We're the ones your mother warned your about...No, seriously. We are.

The following was written in response to the Buffy : The Vampire Slayer episode "The Body" on the night it aired.

Warning : This is done as a complete train of thought. There's no particular order to this, no real editing beyond that of spellcheck. And yes, I swear in it. Why? Because that's the way my brain works. So be it.

Hi. My name is Claris. I'm 21 years old.

One day, I'm going to die.

And when that happens, the world will move on.

Things will change, humanity will continue to evolve, e-commerce will jump to a higher level, and some other art major will create, thinking no one else could understand why the act of drawing a brush across canvas is so peaceful.

Before the few Bronzers that have my number leap to dial, don't bother setting off the PacMan ring on my cell phone. There's no suicide sentiment here. I'm not saying this to be morbid. To somehow cast a dark gloom over however many years I have left on this earth. The truth is, if nothing else, my words above are the reality of what happened to Joyce Summers tonight. She died. And while her family & friends mourned, while their world halted, crashed, and burned to cinders, meter maids ticketed, children played outside, sunlight beat down, and students walked past an open door where a young man stood with his fist stuck inside a wall.

Joyce's death was a blow that none of us expected. (Okay, but I'm talking about before we read the spoilers.) But it wasn't the end. Death never is.

Normally, watching the Wonderful World of Whedon is one of the few "stop" times I get each week. As someone whose sleep deprivation is surpassed only by "The Man" himself, there's not a whole hell of a lot of time wherein I can just sit and go somewhere that isn't my life. It's a small ritual for me. This isn't unusual in the Bronze. Some people turn off their phone for two hours, some people have to have Ben & Jerry's, and some used to dance naked in front of the opening credits until that one time when the children unexpectedly ran in to say good night. (That particular ritual stopped, by the way.) The point being, it's our place too. We live in Sunnydale, even if there's no house with our name on it on Revello Drive, or a Student ID with our picture on it from UC Sunnydale. So it wasn't just the Scoobies that mourn Joyce. We do too.

When I saw last week's end, this week's teaser, I will be the first to admit that I was physically shaken. I even remember remarking to my sister, who was uncharacteristically home this week & last, that I really wanted to call my mother after IWMTLY. As much as I praised the death of Joyce in terms of plot & character development, watching Buffy call her mother was, to me, far more heartbreaking than the end of Becoming. It was less grandiose, more personal. More real. This was no fantasy, no baroque imagining. This is life, the way it works. It's not a monster standing in for personal metaphor, it's something that we will all have to deal with at one point or another - the loss of a loved one. Becoming made me gasp, it ended with me yelling at Joss' executive producer credit that "Dammit, you can't just stop there!" The Body made me cry. This time, Joss' name was met with the quietly surprised comment of, "That's it? But they're not done yet."

This week, where we saw Buffy deal with what we all knew to be the truth, it was the reality of the situation that brought tears to my eyes. The fact that there was no glossing over things, no artifice to the situation. On this show where the music is almost legend, no accompaniment was used to cover up the fact that there are times when silence reigns. I said out loud at one point that The Body is this year's Hush. And I'm not talking about Emmys, although if this doesn't get one, I would have to ask what the fuck is wrong with those people. I'm talking about the use of silence.

In Hush, the silence was a novelty. It was within context of the storyline, of course, but by Joss' own admission, an experiment. A highly successful exercise, but still, used as an exploration of something different. In The Body, silence was a character. Throughout the hour, it was an almost palpable presence that walked with Sunnydale's assembled Avengers through their valley of shadows and gave them the strength to rage against the dying of the light. It allowed us to feel the nothingness that Joyce Summers left behind. Because there was nothing to say, nothing to do that would make things right again. Unlike in GdayII, this "moment" was long, and it really isn't over. It won't be for a long time.

The silence made real life seem to be in slow motion without any special effects, without any camera tricks. A walking through water distance from the events as they happened. Something as simple as watching a paper towel soak up vomit became mesmerizing, and that phone was so far away when we followed Buffy's run to the kitchen. The quiet dampened life, made it surreal, something to wade through rather than live in.
It seeped into you, the silence. I rode to work afterward with the stereo off. I don't know why, but somehow, it just seemed wrong to have it on. Anyone that knows me will tell you there's a part of hell frosty when I can't listen to music. It was just this odd...haze, for lack of a better word. Most of the time, I can chalk that up to lack of sleep, but this time, I knew it wasn't that. There were just things that seemed sharper. The squeaky sterility of my new Dave Matthews' CD as I unwrapped it from the vacuum-sealed plastic. The fact that for some reason, it took five tries to get my hair to stay pulled back. Leaving my Physics homework in the car because somehow, I knew that, tonight, I was just gonna type for a while at work. It's a testimony to the entire cast & crew that not only did they convey the loss of Joyce & the void it caused, but that they also managed to make the entire thing individual, a thing that effected lives in the world beyond the sound stage.

Tonight, I wasn't just thinking of Sunnydale. I saw Buffy find her mother, and I thought of a friend whose own mother is dying. I wanted to call her, to make sure she was okay, because I knew she was watching, and realized that I didn't have her number. I listened to the paramedic declare Joyce dead, and was reminded of a conversation I'd had not a fortnight back with someone who told me that they'd decided against becoming a doctor because they couldn't stand watching people die. I heard Anya asking what to do, and realized that I wouldn't know what the next step would be, either.

The parallel of the autopsy, the journey that Joyce's body took from the moment Buffy was separated from her mother's corporeal form until the two encountered each other again was striking. The connector between the travels, that doctor who walked from the dark of the dead's morgue to the light of the living's hospital, served to help the two meet again one last time to allow for farewell. A farewell in which Joyce's presence in the morgue helped her oldest daughter one last time. As Buffy wielded an instrument which was most likely used in Joyce Summers' autopsy to fulfill her destiny, to slay yet another vampire, she also kept the promise given scarcely months ago when Joyce's life was in known danger as Buffy protected Dawn.

Dawn's reaction wasn't all that different from that of her sister, and yet, I wonder if Buffy had the strength to let her know. To say, "yes, I fell too." Or if Buffy instead tried to be strong, to be the hero for Dawn that, despite her fantasies, she couldn't be for her mother.
Dawn's discovery, coming immediately after mention of her own attempt at death must've made her own actions seem all the harsher. To see her life, her junior high existence slowly recovering from the revelation of her true origin, then watch it crumble again with news of one of the few things that the young girl had counted on to be a constant was reflected in the eyes of the students that saw it happen with us. Because in Dawn, they each witnessed their deepest fear - the one thing that could shatter anyone's world.

It was in the pieces of these universes that we found our dear Scoobies. Willow's indecision, her hesitation over her clothes, was the precursor to Tara's loving comfort, the actions of someone who only peripherally knew the deceased, but understands that for their lover, it means so much more than simple mourning. Her soothing embrace took the long-awaited lesbian kiss and transformed it from being a "trick" or a "thing" into a natural occurrence. As much as there was that part of me that reflected my sister's reaction of a quiet, "Whoa," at the same time, it was the most natural thing that could have passed between them, and affirmation of the fact that while yes, Joyce was gone, they were still alive. There was feeling left on this plane of existence. They weren't dead yet.

Our other couple was an interesting comparison. Xander and Anya had almost no physical contact before leaving Willow's dorm room. There was an odd distance between the two, no doubt partially caused by Anya's questions. As much as Xander might love Anya, there is a part of him that needed Willow at that moment, just as Willow needed to see someone else that understood, someone who had been there from the beginning. Another person who had fought Robot Ted, who had been in the living room while the zombies attacked, who'd had cocoa with Joyce after being attacked by the First Slayer & allowed the woman who'd become a mother to all of them lull them back away from the horrors of the monsters and let them feel safe for a while. Willow needed Xander's kiss on the forehead just as much as Tara's lips earlier, and Xander had to have Willow there to remind him that unfortunately, there are times when there's nothing to fight, when you can't do anything but work with the hand you're dealt, even if you've just put that hand into the wall. That things just happen.

Anya, on the other hand, has never had to deal with that. She was a demon, dammit. She could fix things. Her questions, which at first seemed like the usual Anya inquiry as to mortal custom, were ironically, the same cry for explanation that Xander himself was searching for. Anya, who by all indication, was perhaps in her late teens when she made the decision to ascend to the realm of demons, most likely has never run into this problem before. Everyone she could really remember knowing was either immortal, or another nameless male she'd been sent down to smite. In her mind, having someone she actually knew, someone that she cared about, simply disappear one day, is the most alien concept she's faced. And in Anya's ignorance, her unerring questions that were running through everyone's mind but pushed away by the contingency which had less than a millennium under their belt, she expressed the same helpless feeling that they all had. Her desperate wish for Joyce was the fitting irony - after a millennia of fulfilling the whims of others, the one time Anya wishes for herself, she can't make it happen. More than anything though, Anya's sentiment was that of someone who was really truly facing the truth that they were going to die for the first time. That if Joyce could die, so could she. So could any of them. And for the other three young people, all under twenty-two, that may have been the scariest idea of all.

It was Tara that played Earth, Tara that knew there were practicalities to be seen to. While at first, her mention of patrolling, her slight prodding to get the other three out the door may have seemed even more unfeeling than Anya's probing queries, she was coming from a different place. She knew that there were still things to be seen to, that they would eventually have to leave that dorm room & go out into the world.

Personally, I didn't want to. I sat in the living room at my sister's apartment, and wanted to watch it again, the same way that Dawn wanted to see her mother's body, to make sure it was all real. Reality itself being an issue for Dawn. She's recently discovered that not only is her past only a figment, but that her whole existence actually stretches back further than that of the span of humanity. To know that the woman she knew as her mother is now gone forever must've seemed a kind of cheating by the Powers that Be. The fact that Dawn has so much time behind her, and Joyce didn't get that chance. Her creeping path that reversed the doctor's previous voyage and took her from comfort and light towards the cold of death was one of someone who had to experience, who had to make herself believe before she could begin to figure out what came next. In locking that door, she locked herself in with death, both in the form of her mother's body, and that of the vampire only seconds from rising.

It was, in reality, Tara that jolted Buffy back to the world of the living. Tara who helped Buffy return from the empty space she'd shrunk into the moment she realized she'd referred to her mother as "the body". Tara's ability to sit there and listen was exactly what Buffy needed, whether the Slayer realized it or not. Before Tara even said it, I murmured, "I have" for her in response to Buffy's ramblings about not having been to this place before. That one sentence uttered by Tara were the two words that made the unlikely pair of Buffy & Tara sensible to people who didn't know Tara's mother had died. In Tara, the one person that Buffy had known for the least amount of time, Buffy found that she wasn't alone. That there was someone else in the world that understood. And that knowledge was what brought Buffy to the point where she began to notice life again. To realize that her sister wasn't there, to have the sense to go to the morgue. Knowing that she wasn't alone gave Buffy the strength to pull her heart out of that place where nothing can touch it and fight to keep her sister alive.

The final scene, where the two girls reach towards their mother's corpse, is best left unfinished. It's their moment to say goodbye. As much as we would have wanted to see it, we the observers had no place there.

In the Bronze, I'm called the evil apprentice, my Maestro supposedly being Joss himself. But I'll be an apprentice for a very long time before I could hope to hit the sentiments expressed by our favorite spaz poster. I don't know the status of Joss' parents, but The Body was written from an experience somewhere within, whether that be of the Buffy left behind, or the Scoobies standing by her side. And Joss, to repeat what I'm sure will become one of my more infamous quotes, (thanks Swoop), you've got your shit down.
Thanks for sharing that part of yourself with us.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a teacher named Mrs. Giddings for one of my Seminars. While I remember many of her lectures, the one that I inevitably am reminded of time & time again, is that of change. The fact that everything changes. Everything ends. Things begin, and we move on. As an example of this, she cited Berlioz's Requiem. The fact that the music changes tone and feeling instead of restricting itself to morbidity. Why? Because we as humans can only hold an emotion so long before it ebbs and drains away. Before we simply can't sustain it any longer, because our soul is too tired to make the effort. To quote our Host, "It's the change in notes that you listen for." This too will fade. Time will pass. Life will go on as we each fulfill our cues as players on the world's stage. And one day, it's going to be okay to smile, maybe even laugh again. Things will start to get real again.
But Joyce won't go away. She won't die. Because something will remind them - a blue sweater, a carousel, the way that someone does something that will make a Scooby go, "You know, Joyce used to do that all the time." And in the wake of that memory, the sadness will return. The loss will be new again. But they'll smile, remembering that there was also love.

And they'll move on.

~February, 2001
~ Claris' Archives