It started in a Claire’s.
I was a few weeks into second grade, and it was not going well. In an attempt to shake things up, the school district decided to assign us into our classes at random instead of sticking to the alphabetical order we had all gotten used to. This meant that I was thrown into a group of 20 near-strangers, completely clueless about how I was supposed to work my way into a friendship with any of them.
My solution was to find a new set of novelty keychains for my backpack. I needed something that would strike the right note between cool and approachable ---- the kind of girl that you would want to invite to your birthday party or share your Lunchables with.
It was delicate work. The miniature rhinestone cupcake was too flashy. The plastic giraffe with bulging eyes promised a silliness that I wasn’t sure I could deliver on. BFF charms felt presumptuous but could pay off...
I dug through the bins of keychains with a laser focus, completely oblivious to the way my mom was tapping her foot and anxiously checking the time on her flip phone right beside me. I knew it was late, but the mall was going to be open for at least another hour. Besides, the fate of my elementary school social life was hanging in the balance here. Nothing was more important than that, right?
Eh... Yes and no.
On the drive home, my mom was unusually quiet. I watched from the backseat as she scanned through radio stations, looking for… something. To be honest, I was more focused on the keychain I had settled on ---- a fuzzy white kitten. Cute, but maybe a little too safe. Eventually, she found the station she was looking for, and from the radio I heard whisperings about explosions, and magical numbers, and a mysterious group of people called “The Others.” I was intrigued. But mostly I was wondering if I should have gone with the rhinestone cupcake after all.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were listening to one of the most important moments of the 21st century ---- The season two premiere of Lost, “Man of Science, Man of Faith.”
I’m only barely joking.
It can’t be overstated how much of a chokehold Lost had on people in 2005. It was everywhere. You couldn’t turn a corner without seeing the cast on a magazine cover, or overhearing someone speculate about what they think was up with that polar bear. And missing the opening of season 2, where the castaways of Oceanic flight 815 finally break into the mysterious hatch in the middle of the jungle and discover even more secrets of the sinister Dharma Initiative?? It was catastrophic. And it basically guaranteed that you would have to avoid the office water cooler for the rest of the week, or risk having the whole thing spoiled for you.
But my mom is a resourceful woman, and the next week, on Wednesday night at 9:00, we sat down in front of the TV together. I think it was her way of making sure I’d never make her miss an episode again. It worked a little too well. As soon as those white letters drifted across the screen, accompanied by the unsettling whine that served as the show’s theme music, I was hooked. Suddenly, this entirely new world opened up in front of me. And it was all I could think about.
Like, all I could think about. To the point where I even bought the same checkerboard Vans as one of the characters and wore them every day until they were falling apart.
It wasn’t the first time I had gotten hung up on something like this. I had spent that entire summer holed up in my room reading every Goosebumps book that my local library had to offer. I listened to the soundtrack of Josie and the Pussycats so obsessively that the CD ended up scratched from overplaying, and I had to replace it three separate times. I went through a geology phase that ended shortly after a shelf in my bedroom collapsed because my rock collection had gotten too heavy. These obsessions were fulfilling, don’t get me wrong. But they were also lonely. Lost came with its own community.
There were message boards, and fan theories, and YouTube edits of your favorite characters staring longingly at each other while Ingrid Michaelson songs played in the background. I rarely interacted (I was still a kid, and very aware of internet stranger danger), but I observed all of it, and I felt something warm and comforting settle in my chest. Belonging, I guess.
Somehow, this kind of socialization made much more sense than the friendships I was expected to form in school. There were no hierarchies or subtext to decode. I didn’t have to impress anyone with tiny, adorable keychains. We were all there for one reason, and one reason only.
For the first time, I felt like I was a part of something. I knew that when I sat down every week to watch a new episode, there were thousands of other people doing the exact same thing at that very moment. This show about strangers coming together to form a community brought me into a community of my own.
It’s weird to even write about this now, because I hardly ever talk about my fixations, even though they’re a huge part of my life. It feels embarrassing. This might be due to a certain fourth-grade teacher snapping at me to please just shut up about Lost, but it could also be my natural predisposition towards privacy. Who’s to say? I doubt they’re related.
My habits haven’t changed much in the past 16 years. I’ve spent most of the summer watching the same sitcom on repeat to the point where I have nearly every episode memorized ---- the same way that I used to do with my Lost DVDs and dozens of other series after that. Back in the heyday of physical media, I could even recite the audio commentary tracks of my favorite shows.
I’ve graduated from message boards to stan Twitter (with an embarrassing Tumblr phase in between) but the way that I interact with these community spaces is still roughly the same. It’s comforting to inhabit a world that you’re familiar with and surround yourself with other people who understand.
The funny thing is, of all the media I’ve found myself drawn to over the years, Lost is the one that I feel the least emotionally connected to now. I don’t particularly relate to any of the characters, and let’s be honest, the plot starts to unravel pretty quickly after season one. My love for the show stemmed purely from the act of watching it. It was the first time I understood how storytelling, and television, in particular, could serve as a point of connection between people.
Since then, I’ve gotten marginally better at socializing, but television is still my one constant (that’s another Lost reference, by the way). In middle school, my best friend and I connected over our shared love of sci-fi shows. My college roommate and I became friends after I recognized a sitcom quote he used, and to this day, my mom and I still bond over watching our favorite TV shows together. I don’t know if any of that would have been possible without Lost. It gave me a point of access to the rest of the world and I’ll forever be grateful for that.
But I do still get angry thinking about the finale.