Today, Netflix releases Fuller House, a reboot of the popular 80s-90s television series. Full House is the first television show I watched regularly with my parents and brothers, seated in the "family room" of our new suburban home. My parents stumbled upon the show accidentally one evening, at some point during its first season, and from then on, every Friday evening my brothers and I looked forward to "Michelle"* and her big, amusing family.
For me, watching Full House was not just about being together as a whole family. The show was filled with "safe" conflicts, and I could be certain of resolutions. From the moment an episode opened, I knew everything would be all right in the end, that whatever had upset D.J., Stephanie, or Michelle would be resolved after a little chat with one of their father-figures and a sweet song. Characters would explain and apologize and all would be well again. No conflict was insurmountable; every relationship had the potential to grow and improve, and therefore each was worth continuing. There was something addictive about that simple world as my own became increasingly complicated with adolescence.
After finishing elementary school, I started at a prestigious girls' school, in a wealthy suburb 20 minutes from our home. I was one of six new students in the sixth grade. During the first week, a teacher had all of us sit in a circle and asked get-to-know you questions. Some (What is your favorite color? What was your favorite vacation spot?) took me a while to answer, but "What is your favorite tv show?" required no further thought.
I had quickly scribbled "Full House" on my slip of paper, but as I listened to the answers from the other girls in the circle, I realized how wrong my answer was. Every other girl had answered "Beverly Hills 90210," a show of which I was aware but had never seen. Anna, the quiet girl with the lovely dark hair sitting next to me, had written the same answer. I realized that that was the right answer, the sophisticated, sexy, middle school, private school answer, and I panicked as my turn approached.
"90210," I answered a little too loudly, then twirled a strand of hair around my finger and tried to appear cool.
The teacher continued around the circle, and I was able to relax, having succeeded in the lie. I crumpled the paper up tightly in my fist, just as Anna leaned closer and whispered, "I like Full House too." Then she smiled.
That was the thing about Anna, she was perceptive, and she never made you feel bad about the things that make you insecure. In fact, you ended up realizing that the fact that you're a skinny, awkward, financial aid student, daughter of immigrants, living in a decidedly middle class neighborhood far away from the school and the cool girls and their parties and clubs was never something to be ashamed of. Instead, it made you interesting.
Anna was my first close friend at my new school, and I realize now that for the seven years I went to school there, I took many of my cues from her. Because she made me feel okay with myself, she helped me to find my niche in this new community, and my identity became increasingly dependent on my friendship with her.
Anna and I lost touch after graduation. I was up in the northeast, and she attended college in the south. During those first couple years of college, there were the occasional messages, letters, phone calls, and emails, but those dwindled slowly. I suppose I could blame it on the fact that this friendship predated Facebook and other social media, so we simply stopped being a regular part of each others' lives.
But I am ashamed to admit there was more to it than that. Even in college, I was neither cool nor sophisticated. I did not have a worldly knowledge of people and relationships. I was a sheltered young woman away from home and family for the first time. I had an overly simplified understanding of friendship, too dependent on the shows I watched, the image I wanted to project, and the insecurities and uncertainties I kept buried because they were messy and uncomfortable. I still saw myself as awkward and out of place, while I assumed Anna was composed, confident, and invulnerable, just as she had seemed in school. In all the years of my friendship with Anna, I had not really understood what my friendship had meant to her.
Over the phone one day during our college years, Anna confessed she had done something she wasn't proud of, and later I betrayed her trust by telling someone else. I wish I knew why I did it. Even now, more than fifteen years later, I cannot understand it. What I do know is that I did not think then about the friend who needed me, who had opened up to someone she trusted. I realize now that she was obviously struggling and troubled, and in that moment I should have been perceptive and sensitive, the way she had always been with me. But back then I felt oddly removed from the situation, as if I was watching a salacious episode of 90210 on television. The people and actions did not feel real or relatable. I reacted with the sort of shock and desire to gossip that would have followed discovering that Brenda lost her virginity or that Brandon partied too much and crashed his car.
It soon became clear that Anna knew that I had shared her secret, though I never learned how it got back to her. I left messages with her family at home and on her cell phone. Every time I was home from college, I tried to reconnect, but there was never any response, and after a while I resigned myself to the fact that our friendship was over.
It took me a long time to accept that I could not fix things, that I had to live with the remorse I felt when I realized I had hurt her. The episode had ended, the credits had rolled, but there was no way to talk it out and make everything right. With her silence, Anna had made it clear that we could not start over or move past this mistake. I had to deal with the twinges of shame and regret I felt when my parents or former classmates asked about her. Though I felt I should still be part of her life, I had to accept that I was not. I needed to content myself with the years of good memories, and understand that our friendship was a thing of the past. It had meant a lot to me, an adolescent in the '90s, but it was no longer relevant for an adult in the new millennium.
A couple years ago, I saw Anna had joined Facebook. I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised that she accepted my friend request. Our conversation has never gone beyond pleasantries, and I am afraid of being a nuisance and pushing her for more. Mostly, I'm worried she'll be brutally honest with me in a way that she never was to the shy, insecure teenager I once was. I've gotten better at managing and accepting the messy, unscripted, confusing realities of adulthood, but I'm not sure what it will be like to see disdain or disappointment in her eyes, to hear her articulate that I hurt her. To realize that though I missed her, even after all these years, she did not miss me.
As much as I would like to dismiss the predictable resolutions of a Full House episode as easy, saccharine, and simplistic, I know that there is nothing easy about asking for forgiveness or offering it. Such acts become easy only with practice and trust, and though the Tanner household made a habit of openly addressing conflicts, that had rarely been part of my friendship with Anna. We accepted each other without really addressing problems, perhaps too easily ignoring flaws or faults until we were forced to face them. And then it was too difficult and too awkward to talk it out, too easy to just slip away, lead separate lives, and think of our friendship as only a relic.
A long time has passed since Anna and I knew each other, and I'm curious to know what a friendship would be like between the two adults we have become. Even if we cannot ever reboot the old relationship, I can't help but hope that someday Anna and I will talk it out or hug it out and develop something new. After all these years, I still wish Anna and I were in each others' lives.
I suppose that is why I look forward to Fuller House, not just for its immense potential for wonderfully cheesy nostalgia, but also for the possibility to see something I thought had ended come alive, grow, adapt, and become relevant once more.
*As children, we identified shows by our favorite characters, rather than by their actual titles. "Balki" and "Vicky" (V.I.C.I.) were also childhood favorites.