Live Through This

The Drama I’d Been Craving

I wanted to be Rayanne Graff, but I should’ve listened to Brian Krakow.

Illustration by Sonja

“These people are just sad–I do not understand your obsession with them,” my mom said after walking in on my millionth viewing of Sid & Nancy during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school.

I’d first rented the movie because I loved the Sex Pistols, but it was the titular romance that captivated me. It started out so sweet. There’s this scene, where Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen are kissing, and Nancy tells Sid to kiss her toes, and he rips a hole in the bottom of her fishnets and does exactly that. Things quickly spiral out of control, though, until finally, they’re both nodding out in the Chelsea Hotel and Nancy begs Sid to die with her and he stabs her in the stomach. Their relationship was thrilling, and then dangerous, and yet I romanticized it. I even named my cat Sid.

So I just rolled my eyes when my mom asked me how I could possibly adore something so destructive and awful. I didn’t have answer. I couldn’t quite explain why I was so addicted to damage and drama, and how that addiction had grown over the years.

Or maybe I did know. Nobody thrills to stories about average, well-adjusted people, which I learned in the fifth grade, when I started reading the Sweet Valley High books and watching the original Degrassi TV series and Beverly Hills, 90210. 90’s Dylan McKay—a brooding, wealthy, motorcycle-riding surfer–was one of my very first crushes, and I identified with his on-and-off girlfriend, Brenda, in a lot of ways. I, too, was a theater-loving Midwestern girl with dark brown hair, and I was the new girl in town (though I’d moved to a suburb of Chicago, not Beverly Hills). As I watched their romance unfold, I started to long for one just like it. I loved how Dylan came off as a tough loner, but at the end of the his first episode, we see him sad and alone (and wearing very ’90s overalls) in his fancy hotel suite. Later in the first season, he loses his temper in front of Brenda and smashes a planter. She runs away, but then he catches up to her, holds her, cries, tells her he’s sorry. I desperately wanted that—the bad boy with sharp edges that only I could soften, someone with hidden complexities that I alone could unearth and help him deal with.

By the end of my freshman year, I’d met a couple of Dylan McKay types, but none of them saw that I could be their Brenda. My life didn’t seem like an actual life. The only ups and downs I was experiencing were via these shows I was watching, these books I was reading. I grew terrified that when I looked back on my teenage years, they would be totally boring, filled with studying, reading, and TV, and devoid of stories of my own.

Fast-forward to the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, when a new show about teenage life premiered, one that was a lot more realistic than the soapy 90210. When I watched the first episode of My So-Called Life, I could hardly believe my eyes, because there on the screen was a girl who was exactly like me. Here’s the thing, though—while a lot of girls admired the lead, Angela Chase, or at least related to her, I wanted to be her best friend, the bad girl Rayanne Graff.

My all-time favorite episode of TV ever might be MSCL’s “Other People’s Mothers.” This is the one where Angela is enamored of Rayanne’s mom, who allows Rayanne to throw killer parties when she isn’t home, but then Angela’s mom has to help Rayanne after she ODs. I mean, deep down I knew that nearly ODing was NOT fun, but I loved watching characters, even those I adored as much as Rayanne, get themselves into (and out of) terrible situations.

As viewers, we were presumably meant to understand that Rayanne’s struggle with alcohol and Dylan’s temper were not desirable things. They were “troubled,” and their actions had consequences–we’ll never know if Angela and Rayanne ever became close again. But at the same time, we weren’t meant to identify with the quiet, careful characters: 90210‘s Andrea Zuckerman or MSCL’s Brian Krakow or Freaks and Geeks’s Millie Kentner. We weren’t enthralled by their academic standing and good behavior. A lot of the time, the main characters wanted nothing to do with them.

I’m not sure how conscious I was of this at the time, but I began to model my own life on the shows I was addicted to. I got what I thought was the highest compliment in the world during my Sid & Nancy summer. I made a new friend, Isabel,* and a friend of hers observed that Isabel was Angela and I was Rayanne. This was meant to be an insult, or at least a warning to Isabel that I was wild, crazy, and potentially dangerous—but I was thrilled. I loved—or at least told myself that I loved–when people talked about me and spread rumors that I was a junkie and/or a slut. I had the illusion that I was in the center of something exciting because I was surrounded by drama, but really all I was doing was piling misery on top of misery.

My So-Called Life never made it past its first season, but in my late teens, I played out Rayanne’s story. I was secretly cutting myself and sliding out of control, drinking more, doing drugs, and having disastrous relationships with Dylan-like boys, even though my mother kept trying to tell me they weren’t worth it. “Sometimes still water does not run deep, Stephanie,” she’d say. “It’s just really murky and dirty.”

Of course, it turned out that being Rayanne Graff and dating Dylan McKay was not as much fun as it looked on TV. Fighting with my boyfriend constantly and dealing with the aftermath of the trouble we got ourselves into was exhausting and miserable. I enjoyed watching their fuck-the-world attitude play out on screen, because it reflected how I felt inside and provoked feelings in me that I didn’t have words for, and it was oddly consoling to know that however messed up I was, I wasn’t as messed up as them. But my mom was right: Sid and Nancy weren’t strangely dangerous. They were sad.

Though I’m not generally the kind of person who has regrets, and I tell myself that all of my experiences shaped me into the person I am, if I could go back in time and whisper in the ear of 15-year-old me as she sat down to watch My So-Called Life for the first time, I would tell her to be herself–an Angela–and maybe listen to Brian Krakow, her careful, in-love-with-her friend, every once in a while. In writing about some of the stuff I’ve been through, I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of excitement that attracted me to these stories in the first place. It took a long time to recover from all that I’d done to myself, and I’m so much happier now that the drama is back where it belongs in my life: in books and magazines and on my television screen. ♦

* This name has been changed.

26 Comments

  • haileyhallie September 7th, 2012 7:47 PM

    with all due respect, screw brian krakow

    • roserach September 7th, 2012 8:12 PM

      I love him!!! I mean, he could be annoying at times, be he was sooooo lovable!!

    • airplanes.books September 7th, 2012 11:27 PM

      i agree, i NEVER liked him, and he annoyed me in a far from endearing fashion, ugh.

    • Sorcha September 8th, 2012 12:51 AM

      yeah, stalking ain’t cool

    • Anaheed September 8th, 2012 1:15 AM

      I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY. I have known far too many Brian Krakows in my life, and IME they always come from a place of hidden rage and misogyny.

    • Jules September 8th, 2012 2:06 PM

      I agree so much. I have a lot of Brian Krakows around and no was needs their judgmental “I know better than you” bullshit

  • rojo September 7th, 2012 8:02 PM

    exactly the way I feel about effy from skins!

    • paige.xo September 7th, 2012 8:54 PM

      Same! This article is really relevant right now..

    • mander September 8th, 2012 1:45 PM

      SAME—-Effy has consumed so much of my drama heart

  • EvaLavender September 7th, 2012 8:12 PM

    Yes <3 I'm probably a mix between Angela and Rayanne.

  • roserach September 7th, 2012 8:14 PM

    I went through this to. The only way to have fun, and thing to talk about with my friends was drama. And then I got new friends, and somehow survived a whole yearn without much drama but still tonsnof stories

  • katrinaexplainsitall September 7th, 2012 8:37 PM

    This article seriously mentions so many wonderful things oh my god. But yes, I completely agree. As awesome as Angela Chase is, part of me will always want to be more like Rayanne Graff.

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • PlainLo September 7th, 2012 8:57 PM

    This is exactly how I used to feel about Skins and Lindsay Lohan circa 2009. I used to envy those pictures of her in pretty clothes, passed out inside a car, barely holding her Blackberry. Then one day I realized how sad the whole thing was and how young she is. I’d be lying if I said that I’m still immune to glamourized drama, but I avoid it as much as I can.

    • marineo September 8th, 2012 1:35 AM

      Oh, Skins! How I yearned to have a life like they did on the show. It all seemed so glamorous… the parties and sneaking out and drama and everything…

  • Elizabete September 8th, 2012 3:51 AM

    “Sometimes still water does not run deep, Stephanie,” she’d say. “It’s just really murky and dirty.”

    - Exactly. While i’m a rather quiet person too, most of seemingly mysterious kids end up being just plain boring and are quiet just because they don’t have anything to say!

    http://melodyfairitale.wordpress.com/

  • Abi September 8th, 2012 6:48 AM

    My So-Called Life is ALWAYS relevant.

  • tove September 8th, 2012 9:55 AM

    Yep, that’s exactly what I’m going through right now – this pathological urge for drama. I do realize it’s foolish, but it hardly changes the way I feel.

  • Jules September 8th, 2012 2:05 PM

    Thank you for this post! I think Rayanne has always been my favorite character on my so-called life, despite how damaged she is. The way she thinks about and reacts to things is just a lot more relatable to me than the way Angela does. To be honest (and don’t tell anyone) Angela gets on my nerves a fair amount later in the season.
    Like you did, I think I fancy myself a Rayanne a fair amount, or a Cassie from skins. It’s hard to realize that while damaged, dramatic people on TV are often beautiful to watch, sometimes being like them in real life isn’t worth it.

    That said, I would kill for Rayanne’s hair and wardrobe.

  • VeronicaLake September 8th, 2012 11:20 PM

    Is it too late to submit something for this month? Exactly how far can it go in regards to it being sleazy and dark? It might be very depressing though.

  • saramarit September 9th, 2012 6:14 AM

    I really can’t understand people who would mess up their life because they thought it looked like a fun thing to do. If you look at the characters on those tv shows they usually have deeper problems which go some way to explaining their destructive behaviour. Rayanne had a chaotic home life, her parents weren’t around to look after her in the way they should have been.
    I can relate to Angela in some ways but I always felt Rayanne’s envy of her friend’s solid middle class upbringing.

    I was obsessed with Kurt and Courtney when I was 14 (and my mother was horrified) but thankfully my interest only led me to buy lots of records and not lots of heroin.

  • Anjali September 9th, 2012 1:18 PM

    This left me speechless. I feel like everything that i’m feeling will always be waiting for me to understand on Rookie. Iz in love :)

  • Adelaide September 9th, 2012 4:52 PM

    I’ve always felt the same way and I’ve never been able to comprehend why. I’ve never quite spiraled out of control, thank god, but it’s always seemed so tempting. I guess it just seems more interesting than everything else but I know it’s sick that I want to be messed up.

  • radiofireworks September 11th, 2012 6:50 PM

    I always felt exactly the same way and it got me into a lot of trouble during my teenage years (admittedly this was paired with severe mental illness, including BPD which massively messed with my impulse control and self destructive urges). I romanticized the drama and the party lifestyle and the scuzzy lifestyle and the sadness of it all, when really it was destroying me.

    Luckily I managed to turn myself around before I really lost it, but I lost a lot of friendships in the process and I still have flashbacks and panic attacks about some of the worse nights. I wish I could take a lot of my teenage years back. I still love the drama but I know that it’s only fun to watch, not to experience.

  • SkyeElla September 19th, 2012 1:56 PM

    I’d love to know how you make those pictures

  • Flavia September 23rd, 2012 4:32 PM

    Love this article, romanticizing drama is a mistake!!