Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall: Gilmore Girls & Wish Fulfillment

Oy with the coffee, already

The first full episode of Gilmore Girls I ever saw was the series finale. I knew my childhood best friend Brittany watched the show, so when I saw the final episode was about to come on TV in May 2007, I tuned in. I called her that night after it ended, but she stopped me mid-sentence.

“I have to wait until the season comes out on DVD,” she told me. “I’ve been too busy to watch and I’ll be so pissed if you tell me how it ends.”

She joked that she couldn’t talk to me for the next three months, but offered to lend me the first season DVDs. I took her up on it.

Four months earlier, my mom had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and we were watching a lot of TV to pass the time between treatments. I decided to show her Gilmore Girls.

The WB show was originally pitched as a show about a mother and daughter who are best friends. Lorelai Gilmore had her daughter, Rory, when she was just 16. When the show starts, Rory herself turns 16. The two fight like you might expect of any parent and child, but mostly they seemed to just have fun together while watching a ton of TV, eating junk food, and fluently speaking their own private language of pop culture and literary references. In Stars Hollow, it’s perpetually autumn, and life revolves around an appealing (to me) September-to-June academic calendar. It evokes a sudden yearning for sweater weather, hot apple cider and pumpkin flavored baked goods.

My mom and I watched a few episodes of season one that summer when she was sick, but it didn’t really take. She preferred other shows of that era, like The Office and Desperate Housewives, but I didn’t mind. I watched that first season on my own and gave it back to Brittany.

But that fall, my mother died at our home on a Sunday evening in November. The intense feeling of missing her made me unsure I would ever be able to go on on my own. She and I hadn’t been as close as I would have liked, and a big part of that was because I had barely exited my obnoxious teen years when she got sick. Rory graduated at 22; by the time I reached that age, my mom was gone. We were never going to have the chance to get to know each other as adults, and that knowledge weighed down for a long time. We would never be Rory and Lorelai; all of our seasons together had passed.

I graduated from college three weeks after she died, and on my way out of town before moving to my new city of Columbus, I asked Brittany for more Gilmore Girls DVDs. She gave me season two, and I started watching the show again.

The first time I watched Gilmore Girls all the the way though, I burned through it. I watched the rest of the series that winter as I continued to feel and explore the consequences of losing my mom. The show became a kind of wish fulfillment for me, a reimagining of what my mom and I might have had under vastly different circumstances.

In that first quick viewing, I naturally saw myself in Rory: I watched her be a hard-working student focused on becoming a journalist on nights after I came home from covering school board meetings for a local paper. Her taste in clothes and boyfriends agreed with me, and I sided with her in the rare spats she and Lorelai had.

The second time I watched it was a few years later, when I was living in Chicago with a roommate who was 12 years older than me. When I met her I saw in her a big sister, but also I saw a real-life Lorelai. She too affectionately named inanimate objects and always knew the right thing to say. I convinced her to watch some of the show. She seemed hesitant but was curious about this fictional character I kept comparing her to, and she too got sucked in. By then I’d bought all seven seasons on DVD for myself, and when we weren’t watching together, I would come home to find her catching up.

The third time I watched it, I was once again in a new city. I had grown up a lot, and lived by myself in Portland. Suddenly I was shocked to realize I was much closer to Lorelai’s age than Rory’s at the start of the series, and how different I saw the sides of their disputes as a result.

The changing of lenses through which I see this show feels strange, but also very true to life. I don’t know yet if I’ll be a mom myself some day. I don’t know if watching Gilmore Girls will automatically give me a leg up on being a cool parent, though I strongly suspect it won’t. Will my nieces see me as a Lorelai-like figure once they’re teens? Or instead, if I have a daughter myself, will I fail to connect with her in the ways communication between my mom and me tended to break down, over misunderstandings and clashing priorities?

It’s easy to see ourselves in TV and movies, but it’s a completely different thing to try to put that which we love about fictional relationships into practice in real life. While of course I wish my mom had taken to Gilmore Girls when I showed it to her, I’m not sure it would have changed anything with us. What we needed more than anything was denied us when I was in college: Time.

If she’d been allowed to stay, I do feel we would have developed a closer relationship. But I don’t blame either of us for it not happening during the short years we were given. We weren’t yet peers or friends. To me, she was my parent who didn’t understand the things that I valued, and to her, I was still a kid. I could be mad about it now, or I could be thankful for the time we did have together and the knowledge that we loved each other, so much.

In our 21 years together, we may not have had movie marathons paired with themed snacks, and maybe we didn’t share sweaters or always speak the same language. But, we enjoyed traveling together and writing and sharing music with each other. Our touchstones were different, but in no way were they without merit.

I think a lot of people love Gilmore Girls for similar reasons, like seeing on screen the relationship they want, or would have wanted, with their mothers. The concept of having one is universal, but the actual experience of it so widely differs. I’m glad for what I had with my own mom.

Every fall, I mourn her. But still, every fall I rejoice — despite that loss, I still love crunching through fallen leaves, and the clear indicators that time is passing and everything is cyclical. Each fall I celebrate Brittany’s birthday, and now, the birthday of her own daughter. Enough time has passed that the loss of my mom doesn’t damper my enjoyment of pumpkin spice lattes or hoodies or bonfires. And on cool fall nights sometimes before going to bed, I watch an episode and think of her still.