The Summer of Magical Longing
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
– Joan Didion
I was Will Byers. As a boy, a part of me wanted to be popular Steve Harrington with the luscious locks. Of course another part of me wanted to be badass Billy Hargrove in the Levi jacket, smoking Marlboros behind the wheel of that Camaro. God, what a car. But I was Will Byers. Probably to some degree I still am. You know—Will Byers. Skinny kid, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, football helmet haircut, honest, responsible, good at hiding (according to his brother), born on March 22, empath taking it all in. Like, all in.
My kids introduced me to Stranger Things. Chances are good given the hype that I would have found the show on my own, but I give them full credit. We watched seasons one and two together. In addition to the Mind Flayer, the show introduced them to another time. My time. I’ve still got my copy of Bon Jovi’s “Runaway,” on 45 rpm. And Farah Fawcett’s hair, among other sterling qualities? Dear Lord. Yet wait, what? A season three? A release date of July 4, 2019? I couldn’t wait. And then life seemed to change, in the instant.
My son graduated from college in May with a great job offer. He took it, and I couldn’t be prouder of him. But that meant he wouldn’t be home for the summer of 2019. That meant he wouldn’t be home again in the way he’d been for the last twenty-something years. My middle daughter was home this summer. And while we did watch a couple of episodes together, she watched most of season three with her boyfriend, as girlfriends are prone to want to do. He’s a good guy, I’ve become quite fond of him, and I’m glad he’s been swept up in the drama that is Hawkins. But, well, yeah. What about my youngest? She binged the whole season one night on her phone. So season three was just me. A strange feeling thing.
Fans of the Duffer Brother’s saga have their insights and theories about every aspect of the show, including where season four (yep) will take us. I’m not a tv or film critic, but I do pay attention and I felt Stranger Things season three was all about growing up. The changes that inevitably come, ready or not, and the way you handle such shifts. At first I kept identifying with Will as he witnessed the disappearance of his childhood. At one point the line, “Did you think we’d stay kids forever?” knifed me straight in the heart. Will kept trying to hang on for another round of magic. But you can’t stop time. And it’s time—not the Mind Flayer—that sooner or later brings Fort Byers crumbling down in the rain.
I began by saying I was Will Byers. About halfway through this solitary season, however, it hit me: Hell, I’m Hopper. You know—Jim Hopper. Guardian of Hawkins, but, more importantly, the father figure of not only El but her friends as well. I’ve read a few voices bothered by Hopper’s violence, especially that against the mayor of Hawkins. Growing up is hard, and sometimes we navigate those changes well. Sometimes we don’t. The father had been rendered fragile, yet again.
Hopper was growing up just as much as Will and El and Mike and Max and Dustin and Joyce and Lucas and Nancy and Jonathan and Steve and Karen and Billy and Erica and Hawkins even. Plus, I mean, the mayor was a total doucher (a word my kids taught me). From my I’m Hopper moment on, I sensed I was meant to watch season three all by my lonesome. Predestined? Well, I try not to use fancy words like that, but maybe so. Had I watched this season with my kids, I’ve no doubt the longing would have still been there but it would have been muted by their shoulders pressed against mine, and their glorious laughter in my ears. Their absence heightened it like the Mind Flayer flailing around on the roof of the Starcourt Mall. Impossible to miss.
Season three wrapped on a note, literally. As I said, I’m not a critic, but I found it Goldilocks—just right. Tearful embraces. Childhood rooms emptied of their memories. Plans to reunite over the holidays. Older-now Will taking it all in. Like, all in. And Hopper’s voice to El, carrying the entire goodbye like a wave to the new and distant shores that await them all:
…if I'm being honest, that's what scares me. I don't want things to change. So, I think that maybe that's why I came in here, to try to maybe...stop that change. To turn back the clock. To make things go back to how they were. But I know that's naive. That's just...not how life works. It's moving. Always moving, whether you like it or not. And, yeah, sometimes it's painful. Sometimes it's sad. And sometimes...it's surprising. So, you know what? Keep growing up kid. Don't let me stop you. Make mistakes, learn from 'em, and when life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt. The hurt is good.
The deep summer green is fading. August is knocking once more at the door. This season of my magical longing is over. I don’t know who you hear as “God’s voice” in your head, if you even hear anything like that at all. I would guess if you do that options might include George Burns, Morgan Freeman, Octavia Spencer. I usually think God sounds like my father, and on occasion Johnny Cash. But the summer of 2019 introduced a gruffer brother’s voice, one that I heard as both speaking to me and through me. It said to me, as I then say to my children, and maybe as God’s voice says to us all, “Keep growing up kid. It’s going to hurt. But the hurt is good.”
The hurt is good? Yes, it is.