Illustration by Popularium. Source images Netflix
“You and I, we are like a man watching himself in a distorted mirror, knowing that a distortion is perfectly fine. It’s not him — not really — but rather a reflection of a possible outcome. We’re complementing each other.”
Mark really has me when he tells me that.
It’s a warm summer night and we are sitting on the hood of his car, enjoying cold canned beers and watching the stars. The world is full of ripe scents and beautiful bright light and we’re discussing love, trying to come up with a perfect formula for a successful relationship. I feel like both an alchemist and a character in a ‘60s movie — well — except for his ‘98 Opel Corsa.
A feeling of weltschmerz crawls under my skin as the half-read book The Sorrows of Young Werther lies on my coffee table.
This fall has hit me harder than usual. You can blame it on the rain, or the darkness, or on the Doors’ People Are Strange that I’ve been listening to on repeat (boogie is, for the moment, out of the question), but the truth is that I don’t really know what is going on with me.
“You should really quit smoking,” he says one night when he comes by my apartment after a long workday. I look at the overflowing ashtray in front of me, then we both gaze up at the ceiling, tinted black by the smoke. I’m suddenly aware that days are growing shorter. The weak light is further dimmed by the haze of cigarette smoke.
“It really doesn’t matter,” I mutter.
Cheap paintings of Marilyn Monroe hang from the dark painted walls — my attempt to be creative and chic. A friend of mine who is an interior designer once told me:
“This color is not good. It could trigger depression, you know.”
The feeling of utter ennui torments me as the cold days of winter start to close in on me. I can barely work. I switch days for nights. I yearn to fill the spare time with some meaningful activities besides leveling up a character in World of Warcraft, but I simply don’t have the energy.
Wanting some distraction, one day I ask him:
“Wanna watch this new Netflix show, Stranger Things, with me? It’s supposed to be awesome.”
“Sure thing,” he says. “We haven’t watched anything together in a while. But please, put out that bloody cigarette, will you? That stuff will kill you.”
But he gives up after just one episode, offering nothing but a shallow excuse:
“Okay babe, the music is great, the ambiance is awesome and everything just screams: ’80s! but somehow, I just don’t like it.”
But I love it.
Is Mark just being grumpy or have I overlooked something? How come one of the biggest fans of the ‘80s finds this show lacking? After all, it’s basically the horror version of The Goonies (his favorite) and here he is, sulking. How dare he!
His reaction intensifies my winter depression. I have to prevent myself from sinking further, so I pick up Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night and, as I start reading, answers start popping up…
Mark was the one who had recommended Summer of Night in the first place, before I started watching Stranger Things. It got me thinking about the intuitive level of our relationship.
“You’re gonna enjoy it, I’m sure. It’s so Stephen King-ish,” he said to me during one of our summer chitchats. The book fell into oblivion then, mostly because we were too busy making out.
When I finish reading it, I realize that the boys in the “Bike Patrol” are predecessors of the kids from Stranger Things.
More similarities line up: two of the boys in Summer of Night are named Mike, so is one of the boys in Stranger Things. Dustin is a mixture of Harlan and Dwayne. Cordie Cooke is the only girl in the crew, as is Eleven. The mythologies of both worlds are unique, but somehow similar — the age-old sense of evil lurking in the dark is omnipresent. What else could you expect from a TV show, young man?
“It’s already in the book,” he answers with an exasperated sigh. “It feels like they’ve cloned the “Bike Patrol” and put them in a different town with different monsters. I can’t watch the show without thinking of the book, so I can’t watch with you.”
I understand what he’s saying: we’re living in a world where nothing is completely original, so he’s constantly feeling like he’s ‘been there, done that’.
Simmons was, in his opinion, far more successful in creating a small-town atmosphere, stirred by macabre forces of an ancient evil, while a small group of brave kids decides to offer resistance — young heroes we can’t help rooting for.
“I don’t need another visual representation of a world I’ve already visited; I want to travel somewhere else,” he adds with determination.
And then I realize that I want to travel somewhere else, too. Our disagreement amounted to a good ol’ de gustibus non est disputandum, and it’s clear to me now that his strong convictions have made me like him more. Our relationship also exists on an intellectual level, and it took a pop culture argument to reveal that. Suddenly, I begin to laugh.
“You’re right, let’s go to Vienna this spring!” I shout.
“I am serious about you.”
“Move in with me!”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
The sun is out and things are lighter and brighter than ever.
Mark and I have a new home together with bright walls, lots of windows, and a white ceiling that will stay that way.
I still love both Stranger Things and Summer of Night. They’re able to coexist in my mind; the presence of one even enhances the other. Mark, however, won’t change his mind, and I don’t want him to. We have each found a partner who will disagree with us, debate us, and sometimes be unapologetically stubborn. But we will respect one another’s opinions. And create our own summer together, all year round.
We might not be totally original, but we have, ultimately, arrived at the perfect formula for a successful relationship.