Are you the kind of person who has a moment of panic every time someone you love doesn’t answer the phone? I wasn’t.
Ten years ago this month. A Tuesday night. Time for a new episode of Gilmore Girls. I called my sister, Monika, during a commercial break to talk about something on the show—I don’t even remember what—and she didn’t answer. I thought it was weird, but who knows, maybe she was talking to people in person about this show that was just begging to be discussed.
Chatting about pop culture was nothing new. As the younger sister, she did her duty of usurping many of my interests in a way I never understood as anything other than annoying. With Gilmore Girls though, I think we came to it together. With our mom, too. The series started while I still lived at home and we were able to keep up conversations over AIM and the phone.
It wasn’t the kind of show where we had our own avatars. I’d say that was much more the case with Daria, though she hated that I compared her to Quinn. But the single-mother storyline of Gilmore Girls certainly reflected our experience. And over the years I excitedly chatted with many friends who also saw their lives reflected in the show, or who were just swept up in the banter and dramedy.
But I feel so disconnected from it now.
I’ve come to really resent how pop-culture preferences can become a shorthand for a whole person. Sure, you may like something for your own deep reasons, but it’s superficial to see fandom as anything other than that. My sister wasn’t her love for this show, that band, the other character.
Knowing how she loved things, it’s hard to make sense of enjoying them without her. Enjoying them “for” her doesn’t resonate with me. I think I’ve kind of distanced myself. I can see the show out there as something I should experience in her memory, but I can’t really access my own enjoyment of it.
And now a reunion comes along. I’ve seen so much excited coverage. I saw old arguments return about Rory’s boyfriend and who Lorelai should really be with. I found an AIM conversation with my sister from 2002, and can see the strong feelings we both shared (we agreed, #teamjess), but my feeling just isn’t there anymore.
People talk about memories like they last forever. Well, anyone who’s ever lost someone can attest how that’s just not true. I don’t remember what the episode was about that night. I don’t remember whether I left a message. I don’t remember what I wanted to say.
I just went about the rest of my night like any other, not knowing it was a conversation we would never get to have. That hours before the show aired, she had the seizure that scrambled her brain, from which she was never to return. That while the show was airing, my aunt and uncle were already on their way to Philadelphia to tell me in person what happened and drive me to Erie, to hopefully get to say goodbye before her body gave out completely.
Of course, now I have a million things I want to say. To share. To laugh, argue, complain about. And they build each year. Grief is an ongoing process, and the fragility of memory can be a source of continuing pain. It’s not only that I don’t get to have those conversations, but I lose touch with the connections we did have. Each time it becomes harder to access a memory. A touch. A sound. I understand how there is comfort in returning to shared touch points like shows or stories. I know we shared something, but after the tears faded and I could manage watching things we enjoyed together, I then felt bad that I didn’t feel the pain as deeply as I once had. Maybe it’s then just a protective measure to cut off the connection entirely.
Protective measures sure can seem like folly. They don’t stop the references. Or the crying at my desk when the Gilmore Girls trailer dropped (though a friend assured me I was not alone in that reaction). They don’t stop things you thought were over from coming back and things you thought would remain from never returning.
I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Loss is not something that gets easier with practice. But here’s what I’ve got so far. I’m trying even more than usual to mention my sister in conversations with my friends, whether they met her or not. It feels awkward and forced and I always worry it makes the other person uncomfortable, but it feels important to respect the reality that she was a full person.
I’ve also come home for Thanksgiving, which I don’t usually do, and plan to watch the new Gilmore Girls with my mom and my sister’s best friend. And I’m gonna try to write. Maybe not at The New York Times or on the campaign trail or anywhere Rory would deign to work. But for myself. For my sister. And maybe with the magic of recovered files from her computer and snippets from stories from friends and family, that writing will be with her, in a way. Together, in disconnected, complicated, messy, emotional conversation.