A Champion

(Non-Buffy readers, please bear with this entry… it gets to a point about widowhood that’s well-worth wading through all this reference to a story you may know nothing about… I tried not to get into too much detail. And those of you who have never seen the final season of Buffy, and want to, this may contain spoilers…)

I finished the entire seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was an endeavor I started in January because I felt that the series was a missing piece in my geek knowledge of the sci-fi/fantasy lexicon. After watching the entire series–sometimes 3-4 in one sitting–I have to say that I really can’t believe I never watched this series sooner. There’s so many great themes in it–redemption, loss, free will. As a widow, there’s many points at which the series really drags some familiar feelings out of me. And it’s not just when Willow lost her girlfriend Tara. No, there’s a point at the very beginning of Season 6 in the wake of Buffy’s death where I feel something very familiar about the emptiness of loss. Without words, the first episode of that season speaks to something I understand–something everyone who has lost someone would understand–about the empty spaces left in life when someone dies. When her friends defy nature by resurrecting her through witchcraft, I understand, too, the selfishness of the act. I not only understand why her friends do such a thing–in a fictional universe where such things are possible–but I also understand why they shouldn’t do it.

I think I could speak volumes of the way the show really portrays the many shades of humanity–pointing out our human weaknesses and strengths, contrasting them always with the demonic creatures. I have so much more to say about the feelings about widowhood/loss that the series drew out of me. But what I wanted first to write about the relationship between Spike and Buffy in Season 7 because it’s freshest on my mind and I’ve been thinking about it since I finished the series yesterday.

Spike is probably one of the only characters in the entire series who is truly and honestly redeemed. I say that because he had a long way to come. He was a vampire who spent some 80 years of his life causing destruction and human suffering. Unlike Angel, he was not cursed with a soul; he asked for his back because in his love for Buffy he ultimately wanted to be a better person. This made him a completely different man (or should I say, vampire) from his once companion Angel… And it completely changed the way I feel about both characters (because prior to watching Buffy, I had only watched the series Angel and had a thing for the lead character). Angel learned to live with his situation as a changed man–“ensouled”–while Spike willingly asked for his soul and dealt with the torment of his past in almost a much more noble, less sniveling manner. (Though it did make him go a bit crazy for a while… but that’s to be expected when you suddenly feel the weight of the pain you caused thousands of people you killed. If you’re a vampire.)

Throughout Season 7, Spike is Buffy’s truest ally. He’s the only one of her friends who stays at her side when the group has a falling out with her. He brings her out of her depression when she decides to just give up and literally lie in bed. And there’s something about that scene that reminded me of a situation in my own life.

I was fired from a job in January 2000. It was the first and only time I’d ever been fired from a job. It was my first professional position. I was a software trainer for a software company. To this day, I’m not exactly sure how it happened or why, but I think it was mostly political.  I learned later that it’s quite possible that I unknowingly walked into a trap door when I asked my manager to come off the road and change positions, about two days after a mandate came from the company CEO (that I never heard) that he would fire the next trainer who asked to come off the road.

Either way, I was devastated when it happened. I had gotten the job through my husband–he’d worked there several years before I met him and had, in fact, been one of the main four developers who created the software that became the company’s mainstay. As a result of my connection to him, I had established a lot of friendships with people who had fond memories of a younger Mike. We sometimes hung out with a group of them at a local pub and I brought him again to the company parties he’d missed in the years since he’d left. The HR lady was, as we described, like a surrogate aunt to us.  She decorated our wedding and assembled all my bouquets. Over a year later, she also was the one who had to deliver the news of my firing.

I made the tragic mistake of youth. I’d made family out of my workplace. I assumed we were all buddies. Perhaps I went too far with my what I assumed I could and couldn’t do at that company. Perhaps I took for granted that everyone had known and loved Mike. When I was fired, I felt utterly betrayed.

On top of the betrayal was the fact that I’d never been fired from anything before in my life. I was an A student in college. I was the kind of kid a teacher or professor wanted in their class. To me, getting fired from a job was like getting an F on a paper. Or having to walk around the high school with a hall pass (which, as a 3.5+ average student in high school, I never had to do). I wasn’t used to rejection or reprimand. Even at 25 years old. Pathetic, right?

Well, I cried my eyes out as the HR lady gave me all the exit paperwork. I left the building crying. I cried the entire way home. It was Friday and Mike was out-of-town for work, as was normal, but unlike his usual schedule, he was not going to return that evening. He’d been training in Denver all week  (he was also a corporate trainer) and was going to spend the weekend with his dad and step-mom, then fly directly to his next assignment in Chicago the following week. I would not see him until the following weekend.

I called him from my cell phone on my way home. Which back in 2000 cost roaming airtime for calling out of my area. The phone was only really something I used for emergencies. I considered this an emergency. I couldn’t wait the half hour to get home to use a landline. And I called his cell phone.

He was driving with his dad out to Sterling where his grandparents lived. I pictured him somewhere in that wasteland of plains I knew was the trip between Denver and Sterling. I could hear his dad slightly in the background.

Mike was calm. His voice was controlled and I had no idea what exactly he was really thinking as he listened to the story I told with my tear-drenched voice. I’m not sure he understood exactly why I was so hysterical. I don’t think I could explain why I was so hysterical. I don’t remember our whole conversation, but I let him go, telling him that he didn’t need to change his plans for me. I would work it out, somehow, once I got home.

I felt like such utter crap. When I got home, I opened a bottle of wine and pretty much extinguished it. I know that wasn’t the best way to handle a troubling situation, but I thought it would numb some of the feeling of inadequacy I was feeling. Of course, it didn’t; in fact, it only made me feel worse. So when Mike called me again a few hours later, I was a complete pile of sniveling misery, drowning in my own self-pity and self-loathing. It’s ridiculous when I look back at it now because I know that I could never get that upset about losing a job again. Heaven knows, there certainly are worse things to cry over in life. But back then, the loss of a job was to me a reflection of failure somehow. It was tied as close to my identity as my accomplishments in college. To me, it was almost as if someone had taken away my bachelor’s degree or something.

Anyway, on the second phone conversation, Mike tried to cheer me up. He pumped me with compliments and even said some disparaging words about his old company, even though previously he’d only had wonderful things to say. He was taking my side. Even if my side was wrong to someone else, he believed in me. I was still feeling pretty bad for myself and I wasn’t quite receptive to his attempts to make me feel better. He even put his dad on the phone to say a few words. I was having none of it.

Again, he offered to come home and again I told him not to. The last thing I wanted to be was one of those demanding wives who make their men come at their bidding. I was a tough girl–despite my state–and I could handle the week on my own. I just figured I spend the weekend brooding and regroup when the sting of everything went away. When I could no longer remember sitting in that office while the HR lady–someone I considered a surrogate aunt–told me that I was being fired.

After I got off the phone with Mike, I think I pretty much passed out and didn’t wake up until the morning. I felt a little numb, but certainly not ready to do anything more than crash in front of the TV. I was sitting on the couch, snuggled in a blanket, when I heard the key turn in the door. My heart stopped as I watched the door open. Mike stood in the door, his body eclipsing the January sunlight and looking almost as if he were engulfed in a heavenly halo. He dropped his bags in the door and came over to the couch to hold me.

Not only did Mike change his plans and come home on the weekend when he’d originally planned to stay in Denver, but he also had another coworker fill in for him in Chicago the following week (the benefit of being a middle manager, as he was). His willing presence in my time of need soothed me… and immediately I started to feel better. I didn’t know I’d wanted him–I hadn’t even asked him for anything–but when he came home to me, it changed everything. He was my champion. I’d never had a champion before.

After he was home for a little while, and I was feeling more myself, he made plans for us for the week. He proposed that we take a few day trips to some state highpoints we hadn’t yet done. So one day we drove and “summitted” Mt. Davis in PA–1/09/2000, 3:30 pm, according to our log. A few days later we drove to western Ohio to bag Campbell Hill (01/15/2000, 11:15 am) and then to Hoosier Hill in Indiana (2:00 pm). By the time the week was over, with more adventures under our belt, I was ready to start looking for a new job. I don’t think I’d have healed so swiftly from this wound–which was more serious to me then than it is now–had it not been for Mike. Which is why I’ve always said that the only person who could have brought me solace in my grief was the very man for whom I was grieving.

The interaction between Spike and Buffy in the last several episodes of Season 7 totally jogged this memory because I can see in Spike the undying devotion and loyalty to Buffy that I think Mike had for me. I’m not so sure that much was returned from Buffy towards Spike, but I know in my case I would have walked to the ends of the Earth for Mike, especially after that day he came home to me because I was so upset and hurt. He lifted me up when I was down. That’s what the best of a relationship is supposed to do. I’d have done the same for him in any situation. I would have traded my life for his, just like Spike does for Buffy at the end of the last episode.

But the scene that most jogged this memory was when Spike came to Buffy in her moment of need, when she had given up on the world and lay aching in the literal bed of her despair. He came to her, providing confidence and self-assurance and reminding Buffy who she was. He was her champion–and champion was the word they used in the show–and I think Mike was my champion too. Except that I really did love him. (Spike and Buffy’s relationship might have been more or less lop-sided.)

The sweetest thing to happen between Buffy and potential lover occurred in those closing scenes. There was nothing sexual about it. Spike and Buffy just lay together in each other’s arms all night. That’s all I wanted too. A little relief from the storm. Mike was my relief. And from him, I regained my strength.

I guess some part of me still seeks a champion. It’s not that none of the people I’ve dated since Mike couldn’t be a champion. And it’s not that I make them run the gauntlet to prove themselves to me. I’m just saying that when I think of Mike’s most sincere acts of love, I’m reminded of the sort of love I had and revive in me the mission of finding the right person again. I can’t ever settle. I should never have to settle. I won’t settle.

I know Buffy is just a fiction story. But true fiction–truly great fiction–reflects themes of real life and remind us of the human struggle in new and creative ways. Many people might dismiss the series as  pulp fiction. But those people haven’t really spent the time to examine the show in its entirety. I have so many emotions right now whirring around about the show because it really connected me to a bunch of feelings I’ve never been quite able to adequately explain. I guess several episodes just made me scream, “Yes!! I get it!!” I’m sure there will be future entries about this topic, once I’ve had some moments to re-watch some of my favorite episodes…

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2 thoughts on “A Champion

  1. I loved reading your take on this.

    It’s hard to say how much Buffy, deep down within herself, was willing to give her heart to Spike. On one hand, she does choose him to fight with her, over the objection of her friends and family. And over Angel, who was also willing to fight that battle with her.

    For me, there are three moments that really capture Buffy and Spike.

    In Season Five, it is in the moment after Buffy has jumped off the tower, and everyone else is standing around in a state of shock and disbelief, and Spike – souless evil vampire Spike – who absolutely breaks down with weeping.

    Their Season Six relationship is summed up in the musical episode when Spike sings, “I hope she fries / I’m free if that bitch dies / I’d better help her out.” That is just the epitome of their Season Six love/hate/need/want dynamic.

    In Season Seven, it’s the final moments in the Hellmouth, when she finally says that she loves him, and he says, “No, you don’t. But thanks for saying it.” For me, it’s the perfect reflection of how much they both feel the other person deserves. And I love every single time she calls him William. That she speaks to him sometimes as a man.

    I also think it’s so interesting that after your initial love for the star-crossed Buffy/Angel pairing – you wound up also seeing reflections of your own life in Buffy/Spike. (Thank goodness in Season Seven, not before.) That is the nature of the great writing of the Whedonverse, that it transcends the particular circumstances of the story and speaks to a universal human experience.

  2. Oh, yeah, I totally forgot that I originally compared my relationship with Mike to Buffy and Angel’s. Some aspects of it–like the star-crossed lovers thing–still do remind me of my relationship with Mike. But, definitely, I’ve gone to Spike’s side because his character had such wonderful growth in the series… I daresay, he’s become my favorite character in the Buffyverse! I like Willlow a lot too. She deserves a whole blog entry of her own.

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