Last night I dreamt I went to Southfork again. It’s no secret that I have always been a sucker for soap operas. In my mind, soaps solve the biggest problem of fiction and of life, they don’t end. In a soap opera, nothing is ever permanent, even death.
When Dallas started I was ten years old and home most Friday nights. This was in the days before VCRs, let alone DVRs (actually, other people may have had VCRs or Betamaxs, but my family did not). If you weren’t home for a show, you didn’t watch it. I lived for Friday nights and Dallas. In those times, a twelve or thirteen year old could not only stay home alone, but actually babysit for other children. So, in the next few years on Friday nights, I babysat and watched Dallas, on Saturday nights I went to Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties and on Sundays I went to Cotillion (yes, really).
I got older and started dating and when I didn’t have a date on a Friday night, there was Dallas still waiting for me. It was nice to curl up on the hammock chair in my family room and revisit the old homestead. No matter how long it had been since I last watched, no matter what had happened to me at school, there was JR, still scheming.
But my favorite memories of Dallas watching are from my Freshman year of college. Channel 41 showed reruns every night at midnight. My roommate, his boyfriend Mark, and I lay on the floor of our under-furnished living room eating M&Ms, snorting poppers, smoking cigarettes, and watching as Charlene Tilton grew from perky teenager to full-fledged scheming Ewing in record time.
It’s hard to explain the way we lived then. We thought we were adults with an apartment and jobs, but we were only teenagers, Mark was still in high school and I wasn’t even 18. Back then, people weren’t so serious about things like carding and we easily went to bars and bought beer with our groceries. We paid the rent (usually) and went to classes in the morning (usually). We had a huge apartment with no furniture decorated in life-sized posters of Madonna and Humphrey Bogart. We lived on Ramen noodles and tuna and a special occasion dish we called “Golden Pasta.” But when we were sick of that we went to the country club and drank Arnie Palmers and ate Crab Louie and put it on my roommate’s parents’ account.
Our friends lived behind us and we moved easily between the two apartments as if downtown Louisville were our own college dorm. As though the people who lived there for real, not because they were hip and having fun, had nothing better to do at 2 a.m. then listen to our music. We had our own dramas, break ups, betrayals, and pregnancy scares and we danced. My god how we danced, every night in the apartment and every weekend in clubs. Somehow the hyper-sped-up unreality of nightly viewings of Dallas fit perfectly with the fantasy land we lived in.
Then, we really did grow up.
Mark died of AIDS almost twenty years ago now. My roommate is a lawyer who dances only when tipsy. I did not move to Paris or write a novel. I live in the suburbs. I go to Zumba class instead of dancing. It’s not that I’m unhappy with real life, but I do sometimes miss being young and careless and not really understanding what real life is all about. And I miss the dancing, my god how I miss the dancing.
So last night, with my husband out of town and my children asleep, I recorded Dallas on my DVR. I sat with some M&Ms and watched as JR returned to scheming and calling people “darling.” Because that’s the thing about soap operas, in the world of soap operas nothing is permanent and nothing is ever over, nothing is ever real and no matter what else has happened, you can always go home.