The Problem With Obsessions: Boys and "The X-Files"
“The past longs to be remembered. The past is constantly sending us letters, dropping notes in our path, phoning us up trying to make dates for lunch. The past has no wish to die.”
— Garrison Keillor
Everyone has obsessions, and much like farts, slippers and babies, our own are OK but other people’s are intolerable. Understanding another’s obsession is often impossible, be it the relentless fandom of “Doctor Who,” or trying to figure out why your best friend has such a terrible boyfriend. I think we forget how easy it is to find things online today, whether it’s other fans of obscure TV shows or dates with boys who might think we’re pretty and want to buy us drinkies. When I was in high school, the Internet was fairly new, but I used it to foster and elaborate on my lifelong obsessions: boys and tv shows.
In high school I wasn’t what you’d call popular, per se. The cool kids who had kind of ignored me when I was younger were finally nicer to me and I was still trying to ascertain my place in the world, what kind of person I was gonna be. Naturally curious and artistic, I was mostly interested in reading and very worried about being liked. I had always been known as kind of a weird kid, I didn’t know how to integrate my large reader’s vocabulary into normal conversations, except with adults, and I lived out in the country, and had trouble making good friends who weren’t just as pathetic as I was.
I spent hours in my room taping songs from the radio onto carefully curated cassette tapes, or building tree houses in our backyard with my four younger sisters. I made late night telephone calls to a boy I met through my school on the Internet, my hand nervously holding the ringer button down and waiting until I could hear a faint ding through the wire, alerting me that he was calling me so it wouldn’t show up on my parent’s phone bill. Tyler Acorn and I talked about movies, books and ideas and emailed each other a lot about movies. I once told him how much I liked the movie Notting Hill, he loved the movie Conspiracy Theory. Pretty tame stuff, considering what other teenagers were up to, I imagine.
In high school I cared about somebody liking me, and I cared about the “The X-Files.” I cared about lots of other things, but these two things consumed my mind mostly.
I first came to “The X-Files” courtesy of my parents, who are intensely intellectual, avid readers, fans of foreign films and watched “Twin Peaks” when it was on the air. I loved Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, their obvious affection for one another and stone cold professional abilities. I loved the intricacies of the show, the complicated multi-season ploddingly slow conspiracy plot arcs, the one off episodes that explored monsters and madmen, everything from the burgeoning relationship dynamic and well beyond. I bought action figures of the pair, and dressed up as Dana Scully for Halloween, replete with home made FBI badge, carefully replicated from one I’d found online. I bought “The X-Files” magazines at the local bookstore, and “The X-Files” novelizations of episodes, season guides that had transcripts of the episodes that I’d pore over, looking for clues. My Hotmail email address, long since lost to the sands of time (along with stacks and stacks of love emails from Tyler) was scullygyrl. I played “The X-Files” computer game on PC, where you’d put in disc after disc and it was kind of choose your own adventure. The movie came out in 1998 and it was everything I had ever wanted and more, a big-budget, glorious realization of all my hopes and dreams.
There’s a lot going on in this photo, so take it all in.
My dad especially loved the show, and we’d watch it, appointment television in the days before DVRs and such, though I would often meticulously tape copies onto tapes in our VCR, to be watched over and over and analyzed. At one point, my mother wanted the TV out of the house, so it was out in our standalone garage, and my father and I would trek out there, sitting in beach chairs, one of us messing ever so slightly with the damn bunny ears to try and get a crystalline image. Bunny ears were the plague of my TV watching childhood, long aerial receivers that had to be adjusted and readjusted for each channel. My dad had the innate ability to get it right on the first try, and often the rest of us would get very close to a clear signal, but then be tempted to readjust for even more clarity and lose the whole image in a haze of white interference.
In a way, it was as if all my endless desire to love and to cherish spilled out onto two platforms, one worthy and one unworthy. Just as I would stay obsessed with “The X-Files” for years, through bad seasons and good, through endless relationship drama and alien conspiracies, Tyler would lead me on for years, professing feelings and rescinding them plenty of times, the two of us caught up in something I couldn’t seem to let go of, no matter how bad it got. We kept in close contact throughout high school and just before his first marriage, and immediately afterward when I was in college, before it all blew up one last time and he broke my heart again. If you want to talk real disappointment on a similar level, we can discuss the second X-Files movie, put out in 2008, a movie so stunningly bad and worthless that I felt betrayed and heartsick, though I was many years removed from my obsession.
Obsessions do you no favors in the long run though they may give you intense pleasure at the outset, yet they often keep you from a thing you maybe really wanted. I spent so much time obsessing over Tyler, that I missed out on parts of my life I wish I had been more present for. “The X-Files” was a worthy thing to love, and did no harm, but I still wonder if the amount of time I spent on it was worth it. I’ve nothing to show for all the time and investment, much as I’ve nothing to show for all the years I spent loving Tyler. Pouring your love into a void never repays the returns you hope it will, and loving someone who can’t love you back is… well, obvious sometimes and sneaks up on you again and again, if you can’t seem to learn your lesson.
But we are not doomed by the past.
After a while, you simply stop caring. Just as you drift away from a show, to new other shows that hold your interest, you eventually stop wondering what the person you loved is doing. Who they’re seeing. You forget, and that is a blessing only time can give you. You stop Googling keywords and phrases, you give up on ever getting an apology even though you may feel you richly deserve it. You box it up and start moving on. Details of both begin to fade in your mind until you have to actively recall important events or timelines in order to make yourself feel bad, and new things arise to occupy your busy mind.
I recently cleaned out boxes of my childhood belongings from my parent’s house and found the action figures, magazines, plenty of floppy disks with “The X-Files” logo on it, and this. I wrote fan fiction just for myself, long hand, in this binder that I carefully decorated with my favorite picture of the pair, and some tiresomely bad drawings of aliens. I opened it up, unsure of what I’d find, but the few pages I read that I had written so long ago, seemed to follow Mulder and Scully on a darkened road, driving together, Mulder asking Scully about some directions and she, clarifying as they went. “Yes, it’s this way.” “About five minutes?” “Yes, I think so.” No great danger, no big reveals, the minutiae of every day existence. I closed the notebook, unable to read any further.
Even in my wildest dreams, a private place where I could write down anything I thought of, about two of my favorite fictional people, I managed to write about myself. It seems as if all I ever wanted is someone to travel along an unknown path with, whiling away the hours and keeping each other company, talking through our problems and figuring things out together.