As you may or may not know, I recently spent a weekend in Boston with friends, and we went to see Jagged Little Pill: The Musical. It was a wonderful weekend, truly, but the highlight was definitely seeing this musical. Sorry, friends. Your Disney singing was a close second.
The musical is comprised mostly of the songs from Alanis Morissette’s album of the same name, and it’s an album that I am very familiar with.
I have a lot of friends who have very emotional attachments to music, and I am not one of them. I can probably count on one hand how many albums have deeply affected me (they’re all from about the same time period, too), and Jagged Little Pill gets top billing here. My friend Beth introduced me to it the summer between high school and university, and freshman year, you would walk down the hallway, and you could hear selections coming from JLP in probably 75% of the rooms.
I spent so much of my late teens and early 20s just so…angry. And I thought I was alone. This proved to me that I wasn’t the only one who was angry, and I didn’t feel so alone.
Seeing this musical ripped open a 23-year-old wound that I thought was fully healed. I’m going to talk about and admit some stuff that I am not proud of. Things that I am, in fact, ashamed of. I try to live my life without regrets, but my freshman year of college is full of things I wish that I could go back and change. It would be easier not to admit any of this, and I’m quite nervous to talk about it, but, well, you know me. Who would I be if I didn’t just open myself up for all of the feelings to spill out?
I just hope that when you read this, you don’t think any less of me. To say I was a different person back then is not an understatement. I was a scared, confused, awkward young woman who had no idea what these feelings were and had been told her entire life that they were bad. I felt like I had no one to talk to and tried to push through and deal with it on my own. It took me years to be honest with and true to myself, and that’s when my life started to change for the better. It’s a process that we all go through our entire lives, and I honestly mean it when I say I’m a different person. I hope that if you know me, that shows.
I hope that you don’t judge me on what I did at 18, but if you do, please be kind.
I don’t want to get into the plot of the show too much, because I went in blind and would encourage you to do the same. I had no idea what to expect, and that’s just so rare these days with all of the different forms of media we consume. I will say, though, that I thought it might be gay, but it was gayer than I ever could have hoped. And more feminist-er. And fucking kicked ass.
Both my gal pals and I sobbed through quite a lot of the show, and there was also a lot of leg/arm grabbing and almost-lap-sitting. It put us through an emotional wringer, but it also made us laugh. And I myself made some of us laugh when a lady walked out on stage, and before I knew it, I said OUT LOUD, “OH, HELLO.”
The entire show was one big feelings fest, but there were two songs that really hit me, just because of my emotional attachment to them and their place in the show.
I went to the university I chose because the girl I had a crush on was going there. Not even a lie. It was a good school, and I got a scholarship there. It was in a bigger city that would let me escape the confines of small-town West Virginia, but close enough that I could visit my family. But the real reason is because Jenny was going there, and I couldn’t imagine not being with her.
Not that I knew it was a crush. I just knew my heart was exploding with joy and tearing apart with sadness whenever we were together. And I was overflowing with relief and paranoid with wondering who she was with when we weren’t.
As relationships do, though, we drifted apart. We both found other people. When you’re 18 and it’s 1995, proximity sometimes makes the best friendships. (We found our way back, though, and I was in her wedding and she had a part in mine and we don’t see each other as much as we’d like, but we are special people in each other’s lives. So that part has a happy ending.)
As Jenny and I drifted apart, I found myself drifting towards Katie*, my roommate.
And then I fell in love with her.
I do not recommend that.
We spent all of our time together, except when she went home to see this guy she “knew.” And I tried not to think about that. One weekend when she was gone, I did a horrible thing. It’s probably the worst thing I have ever done. I can excuse it by talking about my mental state, my confusion, or a whole host of other things. But it doesn’t matter, really.
I read her diary.
And I read that they had sex.
And I almost threw up.
I stood in our room, crying. I grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen and wondered if I swallowed it all, would it be enough to kill me. I don’t know how long I stared at it before I finally put the bottle down and walked down the hall. I knocked on my RA’s door, and when she answered, I just said, “I need help.”
And then, “I think I might be gay.”
“For fuck’s sake, Cathy, what does this have to do with the show?” I’m getting there. Calm down. Jeez.
One of my favorite songs off of the album was the “hidden track,” “Your House,” in which the narrator secretly goes into her lover’s house and realizes that there’s…another. Now, I realize that this wasn’t exactly my situation, but…parallels. Stick with me.
In the show, this song belongs to the character I most identified with, a queer person named Jo, and it’s sung about the girl they loved.
All I could see was me, finding Katie’s diary and flipping through the pages, and then seeing, “and then we, uh..you know.” And then carefully putting it back so as to remain undetected, trying to erase what I had seen from my brain.
The sadness, the betrayal — it was me. Sure, it wasn’t logical. We weren’t a couple. Just friends. Good friends. Best friends, some would say (but never me).
And it almost broke me.
But I persevered. I persisted. I am lucky because I was able to.
My RA, Jen, made me go to therapy, and although it was very uncomfortable for me and I couldn’t even talk about maybe being gay and ended it when I started dating a guy, well, it helped me deal with things somehow, I guess. I somehow managed to get through it all. And I started slowly coming out as “maybe?” to my friends. Which for me, back then, was a step. A big one.
Right or wrong, I was angry at Katie for breaking me. I knew — know — that I was to blame, but there’s no logic in play with stuff like that, right? And feelings aren’t logical.
What happened, you ask? I eventually ended up coming out to her. She was lovely, of course, and shared some similar feelings she had when she was growing up. She couldn’t have been better. We spent a ton of time together when she was around. I never knew if she truly wanted to be around me, or if it was just easier.
Easier to be with your roommate who very obviously would have done anything for you, really.
Easier not to address the obvious attraction she had for you.
We had made plans to room together if she came back the next year (because I LOVED PAIN AND ANGST, I GUESS), but she ended up taking a year off. She never told me a reason why. I saw her once that next year, a visit where she slept in my (awful) new roommate’s bed and it always felt like she was on the verge of telling me something important, but she never did. I smoked the entire time, and she just sat there quietly, declining every Marlboro I offered her.
I never saw her after that weekend we spent wandering around campus, sitting and talking about nothing and everything in the middle of the football field. I still remember walking into the lobby and seeing her, clad in one of the shirts she favored that showed off her stomach.
The one that weekend was navy blue.
I talked to her a few times on the phone — invited her for birthday shenanigans, called to wish her a happy birthday, things like that — but I never saw her again. And she stopped returning my calls.
I have not seen her since.
It’s been 23 years.
I mean, if we’re gonna get analytical, maybe that’s why I always think no one wants me around. Because this girl that I was absolutely, 100% devoted to, who I thought was my friend, just…lied. Obviously I meant nothing to her, or she wouldn’t have ghosted me.
She had no idea what her leaving did to me, and I wish I could have told her.
Well, with You Oughta Know, Jo had my chance, and they ripped into their BFF with benefits Frankie. And my heart ached as I imagined the opportunity to do the same. And it started raining pretty hard on my face.
Because no matter what mistakes I made — and there were a lot, and I fully own up to that — she should know what a mess she left me by just…being there one minute and being gone the next. Because you don’t tell someone you care about them “more than you’ll ever know” and then just vanish.
The angst and anger and betrayal and just overwhelming sense of sadness and abandonment just…washed over me as Jo (Lauren Patten) let loose. It was cathertic for the character, prompting the audience to give a standing ovation. And it was cathartic for me.
I didn’t realize how much I was still angry at Katie for that, and I didn’t realize that I still hadn’t moved past it. I haven’t forgiven myself for how I treated her, and I don’t think I ever will.
The entire show was amazing, though — not just Lauren Patten (although I could see any show with just her and it would be enough). I say this often about TV, and it’s true. It’s the mark of a great show that makes me care about the male characters and the straight pairings, and boy, did this show ever do that. I saw a little bit of myself in all of the characters, no matter the genders, and I was rooting for Mary Jane and Steve to work things out.
Also, all of the actors just rocked the music, especially Lauren Patten and Elizabeth Stanley. Damn. And Celia Gooding? Fuck. Just…damn. Perfection. All around.
They had giant sheets of Kraft paper and Sharpies hanging up, and people had a chance to leave a message, and mine was, “this show is going to be someone’s ring of keys.”
If you have the chance to go see JLP, please take it and please do so. It will change your life and break you down and then put you back together in the most glorious, heartbreaking, transformative way, and you’ll be a better person for it. This show and its message of struggle, perseverance, imperfection, and acceptance is going to change lives.