Ben Rosenstock: An imperfect ending

Monday, April 17, 2017 - 4:43pm

I’m not going to compare my college graduation to the series finale of a TV show.

It’s common knowledge that everyone who likes TV sees their own life as a TV show. We see ourselves as the protagonist of an indie movie, complete with romantic subplots and a built-in coming-of-age narrative. If you’re a person who watches a lot of TV, it’s impossible to avoid looking at graduation — whether it's from high school or college or med school or anything — as a series finale of sorts.

That’s how it was for me during my senior year of high school, anyway. I knew relatively early on where I’d be going to college the following year, and that allowed me to experience most of the year as sentimentally as possible. I hung out with my friends all the time, savoring the time I had left with them. I wrote heartfelt notes on the back of wallet-size senior pictures and told people what they meant to me, even wrote full letters to some as they left to move into their new dorms. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I actually tabulated a list of my friends, complete with schedules of how often to keep in contact with them based on what ‘friendship tier’ they fit in. My very closest friends belonged in the ‘talk to every week’ category, while my good friends were ‘text every two to four weeks,’ and my vague tertiary friends were ‘text every now and then.’ I thought I could keep a strict schedule in order to maintain my various high school friendships.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I think I failed the first week I moved away. As I would learn over the course of college, and as I’m still learning now, endings can never be perfect. Closure isn’t always possible, and sometimes things must come to an end without a tidy resolution. The end of college is, of course, also the beginning of something new and exciting, but it’s wrong to pretend it isn’t the end of something important and irreplaceable.

My senior year of college has been imperfect in a way that high school never was. The pressure of post-grad plans has hung over everyday life like an ominous cloud, preventing me from fully feeling the weight of everything, from processing the fact that it’s all actually ending. Besides, college endings are weird and anticlimactic — back in middle school, on the last day of school, we’d all sign each other’s yearbooks, and at least in high school we all had the same last day of school, the same prom, the same graduation date. In college, people all move out at different times depending on their final exam schedules and their summer plans. There’s no climactic day when you can deliver your perfect goodbye to everyone you care about.

Last night, I watched the series finale of “Girls.” “Girls” has never precisely been about college, but the journey Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham, "Tiny Furniture") goes on seems to parallel my own, in some ways. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young woman whose perspective of the world and herself shifts over the years. I started watching “Girls” the summer before its third season aired, which also meant the summer before college began for me. It feels fitting that the show is coming to an end just as my college experience comes to an end.

The series finale of “Girls” was an anticlimactic affair, filled with low-key moments of connection and growth. If “Girls” had a bombastic ending with massive leaps of character development, it’d be disingenuous to the spirit of the show, which has always been concerned with emotional realism. The closest “Girls” got to a traditional sitcom ending, complete with satisfying emotional catharsis, was actually the penultimate episode. And even that was hardly conventional — sure, all four of the main characters appeared onscreen for the first time in more than a year, but the scene ended with them decisively ending their friendship. These women have outgrown each other, and the show is bold enough to suggest that they were never there for each other in the first place.

Many times this past year, I’ve craved big moments of finality, sappy reminiscing sessions with friends and huge personal revelations, like the crowd-pleasing series finales of shows like “Friends,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.”

I’ve managed to have a couple. One night at a party I bonded with my friend Sam, talking honestly about heartbreak when the only things we’d really talked about before that were TV and movies. A week ago, I spent a full day with my close friend Shev, hammocking in the breezy spring weather and just talking for hours. My fantasy this year was to have a day like that with each of my friends, a day after which I could safely feel like we’d given our friendships the attention they deserved.

But I’m sensing the end of college, in reality, will be more like the finale of “Girls.” In “Girls,” Hannah didn’t reach perfect moments of closure with most of the characters. She made peace, to a degree, with her ex-boyfriend Adam and her ex-best friend Jessa, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever be close again. She almost completely forgot about her old friend Shoshanna, and her friendship with Elijah will remain long-distance as long as he’s pursuing showbiz fame in New York City. She hasn’t talked to her ex-coworker Ray since she awkwardly tried to give him road head and he crashed the truck. Even her best friend Marnie is still self-centered, helping Hannah raise her baby just to give her own life meaning.

Some people will criticize this ending as incomplete and unsatisfying. But “Girls” is a purposely untidy show, based on incremental growth and a realistic lack of easy closure. It reflects my life better than those closure-heavy sitcoms. The ending of “Girls” is imperfect, just like my own senior year. I haven’t connected with all the people I’ve wanted to this year. I’ve failed to stay in touch with some of my favorite friends. On the positive side, I’ve continued to form connections with new people, even in the last month of my senior year — but that’s untidy in its own way, because I’m sad I won’t be able to build on those new friendships when I leave Ann Arbor. These are some of the same imperfections that riddle the last season of “Girls.”

And here I am now, comparing my senior year to a final season even though I said I wouldn’t do that. Old habits.

Here’s what I know: If my college experience was a TV show, the series finale wouldn’t show the moment I throw my cap into the air or hug my best friends goodbye. It wouldn’t show a flashforward to the moment I step out of a plane and see Manhattan in the flesh (and hell, I don’t know when that flashforward would even be set — maybe a month from now, or maybe a year, or maybe never).

It would show something more subtle, like the shot that closes “Girls,” with Hannah’s subtle expression of confidence and accomplishment. My series finale would end on something quiet and intimate, like closing my laptop at the arts desk, or biting into a slice of South U pizza, or laughing at some stupid meme. Or maybe I’d just be sitting alone in bed, watching the end of one of my favorite TV shows, smiling a bit as the credits started to roll.