There’s this scene in the first season of Dawson’s Creek. Joey Potter, “the too-tall girl from the wrong side of the creek”, enters a stage behind a line of girls who are smiling with their teeth and wearing sequin-y dresses. Joey’s dress is sleek and simple. Her hair, which normally sits on her shoulders and behind her ears, is swept up in a bun. She’s wearing brown lipstick and instead of smiling big, she does the side smile. It’s a little shy, a little serious, and a little like “what the heck am I really doing up here”. With the fluttery plinks of music in the background, Joey walks on that stage among a crowd of people who are undoubtably judging her but, in the back of the room, her best friend adjusts a camera. He even nudges the camera guy out of the way to truly focus. Because after years of friendship awe falls across his face. Could this be? Is this the Joey Potter he always knew? Suddenly, everything has changed.
This moment solidifies so many of the reasons I connected with this show since its premiere in 1998. I was in 8th grade. I might not have been in love with my best friend or being raised by my older sister in a home where nothing came easy. But I was a girl who preferred the background over centerstage, who chose a book over running around outside every time. Someone who wanted to be accepted by her friends and applauded for working so hard all the time. Someone on the cusp of being discovered in one way or another.
Because the show just happened to run from 8th grade until the May I graduated high school, it feels so much a part of my blossoming, a constant when everything felt so fragile and confusing. I was a pretty well-behaved kid who listened to her parents but when it came to TV, I was not much for boundaries. When news of the Dawson’s Creek premiere started to hit papers, my mom was pretty adamant about me not watching. TOO MUCH SEX AND BIG WORDS. But I snuck watched it anyway and never turned back. (My mom eventually got over this. In fact, after all these years, it’s surprising to me that my 90210/Vampire Diaries loving mother never got into the show herself.)
When life got overwhelming with friends, band practice, after-school jobs, and boys, at least I had my Tuesday or Wednesday night to sit around with these characters and completely unwind. It was my time. I closed the door, sat crosslegged on my fringe rug (until my parents put down wood floors in my junior year of high school), sipped from a can of soda and let myself be thrown into the lives of four people who I practically grew up with. I probably didn’t think much about it then but the show introduced me to teenagers dealing with mental illness, coming out for the first time, slut shaming, and struggling so much to feel settled in the decisions they made and the love they were feeling.
To rev up for this post, I rewatched a few episodes of the show this past weekend and there’s another Joey scene that really got me. She’s sitting in Pacey’s car, after a surprising and surreal weekend and she announces maybe she’s not meant to find happiness. “I’m 16-years old and in my entire life there have been two people who know me!” I’m 30 so it’s ironic to hear her say “entire” in regards to 16 years on this planet. She’s so scared the weekend she had is some indication that she’s doomed forever. I can totally sit here and comment on how dramatic she sounds (it will be okay, Joey!) but isn’t this how we all felt back then? Like when the hell will my real life begin? When will everything fall into place?
Over six years, Dawson’s Creek managed to scramble the pieces of these characters in such a way that we saw no combination could be permanent. Anything could change at any moment (even if you’re enjoying an ice cream cone and singing along to a James Taylor copycat in your car) and that doubt that seems larger than life when you are a kid dissipates. Not because you’re suddenly mega-confident in a perfect, grown-up life but because there are truly less moments to share this kind of honesty. And maybe, just maybe, age welcomes a bit more faith and the understanding that one solid step forward means there are plenty of shaky ones in between.
Now that I’m the owner of so much wisdom (har har har), I wish I could tell the girl who rewound (yes, rewound) the pageant episode of Dawson’s Creek to rewatch time and time again that her yearning to feel brave, protected, and accepted is going to pop up frequently. That she might still think Dawson and Joey belonged together in the beginning, but she’s also open to what feels right and knows it’s okay to change her mind. She’d be really confused about Tom Cruise marrying Katie Holmes, but not surprised that Joshua Jackson remains devilishly good-looking and is still acting (even if she doesn’t watch any of his shows). And that in the age of Jimmy Fallon (“who?” says 14-year old me) there’s always the opportunity for a reunion.
Because true love never, ever dies. (Even if the soundtrack changes.)
Big thanks to Rachel for asking me to be a part of this appreciation week!
One other thing to be thankful for when it comes to the creek: her friendship. We met over a shared love of the show, both ran our own fansites, and found out we were from the same town. The rest is history!