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Pop Culture Therapy: How Buffy Helped Me - short non-fiction + short article **trigger warning**

Buffy’s face matches my own, as I’m forced to remember that day.

“It’s going pretty great; this will be my last ride out with the Fire Department before I can take the Paramedic certification test.”

I try not to sound so awkward. We don’t normally have conversations beyond superficial topics. Not that this is bad, it’s just . . . alien. Out of the ordinary.

Phone gives the low battery percentage warning. I tap my foot repeatedly.

“Gotta go, battery is almost dead.”

There’s a long pause, my foot taps harder. “You there?”

I could have said that kinder.

“¡Qué bueno, mijo! Nos vemos manana, te amo.”

She sounds tired. Probably still working past 9 pm. Once I get a better paying job, I can help her even more with the bills.

I take a deep drag of the cigarette.

“I love you too mom, see you tomorrow morning if I get home fast enough.”

I power down the phone then drop it in my pocket before heading in for lights out.

The stirs and clamor from the kitchen stir me awake. Did I sleep in? The night passed without a single call to work. Phone must be dead if my alarm didn’t go off.

Remembering it was in my pocket, I pull it out and confirm. Yup, dead. It powers back on just long enough to prompt me of 99 missed calls accompanied by multiple voice mails.

I dial voicemail. Low battery prompt. I push 1 to listen but it shuts down.

I hope it’s not an emergency.

I sign some paperwork with the chief and thank the rest of the crew before I head out. Walking up to my car, I reach into my left pocket only to feel cloth. No keys.

I start to grind my teeth. I don’t have time for this shit.

Right as my lips purse to spew profanity, I look down to see my car keys on the ground. My jaw relaxes, deep breath. I grab the keys and get in.

The engine struggles to turn over.


I continue grinding my teeth and tap my left foot while I turn the key in the ignition over and over again. I slam my hand on the dash, and the old Honda kicks over. One more deep breath as I put it in gear.

The drive home is smooth giving me time to reflect on everything. Just a bit more to the finish line. One more test before I can get a big boy job. A real job means more money that pays the bills with a little bit left over to save up for the American dream.

I snap out of it and refocus when traffic begins to thicken as I approach my street. I slow down, as I catch the jam and we begin to inch forward a bit until it’s a dead stand still. There’s Ladder 23 for Red Oak FD blocking the road shadowed by an EMS truck. All lanes shut down, zero urgency for EMS to transport. A dump truck with a full load towers in front of a mangled mess of a what was once a car. Not much remains of the front. The engine and front have become one and the same. It’s all blocking the entrance to my street.

No chance of survival from what I can see.

10 minutes pass with no movement.

Teeth grinding, my thumbs tap the steering wheel while my foot mimics a heavy metal drummer. I can see the street that parallels mine is open so I drive onto the shoulder, cut the wheels hard right, drive on, and turn in. Curving around the block, I can see neighbors walking toward the wreck. No surprise, not often anything exciting happens in this part of town. Before I make it home, I notice a car in the driveway partly blocking the entrance.

Who is blocking my driveway? Why why why? I just want to get home and sleep.

I pull up and stop. A face I recognize to be my friend approaches the door; her face is somber.

This is odd, why is she here and why is she crying?

I open the door and step out

“Alex, something bad happened.” Her voice trembles. “Your mom is dead.”

My vision begins to blur. My palms become clammy, as I grip the shirt into a bundle on my chest. I swallow the bile back, clench my jaw, and ball my fists. My brow furrows as I brace against the wave pulsating against my eyes and head.

Her lips move but all I hear is EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE; the aftermath of the bombshell.

There’s no time to deny it, I just passed it, 2 blocks from home. I drop to my knees and cry out. “No, please, noooo.”, is all I can manage before I’m overcome with unbearable pain. Curled up in a fetal position, I gasp for air between deep sobs.

My vision widens and that whooshing sensation snaps me back to Buffy’s face on the screen. This scene in Season 5 Episode 16 takes me back to that day every-single-time.

Buffy frowns, looks down the hall toward the kitchen.


She turns and looks in the living room.

“What are you doing?”

She walks into the living room, stops.

Shot of Joyce lying on the sofa. Her eyes are open, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. One arm hangs loosely over the edge of the sofa. She does not move or blink.

(quieter) “Mom?” (even quieter) “Mom?” (very quietly) “Mommy?”

Wolf howl. Opening credits.

That’s as far as I could watch for a long time. I was 21 at the time that my mother died in a car wreck early one morning on her way to work. She pulled out of our neighborhood street and a giant dump truck struck her with such force it caused her death upon impact. It was a complete shock just like the one Buffy experiences when she stumbles upon her mother Joyce’s body who also died suddenly. I hadn’t related to any fictional character as much as I did with The Slayer in that episode. Her struggles with her response to grief along with the trials of sudden overwhelming responsibility thrust upon were almost mirror representations of my lived experiences.

Every single emotion displayed resonates with me. She is no longer a child. It is all up to her, but first she has to deal with her grief. But when? After the funeral arrangements are done? Oh, there’s the bills and mortgage, school, friends, family, AND the never-ending battle against evil.

For me, the funeral was a blur of ugly crying and mind-numbing convos filled with “sorry for your loss” over and over again. Once that was done, I managed to get back home only to sit down and realize I was now responsible for a mortgage that was 4 months behind. On top of being a full-time student with a full-time job, I was now head of household. A twisted smile stretches across my face every time, tears streaming passed my lips. Solidarity sister, our experiences parallel one another.

The visceral panic and rage are portrayed beautifully. It haunts me just how real she breaks down, calls 911, then falls into a trance. Any time I hear that last “. . . mommy?” my lip quivers, so I get angry to keep from breaking down. Just like Buffy’s co-dependent relationship with Spike, pain became my go-to drug to cope with the pain. I’d also find ways to hurt myself or lash out in anger.

Buffy overcomes it all through the rest of the series; luckily, so did I. After all the struggles, Buffy discovers her vulnerability, walks away from toxic relationships, and finds her purpose helping to empower others. She doesn’t do it alone, however. Giles, Xander, Willow, Tara, and even Dawn offers to help carry the load. That taught me the power of vulnerability, the strength in community, and the value in creating a family that accepts you. It is essential that you confront your emotions if you want to ensure your physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well as prevent lashing out at others. This is the most valuable lesson I learned from The Slayer.

It was several years after that episode came out before I could watch it all the way through. I’m now able to sit through the episode and process everything in a healthy way. The emotional release is healing, almost cathartic. Additionally, it’s reassuring to know others can relate to what you’ve gone through, even if it’s a fictional character that slays vampires and demons. For me, the demons were internal, and, through Buffy’s example, I was able to slay them.

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