how buffy saved my life

May 25th, 2012

So, one night, I was walking through this graveyard when this evil beast jumped out at me and tried to drink my blood when all of a sudden this hot, kickass slayer chick came out and shoved a wooden stake through his heart, turning him to dust.

Okay, maybe that didn’t really happen. And maybe Buffy didn’t really save my life. But Buffy The Vampire Slayer, particularly season 5 and the start of season 6, got me through one of the hardest years of my life.

I just saw The Avengers, another Joss Whedon concoction, and I enjoyed it immensely, but it also made me feel so proud of Joss, in a very personal way that is wholly inappropriate given that I don’t know him. But I think it speaks to the debt of gratitude I owe Joss. For getting me through that year.

2001. New York City. In retrospect, my husband and I say that our 9/11 came early. In February when we got the phone call that would change our lives. Our closest friends, and their children, killed in a car accident. It seemed inexplicable. I’d just had an email from them that very morning. But it happened. And yes, if you’re wondering about how this ties into the story of If I Stay, it does. And you can read more about it here.

Less than a month after we buried our friends, my  husband’s boss, someone we didn’t know well but who we liked and respected enormously, fell suddenly and seriously ill. I was freaking out. I didn’t know this person that well but I was calling my epidemiologist uncle to see what could be done. He couldn’t die, too. No. I wouldn’t allow it.

Death doesn’t answer to anyone but itself. He died, too.

All that spring, the ground seemed liquid under our feet. Like anyone could go at any time.

And on Buffy, where death is everywhere, Joyce, Buffy’s mom died. It was a quiet episode. There was no evil scheme. No villain. Nothing that Buffy could control or stake through the heart. It was just life. And death.

It devastated me. I watched it and wept. It ripped me open. It provided a portal, a hell mouth, to allow some of my grieving to come out.

But Season 5 wasn’t done with me. That season, which had started out so dubiously. Glory seemed like a wuss of a Big Bad. And the arrival of Dawn, Buffy’s out-of-the-blue little sister? Everyone knows that when you bring in a long-lost sibling, a show has officially jumped the shark.

Oh, Joss: Why do I ever doubt you?

Dawn being the key, Buffy’s devotion to her, Glory’s plans for her, Joyce’s death, and then of course, Spike, funny, sexy, marvelous Spike, suddenly sniffing around, and—could it be?—pining for Buffy.

Season 5 Spoilers to follow, but seriously, this is more than ten years old so don’t cry to me.

And then, Buffy dies. She takes a very Jesus-y swan dive into whatever nasty hellhole Glory opened up with Dawn’s blood. Understands what “Death is your gift” means. She dies to save Dawn. She dies to save the world.

I. Lost. It. Over and over. What could be cheesy, in Joss-land is both funny and emotional (Spike realizing Buffy is gone. Did I mention the me dying part?) and Buffy’s tombstone (She Saved The World. A Lot). All of it. It broke me and healed me all at once.

But 2001 wasn’t done with me, with any of us. Buffy Season 6 season premiered October 2, 2011. Mere weeks after the other 9/11, the big 9/11, careened into my city, shaking our foundations all over again. Was nothing safe?

Seriously, what hope did a TV show have against that?

I don’t remember Season 6 all that well. I missed the latter half of it (I caught up with it later) because my husband and I went traveling around the world for a year and learning that indeed the world was plenty safe. And I know some people don’t love it because it got a little rapey with Spike and Buffy. But I was here for the early part of the season, particularly for the brilliant musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.”

I can still sing large swaths of that episode many years later. And I remember watching it at my best friend Marjorie’s house, which is where I’d sat after 9/11 listening to the radio and waiting for her to pop (she was very pregnant) and for the latest anthrax attack on the city. (Did I mention, the anthrax was at my husband’s office?)

By the time “Once More With Feeling” aired, Josie was a newborn. There was a big crowd of us in Marjorie’s living room, that being a time when New Yorkers needed to come together (and sing; I remember singing New York, New York in a Union Square vigil as the moment when I understood that I was a New Yorker). But there we were, at Marjorie’s house. During that episode, everyone revealed their truths during song.

It’s full of great songs, including a particularly daring number between Willow and Tara (that show was the most progressive, or subversive, pro-gay show on TV, and it did it quietly) and a hilarious number with Anya and Xander. But the best song, in my opinion comes toward the end of the show.

Walk Through The Fire.

I will walk through the fire, Buffy sings.

I hope she fries, I’m free if that bitch dies—I’d better help her out, Spike sings. (Oh, Spike!)

We’ll see it through, it’s what we’re always here to do, the Scoobies sing.

At the end of that song, I wept. Because that’s just what you do. You walk through the fire. That’s what I was doing. Walking through the fire.

And then, at the end of the episode, when Buffy and Spike kissed, everyone in the room erupted into cheers. And Baby Josie cried out in alarm, or excitement, it’s hard to tell at that age. And we all just burst out laughing. With hope, with joy, and maybe with relief.

So, Joss, I guess I’m writing this for you ten years later, to thank you for getting us all through the fire.


  1. Beautiful post. My mom and I watched every episode of Buffy together and I can remember every moment you brought up perfectly. Buffy’s death, her mother’s death… Those were some seriously heart wrenching episodes to watch. At that point, I hadn’t experienced any major loss in my life, but now, when I watch them again, I feel it even more. Thanks for posting this and reminding me that it wasn’t all silly demons and vampire boyfriends.

  2. Lovely post!

    And you’re so right about the way a piece of art can become a companion for you during a hard time — or anytime. It’s almost like the show becomes another part of your brain, a place you go to process and figure stuff out.

    I’m so sorry that you had such a terrible, exhausting year. But I’m glad you had the Best Show Ever to keep you company.


  3. I just discovered Buffy last summer (almost exactly a year ago), but I don’t know what I’d have done this year without it. It’s been one of those awful, isolated, post-college years that sucks beyond the telling of it. As I said on Twitter, season six is still getting me through stuff–still making me understand that both my desire to be normal again and the fact that every day can be a battle is a thing other people deal with.

    It’s also connected me with people, in person and online, just by giving a common ground.

    My life (should) get better soon. I’m moving into an apartment with friends, I’m writing. Things are okay. And I’m going to introduce my roommate to Buffy.

  4. I agree– I think Buffy saved us all. A lot. For me personally, I didn’t watch Buffy until just a few years ago, but the first 2 seasons got me through my grandfather’s death, and the other 5 seasons carried me through the mourning period that followed. She kept me sane, distracted me, and showed me that you have to keep getting up and going, even when it feels like going through the motions…

    I will be forever grateful to Joss Whedon for that lesson.

  5. “it also made me feel so proud of Joss, in a very personal way that is wholly inappropriate given that I don’t know him.”


    You summed up complicated feelings that I, a huge Whedon fan, could never have verbalized, in Hemingway-esque simplicity.

    – We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.

  6. I came here from Books Lists Life, as I am an ardent Buffy fan, and just saw Avengers on Wednesday….so I love what you say about Joss, and Buffy, and how it saved your life. Buffy is one of the few tv characters I dream about, and she is often helping me fight off zombies.

    Lovely post, though I’m so sorry about all the loss you had in 2001, it was a devastating year for you, wasn’t it?

  7. I think God has a way of giving us just what we need just when we need it. We look for answers in our friends, our families, maybe even The Bible. But then the answer comes in a TV show about a vampire slayer. The answer is usually right under our noses. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself to inspire others.

  8. I can only add that this was exactly my reactions and emotions when I first saw those seasons. I rewatch and I still cry when Joyce dies. She was such a great mom.

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