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A Broken Bildungsroman

by Grace Gilbert

Gilmore Girls [2000-2007]


When I watch again it’s like some baroque, witty, theatrical baseball, the constant swing and miss from Luke or Lorelei or Luke and Lorelei or some extraneous circumstance that has befallen them both. 


They call it chemistry, the strings between their bodies, and though she incessantly kisses other [worse] men in front of him, I believe in the Luke that ends up loving her back and in full, and not because I’ve seen it before but because it is spring and just like I am simply susceptible to pollen, I am simply susceptible to this kind of hope.




Today I thought about crustaceans and it made me hate the human body. 


The cat had taken the shrimp casings from the trash and dragged them under the dining room table, where he always takes his incriminating scraps, a mere foot from the garbage pail, as if we would never think to look. 


“Fuck,” I whispered as my big toe stepped into one of the skins, which looked like a hard translucent echo of a shrimp, a dozen or so feelers included. It blended almost perfectly into the carpet, some shade between oatmeal and lint. 




When I try on outfits for the Valentine’s party I stand sideways in front of the mirror, placing one hand on my stomach and one on my back. 


“Why do you keep doing that?” that guy I’m dating asks. He is lying on my bed, contorting his face to signify his endless boredom, his feet hanging over the sheepish edge of the mattress. 




On second thought, after I step on the third shrimp casing, I realize this is a damn good hiding place for a late night cat indulgence. 


What a smart, evolved thing I live with.




Like Lorelei, there have been (at least) two men, on (at least) two separate occasions, who have told me in earnest that they are “not nice men.”


Like Lorelei, of course, I fell in love with them anyway. 



When I finally decided on a dress for the junior prom my older sister was positively exasperated, and she made sure to make a show of it. 


That looks amazing on you, the consultant at the boutique exclaimed, a sentiment she had dished out for most every other dress that hung one-strapped and saddled over the fitting room door. There were at least a dozen.


Yea, right, can we get a move on it now? My sister rolled her eyes from the chaise, as I stood sideways in front of the three-fold mirror, making sure to check all my angles for any possible embarrassments. It was high school, after all, not a time for loose threads or back rolls. 


My dress was tight, white, and sequined most of the way down. A slit fell rather carelessly up my upper left thigh, enough that if I bent over just right anyone from the boutique to Brazil could make out a hint of Joe Boxer blue cotton underwear. 


It’s perfect, I gushed to my mother as my sister clutched her dark violet dress, which was the first and only dress she tried on. 


Just perfect.




They were both, in retrospect, very honest men.




[season 1: episode 14]


When Max Medina proposes to Lorelei in the season finale he sends 1,000 yellow daisies to the Inn where she works, and though her actions have made everyone quite aware that he is not the right person, per se, she sits in this makeshift field of yellow that is so unbelievably beautiful, a truth-obscuring kind of beautiful, and the Stars Hollow troubadour plays “Sanctuary” by Grant Lee Buffalo outside, and she runs to Luke’s diner and hands him a single yellow daisy, and at that point we know she will probably agree to marry Max, because there is a romantic shot of her optimism shining forth in front of the town gazebo, and it is the season finale, after all, and there is nothing quite as optimistic and indecisive as yellow or Lorelei Gilmore when she is faced with a choice between the town Heathcliff and all of the shiny, clean-shaven Edgars that seem to plague her in such a fantastic way.




I secretly, perhaps superstitiously, put a lot more stock than I should into whether or not my cat takes a liking to the men I bring home. 


He is, after all, very good at following his instincts. 




Of course, he likes the blue dress for the Valentine’s party.


The one I bought from Goodwill for seven dollars, the one with the scalloped edges and quarter sleeves. 


“Wow,” he says from the bed, eyes tracing me up and down, “you just never wear anything, you know, simple like that.” 


I keep it on for about fifteen minutes until it’s just about time to go. I simply can’t stop looking in the mirror, smoothing what I perceive to be slight wrinkles in the polyester, sucking my stomach in in such a way that I look positively waifish. 


Waifish and simple.


“I look like I’m in the marching band or something,” I grumble, trying to take in the obscenely royal blue, the slightly ugly cap sleeves. It reminds me of a ninety’s music textbook, those grotesquely excitable kids with the generic bold tee shirts and high-waisted Levi’s.


“Grace, it looks so lovely on you. I mean, you look lovely in it,” his voice rolls out from behind me, his looming figure making a visual nesting doll of mine in the mirror. 


Annoyed, I slap his hand away from my hip, slip my arms through the sleeves and drop the blue fabric to the floor, where it falls in a sad shadow around my ankles. 


“I don’t want to be simple,” I snap, which I immediately realize is both pretentious and unnecessary, perhaps a symptom of an enormous ego, though if you asked me then I would probably deny it. 




I hate the Gilmore Girls revival but I love the episodes where Lorelei, heartbroken after things with Luke don’t work out, pulls a Cheryl Strayed and attempts a one-woman hiking trip only to pack hundreds of miscellaneous toiletries into her pack and eventually turn back.




Ah, what’s a girl to do but look hopelessly through the window of a man. 




If he wanted to leave, he could have, if that’s what you’re thinking. 


But there’s a certain haughty integrity that comes with years of mirrors and sex, and I always end up walking out some door or another wearing some ridiculous ill-fitting outfit, and he tends to follow despite.




[Diamond Girl (1973)]


What I am trying to say is that I gave my very first blowjob in a green minivan in the high school parking lot, with a tight, white, sequined-most-of-the-way-down getup still half on my clumsy body, 


and the cliché of prom night was absolutely a devastating blow to my adolescent experience, 


and when he finished after approximately thirty (30) seconds I thought I saw a boy in my Chemistry class walk by, so I used a king-sized Snickers wrapper to clean up the mess, because of course I tried to do the grown-up-thing 


and of course it made me almost threw up on his lap, 


and I felt sheepish and nauseous when we went inside to play laser tag in the school hallways, 


and fried Oreos don’t taste nearly as good as you’d expect them to, or perhaps there are just specific things you shouldn’t consume in succession,


and I said no, no, nothing’s wrong, Kelly, 


and I won a pair of wireless headphones which I would wear on the school bus while listening to Seals & Croft


and I kind of wanted to tell it all like a story which would mean I had completely let this series of events solidify in my life


and not simply float around in a way that becomes some parasitic, warped sense of balance, or satiation, or something along those lines,


and so here I am, boasting the solidity, 


and I still love Seals & Croft, 


and I would give a million blowjobs a day, wouldn’t I, I’d throw them around like candy,


and I’d sit that girl right down and tell her how pretty life is out here, out of that exhausting dress, that shitty car, with that great, slutty mouth of hers. 




“It’s terrible not to be needed,” yells a distressed Emily Gilmore as she stands in her elaborate black gown, in the elaborate foyer, in this elaborate, charming world, where love is always whom you will choose and who needs you and who you will need, and growing up is mostly about hard lessons but the details don’t get gritty enough to show the real growing up, there are just shots of characters walking up the stairs in the dark and then a quick transition to a morning where the lesson has already been learned and the coffee has already been made and the paper delivered and the witty retort already formed in the mouth.



A few weeks ago I cried during sex, which, of course, was absolutely mortifying. 


I think it was something about staring into an ugly white ceiling instead of into a pair of eyes, like I had floated up and away from the Me whose head was getting repeatedly banged into the stucco wall of my basement apartment. 


Or maybe I had begun thinking away from myself, about bills or homework or texts I should respond to or things I should accomplish before my mid-twenties hit in such a way that I am not prepared for them, or—


Maybe it was hyperfocus on the actual mechanical act of sex, which is one of those things that no one should really think about while doing it, just like you can enjoy mussels but you should never actually critically LOOK at the damn things, just slip them inside with your eyes closed and enjoy the bliss of not knowing. 


Either way, when I came back to my body there was a horrified-looking man staring at me, and when I saw that he had lost his erection I began to weep even harder, and the stupidity of this fact just irritated the tears even more. 


The lesson? 


[There are definitely moments that provoke some sort of deep, critical thought, and I knew these moments to be showers, walks, and public transportation, among other things, but this must be the critical moment in my Bildungsroman where I learn that sex, too, is a place for thought, and I wish more coming-of-age shows explained this, this being the nameless intricate relationship we all have with our own bodies when we are entirely vulnerable and pinned however lovingly beneath 160 [[give or take]] pounds of Human, maybe a scene of Rory crying while being (consensually) fucked in a basement by funny and quick-witted Logan, who is her third serious boyfriend [the college one], past Dean the hometown all-American charmer and Jess the brooding, intelligent, and emotionally distant book lover, though this would probably ruin the whimsical, innocent charm of the entire show.]


It is all just a show, after all.

About the Author

Grace Gilbert's recent poetics & lyric essays can be found in the Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, the minnesota review, plain china, Anomaly Literary Journal, Pretty Owl Poetry, Maudlin House, Twyckenham Notes, Vox Viola, storm of blue press, Sweet Literary Magazine, tilde, & the Gandy Dancer among others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and was a finalist in the Princemere Poetry Prize as well as the Adroit Prizes. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh where she consumes unholy amounts of cheese and dumplings.

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