I would lay on my stomach with my legs swaying from side to side. My movement was unintentional as I watched my favorite characters and sang to all the familiar tunes. The soft carpet underneath me, cushioned my three foot and a half body, in front of the television. The living room was my sanctuary for "Sesame Street." My usual environment was very different from the large studio that I entered on the Upper West Side. A blur of colors raced before me. Soft feathers and plastic eyes danced around me. Four years old and I thought that I had found heaven. I had walked into my television set, right onto "Sesame Street." Holding my mothers hand, we took our seats in the area provided for the live audience. I remember my mother's reaction, as excited as I was to see the animals that we had both come to love so much. I was not afraid of them, I was fascinated with their motion. Minutes before the taping began, approached Big Bird in awe of his great size. I touched his soft yellow feathers and felt elated. I will never forget the soft touch and the kindness in his eyes. Maria, one of the actresses on the show, greeted the audience. I sat on the edge of my seat, enjoying every moment of the program. "Sesame Street" was a terrific show that had a great impression on me. It taught me numbers and how to count in different languages. The characters are a part of me and will be forever. In addition to the characters, television had just begun to have a large and significant place in my life. From this point, I would watch television with a purpose to learn and become intimate with the characters.

Years passed and the television continued to be a part of my life. Cartoons and funny characters were reserved for Saturday mornings, as I found more interest in watching shows with children my own age; I became obsessed with "Punky Brewster," which aired on Sunday nights. I was so infatuated with this show, I refused to miss it. My family had a country house that we traveled to every weekend on Long Island. The drive was two hours from our home in New York City and we would leave at the same time every Sunday to return home. I remember sitting in the living room of my country house, in a large chair, with my legs curled up close to me. The small television set flashed pictures and I eagerly awaited Punky Brewster to take her form. I heard my mother calling my name, "Jessa, Jessa." I did not respond. "Jessa, let's go, we're leaving now." I heard my mother and father rustling around the house, familiar sounds of our departure. I could feel the cool breeze from the front door, as my father entered and exited. I began to panic, I did not want to miss "Punky Brewster." I waited all day to watch Punky and all her friends, they were almost my friends. My father approached my chair and asked me to turn off the set and get into the car. Tears rolled down my face, as my heart began to hurt. I knew that I had to go but the thought of leaving the television was unthinkable. As he began to plead with me, my tears came faster and my screams became louder.

I caused a scene that night which turned into a reoccurring event the following Sunday. I was far from being a spoiled child, but my parents were getting fed up with my behavior. So, my father bought a small television that plugs into the car. I was in heaven as I stretched myself out in the back seat and was able to watch my show. With a younger sister, it might seem peculiar that I could stretch myself out in the car. As the oldest, I convinced my sister that it is much more fun to lay on the floor of the car, beneath the seats. Obeying her older sister, she would lay down along side of me, leaving me the entire back seat to enjoy my favorite show.

I remember the specific episode that I watched that night. It was about Punky and her gang, raising money to help their community. These children were supposed to be role models for the nation's children. Every show should have a beneficial purpose and "Punky Brewster" obtained this quality. The association between my relationship with "Sesame Street" and my closeness with "Punky Brewster" stem from the same aspects. "Sesame Street" taught me how to care and with caring came an attachment with the characters. I truly believed that Punky was one of my friends and I could not let her down by not being there for her every Sunday night.

"I bet we'll be together for a million years . . . ," this is the "Family Ties" theme song that made me smile with every episode. The show brought the viewer into the home and into the lives of each family member. At the age of ten, I was just starting to learn about fashion magazines and their intent to teach young women how to put on make-up properly. These magazines spoke of the ways to be popular, how to kiss, what to wear and how to deal with your parents. Not quite at the age where I wanted to be independent of my parents, I only focused on the desires to appear older. Jennifer was the youngest in the "Family Ties" family and therefore the one that I could relate to most. One particular episode that I will never forget, features Jennifer sitting at the kitchen table reading a magazine. Her father walked in and inquired about what she was reading. She did not answer so he picked up the issue and his mouth dropped open as he stared at the cover. "Seventeen!" he screamed. "How can you be reading Seventeen when you are only twelve?" I immediately developed a desire to read Seventeen. I wanted to know everything that there was to learn about anything the magazine covered. It seemed that anything important would be explained in the magazine, so I asked my mother if I could buy Seventeen. She was confused about how this publication could be appropriate for a ten year old and refused to buy it. I was very upset by this response, although she promised me that when I was old enough she would get me a subscription. Three years later I was reading the magazine constantly and did not stop for another seven years. Now, Jennifer is probably twenty-six and I can no longer relate to the issues in Seventeen, being older than the topics that they report on.

One day in sixth grade, a boy in my class announced how much he loved Alyssa Milano. This boy was the definition of cool. He had brown hair that lay in front of his right eye. He would constantly breath air upward, so that his bangs would lift for a second and then fall again. Around his wrist was a thick rope bracelet, worn with life. Since I loved him, I went home that night and watched "Who's the Boss," featuring Alyssa Milano. I sat inches away from the screen and watched her every move. Her name was Samantha and she had long brown hair, a great smile and lots of friends. She was every girl's dream. I wanted to dress like her, walk like her and talk like her. I sat with a pen and paper and jotted down notes about the way she acted. I still have that piece of paper. After the show was over, I tore through my dress-up clothes and created an outfit that I thought Samantha would wear. I remember the colors of the dress that I wore, a deep purple and hot pink. I gripped onto the bottom of the dress so I wouldn't fall before reaching my destination. I presented myself to my parents and asked them to guess who I was. To my disappointment, none of them could figure out who I was supposed to be. I continued to love Alyssa Milano after realizing that I would never be her. Now the memories of her are more dominant than the memories of the "coolest guy."

I entered junior high in a new school, 49 miles north of my elementary school. In a forty five minute drive, I had transformed from a city girl and entered suburbia. My father was ready to move out of the city, to a better life. He dreamed of being surrounded by trees and grass. He wanted to take long walks on a quiet road. He got what he wanted and we moved to Katonah, a small town in Westchester county. I remember the first night in the big house, I couldn't sleep. My room had a large window and I felt like there were always people looking in, yet all I could see was darkness. I feared my new school and I had a constant feeling of emptiness. I missed the city and all of my friends.

Moving to Westchester was one of the most difficult obstacles I have had to face in my life thus far. For a year and a half, I cried myself to sleep. I was miserable and in this misery I found some comfort in the small screen. "Beverly Hills 90210" started at this time and Brenda and Brandon had just moved from Minnesota to California. I found relief that there were others that were facing the same pain and confusion as I was. Just as movies do, television can also be a place that you can leave reality and enter another world. I needed to lose myself to these characters. With every episode, I would concentrate on how Brenda and Brandon made friends and adjusted to their new life. I too knew that I needed to move on and leave my past behind. To my surprise, I began to make friends and enjoy my life. I came to appreciate the football field and activities that only suburbia can supply you with. Of course it wasn't Brenda and Brandon that encouraged me to make friends, but with their help and strength, I adjusted.

I grew very close to Brenda and felt that our lives seemed to parallel. When she got into a fight with her best friends, I would get into a fight. I will never forget when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend in ninth grade; that night I watched "Beverly Hills". Devastated by the loneliness that accompanies a break-up, I thought that I was the only one to ever feel such pain. In the time that I would usually be talking on the phone with my boyfriend, there seemed to be only emptiness and silence. That night, tears streamed down my chin and onto my night gown, as I watched Brenda and Dylan sit in Dylan's convertible, they were breaking up too. I was reassured that everyone feels the pain of losing someone you love. It was normal to be so lonely and confused. The next day, Brenda went to see Dylan's mom and I wrote down a quote in my journal, that his mom said to her. She said, "Even despair exhausts itself." This was a complicated statement for a fourteen year old but I understood that the pain would not last forever. When you grow so close to a show, the characters can become mentors and I took his mother's words to heart.

It seems almost sad that I have grown out of tom-boys, cheerleaders and confused teenagers. Now I watch "Friends," where six adults are beginning their lives and learning to adjust to the "real world." The show means a lot to me because I rely on my friends greatly. In one episode, Phoebe travels two hours north of the city in search of her real father. Chandler and Joey accompany her on the trip because they know that she needs the support. It is Christmas Eve and everyone should be with their families, but not these three. They sat outside Phoebe's fathers house for hours as she contemplated whether or not she would approach the house. She never did and the three of them missed their Christmas celebration. Watching "Friends" has made me realize that I have reached a television plateau. I no longer want to be like the characters, because I am content with my lifestyle and the person I have developed to be. I have achieved the same kind of closeness with my "friends," and the same dependence. I feel that friends are an essential part of life for learning and growing. I can relate to the characters and the battles that they face, alone and together.

Years have passed and my favorite characters have all grown up. Bert and Ernie have faced sexuality issues, "Punky Brewster" has had a breast reduction, Alyssa Milano is on "Melrose Place," Shannon Doherty has left "Beverly Hills" and Courtney Cox from "Family Ties" is on "Friends." I too have grown, on my own and with the help of my friends that entered my life with a click of a button.

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