People pray to God because they believe he is real; I wrote to Buffy because I know she is not.
My favorite Christmas song has always been ‘Oh Come, O Come, Emmanuel.’ When young, I wanted to be beautiful, like the harmony of that chorus. I wanted to be lifted and struck into a beam of light. When my grandmother threatened that the whole world would disappear into the light without me, leaving me behind, I longed to evaporate into God.
When I first watched Silence of the Lambs, I was struck by how much Hannibal Lecter reminded me of my mother. Charming and persuasive but also quite capable of devouring you when you’re alone, and it’s dark. With my mother, this devouring was a daily ritual—a bloodletting.
In church, I heard: let peace be with you. But what does peace look like in a world where having a body means continuously having it broken by someone meant to love you? Break this, in remembrance of me, I heard during communion.
Who will remember me, I thought. If I turn light in this ashpit world, will anyone even care? Or am I destined to be broken into light at the hands of another?
I’d say this as if there was a difference. But I was not the only one who saw a distinction. This dissolution is precisely what my grandmother desired when she looked forward to the rapture. She wished to be disappeared, transformed, God particled. For her, this wasn’t death; it was rebirth. I often felt I was living my own death daily when I was younger.
Break this in remembrance of me.
It wasn’t until March 2020 that I finally felt a rapture, though in a way and form very different than expected. I had just returned from the hospital after an attempt to disappear. It was not this attempt, but what came later, what lit my body back into being, that felt like rapture.
COVID-19 had just hit when I was released, and I was at home. I tried writing about my attempted disappearance, but my mind was locked. I was writing some short poems, but mostly I was spending my time watching TV. As usual, I was binging Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy is a show that I had already lived with for many years prior to March 2020. But at this point, my relationship with the show started to shift. Suddenly, Buffy’s jump to her death in ‘The Gift’ no longer looked like her saving the world. It looked like disappearing. It looked like becoming light. For the first time, Buffy wasn’t the Christ figure I had always seen her as in that episode; she was me. And all of a sudden, I had the uncanny feeling that this fictional woman was breaking bread with me.
I’ve often heard people say that fiction is a way for them to escape the world. I never had that relationship with fiction before. It was always a way for me to deepen my connection to reality. Buffy now started offering me both. I could disappear into her world in a way that kept me present in mine. It was both the rapture and the being left behind. Buffy was safety, because I could tell her all my secrets, and she would never share them. I felt, too, like I was learning her secrets.I was more and more viewing Buffy as a character living with mental illness. Even ‘Normal Again,’ an episode riddled with tired and dangerous stereotypes about mental illness, spoke to me, as that episode perhaps most transparently portrays Buffy’s struggles with mental illness. Though the episode also stigmatizes it by, among other things, illustrating a scenario in which her condition renders her catatonic, I still find the scenes in which Buffy is not in the psych ward to be powerful representations of living with mental illness. I cry when she confesses to Willow that she’s been in a clinic before and is afraid of returning. As someone who has been to a ‘clinic’ three times, I know how very genuine that fear is.
After I overdosed, the ER stabilized me and admitted me to another building down the street. A cop cuffed me in preparation for transport. A social worker joined us and kept oscillating between, don’t try to run, you won’t make it far, and this is for your own good, even as I continuously repeated, I know. I want help. I’m not going to run.
The day shift nurse woke me in my bed after only two hours of sleep. When I told him that I hadn’t slept all week, he chastised me and said that I better participate in all the activities or they would never let me out. He continued to be abusive throughout, making fun of perpetual victims who he said use suicide attempts to gain attention. Did I do it for attention? Was I a perpetual victim? I reported him upon my release from the hospital. The head nurse I spoke with was saddened but not surprised.
This is not the first time we have heard about this type of behavior from him.
The character of Buffy also emerged very clearly as a trauma survivor to me during this time. Like me, she was trapped in predatory relationships most of her life. Yes, the narratives for such characters are often strong, yes terrible things are allowed to happen in shows as they do in life, but no, this doesn’t justify them. I am tired of people explaining the behavior of abusers. People in my family have justified my mom’s incredibly pervasive abuse since I was young. The word “but” in explanations and defenses of abuse usually translates into more dangerous situations for the victim.
With Buffy as a companion, I felt like I was turning into light without disappearing. My rapture was happening on the page. The parts of me that wanted to disappear were becoming ink, becoming external. Finally, my body was no longer the only space to negotiate what left and what remained. My body was finally becoming my own as I channeled the ache out of it onto paper. All that was given to me, all that was taken away, is part of a narrative I am currently rewriting to include who I really am. And that is nonnegotiable.
I had wanted to write about the trauma I’ve experienced under my mother’s care for decades but never was able to. Until I started connecting with Buffy. Oh come, o come, Emmanuel.
Buffy soon became a concrete companion in the writing of this trauma. I started writing asides to her. Letters to her followed. People pray to God because they believe he is real; I wrote to Buffy because I know she is not. I needed someone to carry this weight with me in a raw and unprocessed way. And strangely, I felt like I was bearing her witness too; letting her know that I chose her to share this with because I will always believe her. That with me, she wouldn’t have to feel guilty because she did nothing wrong. That she was the one who deserved the world. If I can’t tell myself these things, at least I could say them to her.
With Buffy by my side, I could finally write about my mom’s abuse. Through the lens of this show, my mom morphed into a vampire. When shot through this fantastical light, my mom felt more real. It was almost as if she was more of a fantasy before. That a human being can enact as much violence and have such a sheer disregard for others as she did has always been too hard to process. My whole life, her actions seemed completely inhuman, the stuff of fiction, so conceiving of her as a vampire, deliberately viewing her through the lens of fiction, made her easier to confront. It also captured the way her violence is often slow, a draining.
I felt like an experiment growing up. Like I never owned my body. My mind. In every generation, there is a slayer. And behind every door, I had been searching for the keys to my locked life. Lately, I feel like I’ve been seeing the sun again for the first time. I may not be chosen, but I have developed the ability to choose. With my mom as a vampire, she has become something I can track.
And with Buffy by my side, my narrative, my life has become something I can, for the first time, own.
VOID editor’s love note:
This article dealt with trauma in ways many of us can struggle with. If you’re looking for professional support for ongoing healing, our Service Desk is a great place to find curated, trusted practitioners- some of which are specialised in trauma recovery.