“Friday at 2pm?” Adam, the youth pastor, asked me after church.
“I’ll be meeting you up there on Saturday,” I explained, “because I have to take the test Saturday morning for the teaching program. Remember? I told you?”
“That’s right. You did. Did you get directions to where we’re going?”
“And you have chains, just in case? It might be snowing on the drive up.”
“The kids who are going skiing and snowboarding will be leaving Saturday morning, and the rest of the kids will be back at the retreat center playing in the snow all day. So whenever you get there, you can hang out with the kids playing in the snow. Erica and Taylor will be staying back too. We’ll get back from snowboarding around dinner time.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Great! I’ll see you there! And good luck on that test.”
“I hear it’s not that hard. But thanks.”
Adam walked off to find all of the other youth group leaders who would be at junior high school Winter Camp next weekend, to finalize plans with them. I saw Erica and Courtney nearby, and Adam had already talked to them, so I went to say hi to them.
“You ready for Winter Camp?” Courtney asked.
“Kinda,” I replied. “I’m not going to get there until Saturday afternoon, because I have to take that test to get into the teacher training program.”
“Oh, that’s right!”
“Good luck!” Erica said. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“Yeah. It doesn’t seem hard,” I explained. “What are you two doing the rest of today?”
“Swing dancing!” Erica replied excitedly.
“Have you ever been?” Courtney asked. “You want to come?”
“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t dance. But I keep hearing about all these people getting into swing dancing all of a sudden. Scott and Amelia and Joe and Alyssa were talking about it the other day.”
“Yeah. We just started going last week. It’s a lot of fun! You should try it someday.”
“Maybe,” I replied, just to be polite. I had no interest at all in swing dancing. I just found the whole thing strange. All of a sudden, this style of music and dancing from my grandparents’ childhood and youth was popular again, with people sometimes even dressing in fashions from that era for swing dance events. And the people I knew who had gotten into swing dancing talked about it obsessively, as if swing dancing had become their entire lives, whereas I had never heard those people talk about any kind of dancing previously. Swing dancing almost felt like a cult. But if these people are having fun with it, good for them; I will not stand in their way.
Two new leaders had recently joined the youth group staff, freshmen from the University of Jeromeville whom I knew from the church college group and from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship: a tall, sandy-haired guy who went by the nickname 3, because he was the third one in his family to have that name, and a curly-haired girl named Marlene. Everyone thought they were a couple, but they insisted they were just good friends. They met on the first day of school this year; they lived on the same floor in the same dormitory.
I walked over to 3 and Marlene and said hi. “How’s it going?” I asked. “Are you two going to Winter Camp?”
“Yes!” Marlene exclaimed. “I’m so excited! You’re going, right?”
“I’ll be getting there a day late. I have to take a test to get into the student teaching program next year. I’m not worried about it, but it’s only given a few times a year, so I have to miss part of Winter Camp.”
“That’s too bad, but you do what you have to do,” 3 said. “What are you up to the rest of the day?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I have some reading to do, but that shouldn’t take long. I was hoping to find something more interesting to do.”
“X-Files!” Marlene exclaimed enthusiastically.
“Huh?” I asked, not expecting that response. I had been watching The X-Files since the middle of season 1, during my senior year of high school, and the show aired on Sunday nights. So, yes, I would be watching it tonight, but it seemed an odd thing for Marlene to get excited about.
“You should come!” Marlene continued.
“Come where?” I asked, now even more confused.
“To X-Files, at the De Anza house!”
“I don’t know about this. People watch X-Files at the De Anza house?”
“Yeah! This just started not too long ago. They invited a bunch of people over to watch X-Files on Sunday nights. They said we can invite anyone, and they’ll be doing this every week.”
“That sounds good. Thanks for letting me know.”
“We’ll see you there?”
I still felt a little uneasy about crashing the party, and I was disappointed that no one had told me about this new X-Files gathering. I already felt like I got left out of things too often. I looked around to see if any of the residents of the De Anza house were at church this morning. I knew that some of them went to Jeromeville Assembly of God, so I would not see them here at Jeromeville Covenant. I saw Ramon, so I walked over to him. “Hey, Ramon?” I said.
“3 and Marlene just told me that you guys watch X-Files at your house on Sunday nights now. Is that true? Can I come over?”
“So, just like, show up at 9?”
“Actually, at 10. We record the show and play it an hour later, because there’s a JCF leadership meeting on Sundays, and they don’t always get done by 9.”
“Okay. I see. I’ll be there then. Tonight at 10.”
“Great! I’ll see you then!”
The X-Files was a weekly supernatural science fiction television series. The series followed two government agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who investigated cases involving unexplained and possibly paranormal events. Mulder was a stereotypical conspiracy theorist, with his views shaped by a childhood incident in which his sister was supposedly abducted by aliens. Scully, with a background in medicine, was assigned to be Mulder’s partner in order to bring a more rational view of the events of these cases. Some episodes featured standalone storylines, whereas others had continuing story arcs about the existence of aliens and government coverups.
As I drove toward the house on De Anza Drive, my thoughts drifted back toward the fact that I had not been invited to this event. No one would admit it formally, but I was of the perspective that JCF had a serious problem with cliques, mostly because I was usually on the outside. For example, the Kairos ministry within JCF featured Bible studies specifically designed to prepare future student leaders. These groups were handpicked by their leaders, and they often spent time with each other away from everyone else during retreats. No one had ever considered inviting me, and sometimes it felt like I was growing apart from friends because of it. Also, I never got asked to be housemates with the people who seemed to be at the center of these cliques. Although I was friends with all six residents of the De Anza house, Eddie, John, Xander, Lars, Ramon, and Jason, I did not live there, and I felt like they were a sort of inner circle that I desperately wanted to be part of. It stung a little that they had started this new weekly group around The X-Files and not invited me, particularly since I had been a fan of the show for longer than I had known any of them, even since before I had started school at UJ.
Ten o’clock on a Sunday night was not an ideal time to socialize. That would get me home after eleven, and I had class the next morning at eight. But I did not care. It would be worth it. I parked on the side of De Anza Drive and walked up to the house where my friends lived. I knocked on the door.
“Come in!” someone shouted from inside.
I walked in, not expecting to see what I did. About fifteen or twenty people filled the couches and the floor of the living room. Apparently this was a big gathering “Hey!” Marlene said, waving at me; she sat next to 3 on the smaller of the two couches. I recognized most of the people there, including some of the guys who lived there and other familiar faces from JCF. “Who’s there?” I heard Eddie’s voice from the kitchen.
“Hey, Greg,” Xander, the sixth resident of the house, said, coming down the stairs. “Glad you could make it.”
“Thanks,” I said, finding a free spot on the floor.
“Greg!” Eddie called out, emerging from the kitchen. “Good to see you here! You like X-Files?”
“Yeah. I’ve been watching since the middle of season 1. Marlene and 3 invited me.”
“Welcome! We’ll be doing this every week there’s a new episode.”
I found an empty space on the floor, next to a freshman girl named Jen Powell. “Hey,” she said to me. Jen Powell was one of those people I often referred to by her first and last name, since I knew so many girls in those days named Jennifer or variations thereof. There were three Jennifers among just her freshman class at JCF, plus several more among the older students, and two of them were here at the De Anza house tonight.
“What’s up?” I replied.
“Nothing. Just had to study all weekend. What about you?”
“Same. I just found out about this group.”
“They’ve only done this a couple times. Everyone from my Bible study came last time.”
“Nice!” I said.
“Are we all here?” Eddie asked. “Ready to start?”
“I think so,” John replied. He got up and walked to the VCR, rewound the tape, and began playing. Someone turned the living room lights out, but the attached dining room light was still on, so it was not completely dark.
The episode began with a mom going to a grocery store with her daughter, who was carrying a creepy doll. The daughter began complaining, the doll spoke in a creepy voice, and suddenly everyone else in the store began clawing at their own faces, with one store employee fatally stabbing himself. It appeared that this would be a standalone episode, not connected to the government’s involvement with aliens. The first commercial began, and John pressed the fast-forward button on the remote control. The tape skipped forward past the commercials.
“Dude,” Lars said. “That doll is totally making me think of Chucky, except it’s a girl.” I had never seen any of the Child’s Play movies, featuring Chucky the murderous doll, but the comparison made sense.
As a commercial for an upcoming show on the same channel sped by on the screen quickly, John pressed Play, trying to time the button press so that the tape would go back to normal speed exactly at the end of the commercial. As the tape slowed down, the screen transitioned to the next scene in the episode, where Mulder, in his office, calls Scully, who is on vacation in Maine, in the same town where the grocery store employee stabbed himself. The opening credits began flashing at the bottom of the screen over the next few minutes of the episode.
“Nice,” 3 said, commenting on John’s timing.
“Did that say ‘Written by Stephen King and Chris Carter?’” John asked. “Is it that Stephen King?”
“Yeah!” I said. “I saw a commercial that this week’s episode was by Stephen King. And that makes sense why they’re in Maine.” Chris Carter, the other co-writer, I knew that name; he was one of the show’s creators.
“Do Stephen King stories always take place in Maine or something?” Jen Powell asked.
“Mostly,” I said. “That’s where he’s from.”
“I wouldn’t know. I was never allowed to read Stephen King.”
I had read several of Stephen King’s books, and I still was not used to the concept that some of my Christian friends grew up in the kind of environment where their parents did not let them watch or read certain things that they deemed inappropriate.
At the next commercial, John attempted to skip the commercials again, but he missed the right time to start the show at normal speed again. As Scully and the local police drove up to the house where the little girl with the doll lived, having noticed from security camera footage that she and her mother were the only people not acting strangely in the grocery store, we watched it all happen in high speed. John had to back up and restart the tape at the correct point. “Boo,” 3 taunted jokingly, and others joined in, booing John for missing the right time on the tape.
I continued watching the rest of the episode. At one point, Scully realized that the doll was connected to these attacks, and the next time Mulder called her from the office, she asked him what he knew about folklore involving haunted dolls. Mulder referenced Chucky, and Lars shouted, “I told you so!” At the end, Scully destroyed the doll, but the final scene implied that someone else had found the now-mutilated doll, which still seemed to have its powers to possess people.
“That was creepy,” Jen Powell said.
“I know,” I said. “Creepy dolls always make me think of my grandma. She has some.”
“What is it with grandmas and creepy dolls?”
“Your grandma has creepy dolls too?”
“Hey, guys,” Eddie said, walking to me and Jen. “How’s it going?”
“Good,” Jen said.
“Greg? Will you be joining us every week?”
“I think so,” I said. “This was fun. It was nice getting to watch this with other people.”
“Great! Hey, did you hear there’s gonna be an X-Files movie coming out soon?”
“I did, but I don’t know much about it. That’ll be fun to see.”
“We’ll probably get a big group together to go. I’ll let you know.”
That one episode was the only time the producers of X-Files collaborated with Stephen King. It was creepy, and I would probably be thinking about that as I tried to fall asleep that night, but I enjoyed the episode. I also found the episode interesting, because Mulder, in his phone calls to Scully, was the one suggesting more rational explanations. Typically Scully was the more rational of the two.
The more I thought about it, I was probably not intentionally left out of the X-Files group because of cliquishness. The group had just started recently at the time, and I was not very outspoken about being an X-Files fan, so the guys from the De Anza house probably just would not have thought to invite me right away.
The X-Files group at the De Anza house would become a regular weekly activity for me for much of the rest of the time I lived in Jeromeville. The group continued even after some of that year’s residents of the De Anza house graduated and moved away. I continued watching new episodes of The X-Files at the De Anza house all the way until November of 2001, a few months after I moved away from Jeromeville. That night, I made the trip to Jeromeville, an hour drive from where I lived at the time, for the first episode of season 9, the show’s return after a break for the summer. This ended up being the final X-Files watch party at the De Anza house; many of the remaining regulars had all moved away in 2001, and there were not enough people to keep the tradition alive. After I heard that they had not continued their weekly watch parties, I wondered if maybe I was in fact the glue that kept that group together, although it probably had more to do with the fact that all of the original people at the De Anza house had graduated by then.
Season 9, in 2001-02, was the final season of the original run of The X-Files, although one more feature film was released in 2008, and the series was revived twice for short seasons in the 2010s. I stayed with the show even through those revivals. I definitely made the right decision to watch The X-Files at the De Anza house that night. In addition to being an enjoyable show, The X-Files provided me with lots of great memories of socializing with some of the best friends I had in those days. I was confident that I had way more fun there than I would have had if I had gone swing dancing. I have more to say about swing dancing, but that is another story for another time.
Readers: Did you ever have a tradition of watch parties, or watching a certain show with certain people? Tell me about it in the comments.
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