The O.C. Cast Barton McKenzie Brody Bilson - Lead 2017
Credit: WB/Everett Collection

Next week marks the ten-year anniversary of The O.C. I’ll always remember that fateful evening in 2007, watching as my favorite Californians graduated from the school of FOX network television drama. Never again would Ryan Atwood beat up a Cohen family rival. Never again would Sandy Cohen endear a nation with the charisma of his eyebrows.

Over its four-year-run, I had watched many a jaw-dropping O.C. moment: Marissa overdosed in Tijuana (!), Marissa shot Ryan’s brother (!!), Marissa died (!!!) (RIP). I thought I was prepared to say goodbye to the California crew that night, but I was in no way ready for the five-minute montage highlighting each character’s notable accomplishments in the five years to come. As the folksy guitar strum of Patrick Park’s “Life Is A Song” played, I felt the full emotional weight of The O.C.’s four season, 92-episode run, and lost all composure.

My mother burst into my room, alarmed by the volume of my hysterics. Summer Roberts was walking down the aisle to meet Seth Cohen. “It’s the end of an era!” I yelled between sobs. “You’re crying over The O.C.?” she asked, before rolling her eyes and leaving the room.

No one understood.

The truth is, I didn’t understand the extent of my obsession, either. After the show ended, I discovered the power of DVD boxed sets, and its grip on my life only seemed to tighten. Within these season-long collections, I was given the gift of a commercial-free chapter of television for about $20. My babysitting money found its purpose. I could now view the 27-episode first season of The O.C. in a weekend if I so desired (which I often did).

The metallic, pumpkin-colored seven-disc set of the first season soon became my most prized possession. By the year’s end, I could list every episode, chronologically and by name, identify every song played (by title, artist, and O.C. Mix, if applicable), and directly quote about 70 percent of all dialogue word-for-word; I was like Truman Capote with his “human tape recorder” claim, but mine only applied to teen dramas with the good sense to cast Chris Brown in multi-episode arcs.

Months passed and my obsession continued to evolve: I wrote pamphlets on various thematic elements of the series. I bought O.C. magazine clippings on eBay to add to my O.C.-themed collages. I made paper fortunetellers that predicted O.C. forecasted fates (“You will meet Paris Hilton at a party where she’ll reveal her secret love for Thomas Pynchon novels”). I wrote a “book,” which detailed each member of the extended cast and their place within the O.C. world. I dressed up as Dead Marissa Cooper for Halloween in the eighth grade, Styrofoam tombstone and flask in tow. My madness knew no bounds.

As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t go on many dates through the middle and high school years. Even my friendships suffered. Sleepovers were reduced to “Let’s see how many episodes we can get through in a night.” Real life just didn’t do it for me anymore.

For the first 18-and-a-half years of my life, I lived in an incredibly small, rural town in the Pacific Northwest, population: 7,167. Throughout my thirteen years of public schooling, I learned that standing out among my teachers and peers would only be possible if I excelled at sports (or dated someone who did). A distaste for water-skiing and capture the flag didn’t do me any good in a town that is actually coined the “Windsurfing Capital of the World.”

Silly as it may sound, The O.C. gave me an escape, an opportunity to step outside of a community that never seemed to support my dreams. More than that, the show gave me something to write about, which is all I’d ever wanted to do anyway. Be it episode analyses or personal essays, the Cohens and Co. gave me hours of food for thought. Though the series admittedly has fewer ties to reality than 13-year-old me had expected, it gave that angsty teen something to idealize. Newport Beach and its impossibly beautiful residents reflected an “other”—proof that small town U.S.A. wasn’t all there was, or all I could hope to be a part of.

When I packed for college, I left most of my O.C. ties behind—the limited edition posters, handmade collages, even the fortunetellers. I chose to live my own life in New York City, regardless of how lame it was compared to the scripted ones I’d once identified with.

In a plot twist I never saw coming, the exciting, adult life I’d dreamed of for as long as I could remember actually became a reality. I met people whose dreams were much wilder than mine, those with similar interests and aversions to sports—and yes, a few who even shipped The O.C. from time to time.

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I’ve abandoned many things in the last decade: my MySpace account, my love of Claire’s, the waist-belt collection I swore went with everything—but it’s The O.C. that I’ll always hold dearest.

So, on the eve its anniversary, I'd like to raise a glass to the series that encouraged me to buy a bagel guillotine and invest in a collection of pastel-colored polos. And for those of you who have yet to experience the glorious teen network soap, I have only this to say: “Welcome to The O.C., bitch!”