Growing up with the ever present television gave us a cultural common denominator. We shared a common experience with the neighbors across the street, down the block, or across the country. Television made the world a little bit smaller.
With that ever presence, I grew up with fictional characters who I sometimes wanted to be, have as friends, or at the very least, be like. When Steve Austin (the astronaut, not the wrestler) became bionic, I wanted to be bionic. My first female television crush was on Lindsay Wagner. The Bionic Woman. My first male crush was Mark Shera, from S.W.A.T. and Barnaby Jones. I was ten years old and already knew something was different about me. I was also a big fan of The Rookies, especially that dreamy Bruce Fairbairn. Television was becoming the way I understood the world and found out who I was in that world.
Ten days ago, the world lost Bonnie Frankin, Ann Romano from One Day at a Time. A few days ago, Rhoda's Valerie Harper admitted she has terminal cancer. Tonight, I watched as J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, was laid to rest. I don't know any of those actors personally, but I was there when Ann Romano struggled to raise two daughters on her own. They were my older sisters. I learned how to be a friend by watching Mary and Rhoda. Even as an adult, I loved to hate J.R. Ewing, even if he was the same man who lived with Jeannie. Television characters become part of our lives. Yes, I've never lost sight of the fact they're fictional, but they still affect us.
The power is television is amazing, and I'm a little sad to see the ones I grew up with leaving us. When Lindsay Wagner goes, I'm sure I'll be in a formal state of mourning for at least a month. Jaime Sommers was the older sister I always wanted. Steve Austin was the older brother. I used to fantasize they'd come get me and take me away to some exotic adventure.
I immersed myself in television as a child and wrote to actors and joined fan clubs all the time. It was my escape from the reality of my childhood. A sissy fat boy who knew he was different and had to find a way out. The people on TV seemed to have the answers.