No, not the ones where we learn to walk, talk and tie our shoes.
I'm talking about the years where we begin to learn who we are -- and who we want to become. For some people, those years don't come until late in high school, or even college.
And for some of us, they come much, much earlier.
Growing up is hard. Along the way, we learn that our parents aren't perfect, our friends aren't as loyal as thought they were, and that people change, move away, and, in the worst-case scenarios, die. There's no guidebook to tell us these things, either.
One of my friends has pointed out that people become entrenched in fandoms because they want to avoid dealing with their own issues. It's a lot easier to ignore everything that's wrong with your life when you dedicate hours and hours to watching a show, discussing it, reading about it, etc. Well, back at the end of sixth grade, I didn't even know the Internet existed, let alone fandoms -- and I definitely didn't know that The Show would become a major force to be reckoned along my road to adulthood.
My grandmother, was, for all intents and purposes, my hero. Not in the cape-and-boots sense, but she made the world's greatest grilled-cheese sandwiches, let me play with her good jewelry, and never criticized me for staying indoors to read instead of playing with the neighborhood kids. In short, she wasn't judgmental. And in short, when she died, I was shattered.
So, in retrospect, it comes as no surprise that I fell for The Show so hard, and so quickly.
I needed a hero, and fast. I found two. And they were the same person.
The lead actors of The Show had off-the-charts charisma. He was tall, dark and handsome. She was real and spectacular. It took all of 15 seconds to determine I wanted to be her -- and marry him. And somehow, as I attempted to navigate the turbulent waters of junior high, with all-too-unfortunate glasses and knock-off Converse All-Stars, I found myself relating to their characters. TDH played the accidental hero who longed to fit in -- and didn't know if he ever would. RS's Type-A career woman was fearless, daring -- and had self-confidence issues underneath the bravado.
They became my lifelines, and in return, they got my loyalty as a viewer.
And by the beginning of The Show's penultimate season, they had become the foundation on which I had built some great friendships -- and even greater ambitions. TDH's looks had caught the eye of pretty much every teenage girl in Algebra I, and RS had the kind of drive they weren't brewing up at the Central Perk. We'd discuss everything from how lucky she was to be paid to kiss him and how good he looked in a business suit to how cool it would be to work alongside them. The Show was cool -- and watching it made me cooler by association.
So by the ripe old age of twelve, I had decided I wanted to follow in RS's footsteps -- and no one was going to stop me. The Oscar, the Pulitzer, the Nobel Prize ... who said I couldn't have it all, too? All I had to do was watch The Show, apply it to my own life, and I'd live happily ever after.
What I didn't know is that what I was seeing during that sacred hour, 22 weeks a year, was nothing like what was actually going on when the cameras stopped rolling. That there was a big difference between RS, TDH and their alter-egos. That perfection was nothing but a word, and success was ephemeral.
I didn't see any of it. The Show could do no wrong. It was the guiding light of my adolescent years, and I couldn't imagine what life would be like without it.
But I was about to find out ...