“Tell me about Oprah’s last episode,” Mike said as we settled onto the couch after dinner.
“I haven’t watched it yet,” I said.
I was shocked to hear what came next:
“Oh, good. Can we watch together? Like right now?”
I was putting off watching the last episode because I wasn’t yet ready to accept the idea that there would be no more, that I wouldn’t be able to come home from work, grab a diet soda and spend an hour laughing or crying or witnessing people lose their minds over free stuff. Then again, with a new baby on the way, I doubt that I’d be able to treat myself to an hour of uninterrupted TV watching each afternoon, but still. I was procrastinating because I just wasn’t ready for the show to end.
Mike is still at work every day at four pm, and aside from a few days when he happened to be home early while I tuned in or sat on the couch next to me while I savored a DVR’ed episode, he isn’t someone I’d call an avid Oprah fan. As he pointed out during one of the commercial breaks, she’d always just been there as a constant for much of his life, and now, things would just be different. It felt odd to him.
“Well, at least they’ll be showing the repeats for a while,” said Mike.
“Nope. No repeats.”
“What? What will be on instead?”
“What?!! The news,” he said with the same distaste I felt when I peeked ahead at the schedule and found out about the lackluster replacement.
As silly as it sounds, it never occurred to me that my own private relationship with Oprah wasn’t unique. There are millions of people out there who have very distinct memories and attachments to Ms. Winfrey, whether they watch every day, once a month or just a few times a year, and like a lot of people, I imagine that I wasn’t alone in my fantasy of being a guest on her show at some point in my life. I always just assumed it would happen at some point, later in time, after I had achieved whatever thing that might be deemed Oprah-worthy.
This last episode was very different from the norm. But for a few short clips, Oprah spent the hour speaking to the guests sitting before her and to her audience at large, leaving us with what she referred to as a “love letter.” She mentioned that she’d always wanted to be a teacher and that she’d been given the world’s biggest classroom, so this final episode was very much a last lecture, meant to inspire her viewers.
During parts of her monologue, Mike kept nudging me and pointing at me.
“What?” I said, but I knew what he was thinking.
When she said, “Everybody has a calling,” and that our job in life is to find it, that this is where we would be our best and happiest, we both thought about me with my writing. My denial or reluctance to pursue my manuscript or to produce more is tied into something else Oprah spoke about, and that is all the negative self-talk and doubt I use as an excuse to not do what I love to do. Much to my consternation, Mom is always getting on me about it, and Mike is always getting on me about it, and even my Creative Writing students tried to have an intervention with me at the end of this past semester. Yet, I just can’t find the place where I feel good enough to do anything but stay in my holding pattern.
Though millions of people sitting at home listening to those words probably felt something similar to the way I was feeling, it seemed like she’d written them just for me. It made me sad and hopeful at the same time, and I suppose this is just part of her brilliance and why her show sustained for twenty-five years and could probably keep going for another twenty-five and more.
When the episode ended and Oprah walked through the audience and out of the studio doors to greet her teary-eyed colleagues, my hormones went into overdrive, and I started to cry.
“What’s the matter?” Mike asked.
“I’ll never be on Oprah,” I said. Well, I kind of said in between sobs.
“I’ll…never…be…[sob, sob] on…[sob] Oprah.”
He gave me a hug.
“I’ll never be on Oprah, either,” he said to comfort me.
“You wanted to be on Oprah?”
“Well, why would you be on Oprah?”
“For writing a book,” I said with a strange confidence.
“So, I could’ve done something great and ended up as a guest,” he said. And he was right. Why me and not him? I wondered how many people had the same sad revelation yesterday afternoon when they watched Ms. Winfrey walk away from her set for the last time.
Later, while he was finishing painting the trim in our guest room, one of the very last projects he’s been trying to complete before Baby Boy arrives, he asked me to look for any areas that needed touching up.
“You know, I feel bad that you’re never going to be on Oprah,” he said to me from the ladder.
“Yes. And I’m sad that her show ended. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Why?” Again, I was shocked.
“I don’t know. She just seems like such a nice lady.”
It will take a while to condition myself not to tune into Oprah at four pm. To ease the pain, I’ll flip over to an old episode of Law & Order or take a nap or [very soon] hang out with Baby Boy. Over time, I’ll have a new routine, and eventually, I’ll get very used to my Oprah-free afternoons, but I’ll never forget the many, many years I spent being engaged, entertained and often inspired.
I watched her in my parents living room into my teen years, not always fully understanding the topics or the guests, and sometimes being haunted by their words and stories. I watched her throughout college, sometimes after what felt like a long day of classes, and sometimes using her as an excuse to skip class all together. I watched her in the various apartments in which I lived during graduate school and the post-college/post-grad years, through all the bad dates and life changes, the bad jobs and the steady ones. I watched her in the first home I bought by myself, her show a segue into many a lonely evening.
And here, in this house that Mike and I bought together, in between some of the most difficult and most joyous times of our lives, I spent an hour each day laughing and crying and witnessing people lose their minds over free stuff. I’ll miss it very much, what has come to be this consistent presence in my life, and more than likely, after years and years go by, I’ll still be referencing her guests and her words to students and to my son, whether or not they like it or they get it or they want to hear it.
I just hope I’ll learn to take the advice she bestowed in her last lecture before it becomes a sound-bite or a regret or something that nice lady said so many years ago when she had a show I used to watch each afternoon, right before they replaced it with the news.