Thursday Nights and Bourbon: How A Teen Vampire Drama Saved My Life
This title is not a joke, as much as you may want to laugh, or already laughed, when you read it. This is also not an over-exaggeration by any means - if you think it is, then I hope that one day you find something that instills as much hope and happiness in you as this show has done for me in my life.
On September 10, 2009, one of the greatest chapters of my life opened.
I was 12 years old at the time, which, despite being nearly 20 now, is a version of myself that is distant, but makes me smile looking back on my pre-teen innocence. My favourite band was the Jonas Brothers, and my idea of reading was Tiger Beat or J-14 magazine, neither of which would not stop talking about this new show that was starting up in the fall called The Vampire Diaries. Vampires were the “trend” at the time, and the fall of 2009 was when Twilight was gaining mass popularity and momentum. My mom and I were fans of the series, so we were extremely skeptical about this new show.
“Have you heard of this new vampire TV show coming out?”
“Yeah, The Vampire Diaries or whatever? I think I read about it a bit..”
“It sounds like a bit of a Twilight rip off, but... Should we give it a chance?”
And that chance was all it took. My mom was hooked from the first episode. I was still doubtful, and it took me maybe 3 or 4 episodes to fully sink my teeth into the series - pun definitely and purposefully intended. I was obsessed. I was in junior high and Tumblr was all the rage, so I immediately made a fan blog dedicated to Ian Somerhalder, who portrayed the first character I fell in love with, Damon Salvatore. I made friends through the show - Maya and Aleks - who I had over every season premiere and finale for pizza and lots of sobbing. I remember going through my blog with them, staring at GIFs in our Foods class the day after the episode where the first Delena kiss ever happened, bouncing off the walls with happiness.
The love for the show grew, and every Thursday night, it was my mom and I’s night. I remember once that a really important episode was going to air, and we were hosting a family gathering. My mom and I desperately wanted to watch, so we snuck into our basement just to watch it. No one else in the house really understood our love, which grew into a bond and a deep appreciation for the show. My mom would do a similar thing when she went to visit her parents - go into their basement to watch an episode on their 12” television - and she would always call me immediately after to debrief and discuss the episode.
In 2012, we discovered that they had a Vampire Diaries convention. A convention. Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley, and all the major cast members were attending. So, we planned to go to the convention in Chicago, as we had never been there and it happened to be during Spring Break. Mom and I were stoked, we couldn’t wait. I was finally going to meet Ian Somerhalder, the love of my 14 year old life. Until, one night, I was on Tumblr, as I usually was, and I saw news that broke my heart. Ian cancelled his appearance at the Chicago convention.
Is it over-dramatic to say that was probably my first real heartbreak? Well, I mean, to have Ian Somerhalder as your first heartbreak... I’ll take it. We were devastated, and honestly didn’t know what to do as Ian was definitely the cast member we were most looking forward to meeting. As much as this news sucked, we didn’t just accept it and go. We decided to just figure something else out, and postponed our trip to the summer of 2012, and re-routed it to San Francisco.
My experience at this convention was otherworldly, to be honest. We stayed at the hotel it was being held at, and there was so much excitement in the air. We started off our first day with some panels, and then, we got our photo op with Ian and Paul. I was frozen. Ian was right there, in front of me. I had no idea what to say, so I just blurted out: “Hi! I LOVE YOU!” to which he replied, “I love you back!” We got our photo taken, and I went to fix my hair mid shot so we had to take another. Photo ops are amazing, but they’re quite the blur - autograph sessions are where you really get to interact with the person you’re meeting. Shortly after the photo-op, we had autographs with Ian. I was able to actually form coherent sentences this time, so I said something along the lines of, “Hey again! I’m Josh and I’m from Canada,” he reached out for my hand and said,
“What the hell are you doing here?!”
“I came just to meet you! This is the best dat of my life, by the way.” He told my mom that she was a good mom for bringing me, and then proceeded to take the photo he signed for me, kiss it, and then said, “Ugh, I love you guys!”
I went back to my seat, lied down, and genuinely cried for 10 minutes after.
Later that evening was a party, reminiscent to many of the balls, masquerades, and events that end in total chaos and suffering in Mystic Falls. However, no blood was shed at this. Only more tears. Some of the actors came to the party and were just mingling. I went up to find Daniel Gillies, who played Elijah on the show. We had a full fledged conversation, which for me at that age was difficult due to my awkwardness, but he was so nice. We started talking about where I’m from, which apparently was my only icebreaker at the time, but he was familiar with Calgary and told me about being very drunk in my city while shooting, of course, a cowboy movie. He even remembered our conversation when we got our photo taken the next day. Right after that, Ian did a short panel at the party. I got to ask him a question, and I was so nervous yet again. I asked him what his favourite scene was from the show so far, and he told me the scene where he and Vikki are partying and drinking, and dancing around the Salvatore house was his favourite. To this day, that’s still his favourite scene!
(A young Josh and his mom with the Salvatore boys)
My first year of high school followed immediately after that incredible summer, and to say that it was a bit of a shock to the senses would be, an understatement. As life goes on, it brings change, which is difficult enough at any age but when you’re a teenager, change seems like a disaster. I was still just as obsessed with the show, but my friends were at a different school, and things just felt different. I found new passions, and I found new sadness. I felt a pain that I had never felt before, a hopelessness that I didn’t know whether or not was circumstantial or rooted within.
The most cliche form of encouragement to give to someone who is depressed or suicidal is probably “Think of all you have to live for!” It’s the most cliche, but the most effective. I don’t want to get to dark, as I know that family and friends are potentially reading this, but throughout high school, I just struggled with feelings of not wanting to be alive anymore. I would push myself to see the good in the world, and all there was to look forward to, but... Meh. The one thought that brought a smile to my face, in both joy and just pure ridiculousness of the statement, was telling myself “I can’t die yet. I need to live to know how The Vampire Diaries ends.” I would laugh at how dumb that sounded, but smile because I knew how true that was for me. I lived for those 40 some minutes of escapism every Thursday night. All that got me through friendless Friday mornings in my homeroom at school was reading EW’s recap, and feeling like I was in my own little world.
As what I felt to be my darkness taking over my life, I found myself relating to Damon in so many more ways than I ever could have possibly imagined. Obviously, to a much lesser degree, but still - my feelings were my feelings, and his resonated strongly with me. Damon felt unworthy of love, and as if he would never be anything but the “bad” brother (a repeated plotline that has honestly aged me probably 10 years). He seemed to always be suffering, and believed he would just always be miserable, consistently failing to see the good in himself and the selflessness that he emulated more often than selfishness. (I can write this with confidence now because I know rabid Stelena fans who seemed to always be on the attack probably gave up on the show a while ago. Your loss.) Slowly, things turned around for him, and he started to find happiness. Yes, with setbacks more often than not, and more pain, but his strength and his love carried him through. I have a deep admiration for Damon’s strength. I figured, if he can make it out of this alive, then so can I.
In the summer of 2014 on a family vacation, we happened to be passing through the Atlanta area, so naturally, we had to stop in Covington, aka Mystic Falls. We stayed in the area and it’s a gorgeous small town. When we first drove through and I saw the town square, I almost passed out. I was overwhelmed with a strange deja vu, because this felt in a way, like home. We went on the Vampire Stalkers tour, where they took us around to all of the exterior and on location sites of the show. We saw the Gilbert house, the Lockwood mansion, the Mystic Grill (it’s actually called that!), and tons of other places. I really didn’t want to leave Covington after that. For me, the highlight was definitely seeing the Gilbert house, because so many amazing moments between Damon and Elena were shared there. It was an indescribable feeling, and I hope everyone can experience it at least once in their lifetime. I had the same feeling last year when I went to London to the studio tour of Harry Potter - an overwhelming nostalgia that made this world of fiction become so much more real. That’s the magic of television and movies.
(I cry just looking at this photo to this day)
In more recent years, I think I’ve undermined the impact this show has had on me, because it became more subtle. I still lived for Thursday nights, and eventually, Friday nights when the show switched over to Fridays. I think what sets this show apart for me is that my mom and I never fell behind, or at least, never fell behind more than two weeks worth of episodes. We never gave up, even when we didn’t really see where the show was going or enjoy some plot lines. We stuck with it through thick and thin.
No matter what happens in the series finale tonight, I will still love this show no matter what. Except for maybe a finale like Lost, because I still can’t talk about that one. I’ve learned a lot about letting go in recent years, but I’ve concluded that letting go does not apply to this, rather, celebrating and cherishing it, and accepting that the time has come to say goodbye. I don’t have to let go of this, because why would I? Why let go of something that has meant so much to me in my life? I do however, have to say goodbye, and that word is just painful. Letting go is a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight, but saying goodbye is instantaneous. Tonight, I say goodbye.
While this show ends, my life doesn’t. When I thought my life was coming to an end, this show kept running and that was enough to get me through the week, and through some of the worst times of my life. I hope that in everyone’s life, they are able to find their Thursday nights, and find their Damon Salvatore. I raise a toast of Bourbon to you, my dear friend, and to all the friends I have made in truth and in fiction. I love this show, and this character, as much as he loves his Bourbon. Tonight, I say goodbye, but not a farewell. This book has come to a close, but it will never just be a paperweight or get dusty on a shelf, untouched forever. I’m truly in awe of how much a work of fiction has inspired me and helped me to find purpose. Thank you for saving me, and thank you for changing my life forever. I am forever in debt to a fictional teen vampire drama that saved my life.