Growing up, my best friend’s name was Jess. She was the funniest person I knew, my dad being the obvious exception. We met in pre-school, the very first day, when the two of us, sobbing and clinging to our mothers, found solace in both each other and the nearby sandbox. We both wanted the same shovel. It was a really awesome sandbox.
We stayed best friends throughout elementary school and middle school. It wasn’t until high school that our friendship started to fray. The end of our friendship was gradual and mutual: One day, we just had different friends, different interests, and different priorities. She started dappling in weed and alcohol, and I was still wearing my D.A.R.E. shirt in public.
But back in 2008, when I was finishing up 6th grade, we were inseparable. It was back when her hair was long and blonde, and not choppy and purple, and it was back when I had bangs. In 2008, everybody was obsessed with three things: Pin-straight hair, Ugg boots, and Harry Potter.
To be fair, Harry Potter was immensely popular waaaaaaay before I started 6th grade. It practically defined my childhood. The first Harry Potter movie premiered when I was in kindergarten, and practically every boy in my grade (and even a few girls) dressed up like Harry Potter for the Halloween Parade. I mean, I don’t think the movie had even come out at that point, but even the kindergarteners knew Harry and how awesome he was. For me, though, Harry Potter was just the kid from those huge-ass books my older cousin was obsessed with. He was no different from Junie B. Jones or Encyclopedia Brown. He didn’t mean that much to me.
This changed when a boy in my class invited us all to see “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. I was 6 when the movie came out. I ask you, my lovely invisible readers, do you think a small, skinny, and shy 6 year old is mature enough for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”?
The answer is NO. NO, NO, NO, I was NOT ready to see “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. All I remember from that awful, horrible birthday party is the blurred lights on the movie theater floor as I ran, literally shrieking, from the theater, terrified that a giant troll was going to gouge out my eyes or throw a sink at me, judging by what was happening in the movie. Think of the scariest movie you’ve ever seen, then add in a lack of logical thinking and a wild imagination. Yeah. Not a great feeling, is it?
That day truly changed the way I felt about Harry Potter. I no longer felt indifferent.
I hated him.
Yes, you read that correctly. I hated Harry Potter. I hated the movies and how everyone would go nuts over them when a new one premiered. I hated the way my friends would get to stay up late at the bookstore when a new Harry Potter book came out. I hated how every single FREAKIN birthday party seemed to be Harry Potter themed. I harbored such a burning hatred of Harry Potter that to this day I’m not sure I’ve ever hated or will ever hate something as much as I hated The Boy Who Lived.
What I hated the most, though, was how much Jess loved him. Harry, I mean. She dressed up as Hermione for Halloween three years in a row, and she was always talking about spells and magic and jelly beans that taste like cabbage. We were so close, but at those times I felt so disconnected from her. I didn’t know who Dumbledore was, or the twist at the end of the third book. I couldn’t bond with her over premiere dates or try to figure out what would happen in the next book or movie. It was the one thing we didn’t have in common, and it bothered me. I resented Harry for scaring 6-year-old-me away before I could really get to know him.
Flash-forward to the end of 6th grade, and my intense dislike of all things Harry Potter had not simmered down. On the contrary, the final book had just been released the year before and people were still reeling: Is this the end of an era? Will the last few movies live up to the books? What will happen next? Jess was asking these questions herself, and to my annoyance, I didn’t know how to answer them.
We were circling 12 years old, and it seemed like life was getting more difficult with every passing day. School, family relationships, and especially friendships were suddenly complicated, and none of us knew how to deal with it. While this was happening, Jess’s 12th birthday came around the end of 6th grade, and without meeting my eyes, she informed me that she was having a Harry Potter themed 12th birthday.
I was floored. How could she do this to me? I look back on this frame of thinking now and cringe. How could I have been so selfish? But deep down, I knew that I had to go. She was my best friend, and the year before she was forced to cancel her “Hogwarts Letter” party because she was sick. I knew that I had to go and support her. There would be food and games and presents to distract me from the inevitable conclusion of the night: a screening of all the Harry Potter movies, 1-5. I would have to buck up and deal, because Jess was Jess and I loved her to pieces.
So, May 21st, 2008, I attended my best friend’s Harry Potter-themed 12th birthday party, and my life changed forever.
I know it sounds dramatic. “Ooh, I saw Harry Potter and everything sucky in my life suddenly got better! Woo!” Um, no. I sat down and started the first movie with trepidation: This was the movie that had basically scarred me for my entire childhood. I had missed out on one of the biggest literary phenomenons EVER because of this movie. I was bordering 12 years old, but I was still afraid of what the movie would be like.
Mostly, though, I think I was even more afraid of loving it. Which is exactly what happened.
It sounds corny, but I saw myself in each of the characters. I was small and shy and a little unsure of myself, like Harry. I was dorky and studious, like Hermione. I was kinda dumb and lovable, like Ron. I sat there, one hand in the cheeto bowl and the other gripping Jess’s arm whenever Voldemort made his grand appearance. I could see Jess’s face out of the corner of my eye, usually turned towards me with a look of smug victory plastered across her face.
When the first movie ended, and then the second, then the third, I remember turning to her and saying, “I can’t believe I missed out on this for so long.” I still feel that way sometimes when I think about all the Harry Potter themed parties I missed, the in-class readings of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” that I barely paid attention to, all the times my dad, a UPS driver, came home from work sore and agitated because he had spent the entire day lugging crates and packages of Harry Potter books. It was 2008, and I had missed the craziness and once-in-a-lifetime euphoria of the first 10 years of Harry Potter.
I remember waking up at around 3 in the morning (it was a sleepover party) and seeing that the fourth movie had automatically started over, as everyone had fallen asleep. I laid there and re-watched the whole movie, all 3 hours of it. I laughed when Fred and George unsuccessfully tried to get their names into the Goblet of Fire, I gasped when Harry’s name shot out of the Goblet, I cried when Harry saw his parents for the first time in the graveyard. I was an avid reader and writer, but I had no idea how much one character could make someone feel so much.
Since that day, I’ve made up for lost time. I’ve seen all the movies at least eight or nine times. One of the joys of my teenage years was reading all of the books and marveling at, (surprisingly, because the movies are awesome), how much better they were than the movies. Jess let me borrow her copy of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”, and it was the first time I read a Harry Potter book without having any idea of what was going to happen. I remember sitting on my bed and reading all night long, my sister complaining about my light being on, but even more so about how my “gasps and shrieks” while reading the book may give something away for when she finally got to read. At about 5 o’clock in the morning, I closed the book and leaned back on my pillows, crying. I was practically bursting, I needed so badly to tell someone-ANYONE-about what had just happened at the end of the 6th book. I loved it. For a while, “The Half Blood Prince” was my favorite book.
It was incredible, being able to wait in anticipation with all of my friends for the 6th movie to come out. I got to go to my first midnight premiere.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2, and let me know in the comments how Harry Potter has changed YOUR life. Or, are there any other books that had a serious impact on your life?