When I first moved into my own apartment, the first thing I bought was a print of the floor plan of apartments 19 and 20 in “Friends.” Years — and one cross-country move — later, it still hangs in my kitchen. The reason is simple: It feels like home.
Growing up, I remember watching “The One With the Jellyfish,” the Season 4 episode my mom had taped on a VHS. I cried laughing when Matthew Perry’s Chandler let out an excruciating scream as Joey told the group that he had peed on Monica to try to lessen the pain from a jellyfish sting. The episode aired two weeks before my eighth birthday; the show wasn’t deemed appropriate for me to watch just yet, but I managed to sneak it in here and there.
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Four years later, in 2001, TBS began airing reruns and I quickly watched them all. I started taping them, watching when I couldn’t sleep, when I felt alone. At home, things weren’t always organized. As a young girl, I had no idea who I was, but I knew I had no control over what was going on, being shuttled back and forth every two nights between the houses of my divorced parents. I yearned for something I could control.
In 2002, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I was confused and felt like a complete outsider. No one I knew had any thoughts like that; it made no sense. Then I turned to “Friends.” I saw similarities in Courteney Cox’s Monica, finding the way she owned her habits endearing. More so, I saw the way that Chandler loved her unconditionally.
“I don’t love you because you’re organized. I love you in spite of that,” he said, in a way only Perry could deliver a line — sarcastic yet warm and kind. I knew eventually, I’d meet that acceptance in friends.
By midway through Season 8, I was watching live every Thursday, along with the 25 million other weekly viewers. These six friends were becoming part of my family; they might as well have been eating dinner with me in front of the TV each week. Three years later, the finale clocked 52.5 million viewers. I can’t think of a time in which I felt less alone. Together, the world — it aired in 220 territories — cried as it was revealed that Rachel had gotten off the plane, and laughed as Chandler perfectly delivered the series’ final line.
In 2011, seven years after “Friends” wrapped, it premiered on Nick at Nite. I was still in college, and a boyfriend had gifted me the box set of DVDs — it cost around $250! — but the fact that I could just turn on the television and watch the show every night mirrored the comfort it provided. I could depend on this group of six. I knew that no matter how bad my anxiety had gotten, I could turn on my dorm room TV to find Rachel’s loyalty, Phoebe’s curiosity, Monica’s drive, Joey’s innocence and Ross’ intelligence.
Most of all, I could turn to Chandler. He was sincere, honest and sensitive. Although he was positioned as the funny one of the group, Perry molded him into the heart of the series. I think back to “The One With the Two Parties,” in which Rachel’s recently divorced parents show up at her surprise party. When she has a breakdown in the hallway, she cries into Chandler’s arms. The friendship isn’t yet developed but still comes across as honest and vulnerable. Because that’s who Chandler is. And who Perry was.
Upon the news of his death, it felt like a part of my childhood was gone. I am grateful, however, that I lived through “Friends.” When I feel alone, I can simply turn on my TV.
Still, as they say, it’s the end of an era.
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