The Pacey Story
Today is the birthday of one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had. Happy birthday, Diette. This one’s for you.
Editor’s Note: This is how I remember it. But we all know that memory is a tricky thing. If you were there, if you remember more, forgive my liberty with details. Also, enormous thanks to Marcie Maxwell for allowing the use of some of her fantastic pictures.
To paraphrase a line written by the great JK Rowling, there are some things in life that you can’t experience with someone else without becoming very good friends.
In my case, we were already good friends, but this cemented the deal.
At age 17, I knew a few things to be very true:
1) I was definitely going to find the love of my life in college because high school boys were dumb and didn’t appreciate me.
2) Overalls could only be described as cute and whimsical and never as frumpy.
3) Diette was my best friend and I couldn’t imagine going a week without seeing her.
4) Pacey Witter was the greatest television character of our generation. Maybe the greatest of all time.
I was half right.
When Dawson’s Creek first started airing the second semester of our junior year in high school, I casually mentioned to Diette she might like it. Personally, all I needed to know was that Charlie from The Mighty Ducks was finally getting a well-deserved starring role. As it turned out, Diette did like Dawson and his verbose pals. In fact, I would say that “like” is putting it lightly. Some might call her feelings manic and obsessive. Suffice to say, from the moment that curly-headed Duck shouted to his much older teacher, “I’m the best sex you’ll never have,” we were hooked.
Dawson’s Creek Night soon formed. No matter the athletic practices, student council meetings, or terrifying tests; every Wednesday we gathered in Diette’s living room to gasp and gossip over the fates of the Creek denizens. We started to attract a regular viewing party– you know who you are. I won’t out you, but I have pictures to prove you were there.
By the time the second half of our senior year roared around the corner, Pacey and Andie were locking lips, Jack was close to coming out of the closet, and Joey Potter was horrifying all of us by not choosing Dawson. (How very, very wrong our opinions were.) As our TV friends chose partners and changed partners, those of us in the real world filled out college applications and crossed our fingers. The Creek was a welcome diversion.
The Real World and the Reel World came crashing together during Mardi Gras that year. First– you have to understand that when you grow up in Louisiana, Mardi Gras is not a big smelly, drunk party… necessarily. Most of us went with our families to New Orleans every year since birth. We knew the Disney Channel side of Carnival. That year, Diette and our other friend Cristina joined my family to stay at the home of my mom’s friend in the Crescent City. We did Baachus and Endymion, and my parents showed considerable trust in my prudishness by allowing the three of us to run around the city alone. Sadly, we got up to absolutely nothing bad. We visited a friend and his family in the Quarter, we ate unhealthy things, we posed with mimes… it was all very PG.
The morning of Lundi Gras, my family was preparing to go home when we saw the parade listing for the day: Joshua Jackson would be riding in Harry Connick Jr’s parade, Orpheus. Pacey Witter was in our town, breathing our air. We could see him live and in person if my parents would JUST BE COOL ABOUT IT.
Looking back, I have no idea why they agreed to our batting eyelashes as we asked to stay late that night. Not that my parents were drill sergeants, but they weren’t sneaking my pals alcohol or buying me clothes that showed cleavage or anything. They did, however, agree. I think we promised to drive back to Baton Rouge that night after the parade– another shocking thing my parents approved since my dad still fusses at me when I drive after about 7 PM.
The day passed in a blur. A full day of freedom in the Big Easy with two good friends and the promise of Pacey in our near future. After dark, we raced to line the parade route and found the crowd to be at least 10 people deep. By parade standards, this does not bode well for bead catching. Undaunted, we lingered in the back of the crowd agreeing that we would be satisfied with snapping a picture. In the days before digital photos, we all carried disposable cameras and boatloads of confidence. Screw that bad light! Screw the distance from the parade! We would get a shot worthy of a magazine cover.
His float approached. We tensed, ready to spring. And the float… rolled passed us with a speed generally unheard of in a Mardi Gras parade. That sucker just sailed by while we watched with mouths open and cameras hanging from our unprepared hands. He could have been anyone. He could have been effin’ Dawson Leery and we wouldn’t know the difference.
Don’t worry. The story doesn’t end here. What a horrible birthday story that would be! “Hey, Diette, remember that one time we were going to see Pacey but we didn’t? Happy birthday!”
Luckily, we chose our parade locale well. We set up on a median and the parade would loop around the end of the median and pass us again. We raced across to the other side and waited impatiently as a marching band stumbled by and some brightly lit monstrosity rolled away. This time, we knew what to expect. We stood, cameras ready. And then… a miracle. The parade stopped.
Pacey’s float came to a halt. This happens sometimes during the parade when a band stops to play or a drunk person tries to board a float and the police have to hose them down. Immediately, we all saw the golden opportunity before us. With his float stopped, we had a shot at the brass ring: metallic plastic beads once held by the greatest romantic hero in our young worlds. You can see the appeal, of course.
Our odds didn’t look good. We stood at the back of a vast crowd. He was maybe half a basketball court away from us… maybe a little less. And it’s not like we were the only ones screaming for his attention. The difference? We meant it. Some of the bead whores just wanted beads from a celebrity… any celebrity. They could never appreciate it as much as we could. With the thrust of sincerity behind us, we retreated to the back of the crowd and leaped around. We waved our arms, screamed his name, took turns jumping as if hailing down a plane passing over a deserted island. Diette in particular screamed herself raw and flailed around with the intensity of a cheerleader on crack.
Eventually, he saw us. I like to think that he sensed our true hearts, kind of like the Great Pumpkin. It’s more likely that standing in the back of the crowd made our antics a little more visible since we weren’t drowning in a sea of waving arms. He smiled at us, and let me just tell you if you have ever wondered: a smile from Joshua Jackson really is magic. It’s like puppies wrapped in rainbows. From that far away, we all still melted.
He held up a strand of beads, pointed at us, and we watched the precious package sail through the air and land… in the branches of a tree. You would expect it to end there, but the darling Mr Jackson actually cared about the destination of his gift and tried again. It flew straight toward Diette, almost falling through the air with the grace of Buttercup falling into Westley’s arms at the end of The Princess Bride.
You know that moment in The Sandlot when the kids are trying to get back the Babe Ruth ball from The Beast and they have this catapult that will throw it back over the fence? And they fling it over and you see the ball flying in slow motion and the kids are all lighting up like Christmas trees because they know it’s going to work out and they’re finally going to win? Okay, and then remember how The Beast appears out of no where and swallows the ball whole just before the kids can catch it? This is basically what happened to us with the beads except The Beast was a girl in an enormous sweatshirt.
She leaped like a breaching whale and snatched the beads from the night. She tore off to her friends, cheering and waving her arms. The three of us watched her with mouths agape, our hands held out in the universal gesture for, “WHAT THE EFF?” Desperate, we turned back to the float, and guess who else was looking horrified? Mr Pacey Witter Jackson. He watched the trajectory of that bead and he shared in our rage that someone else would dare steal it from us. I know, right? Pacey is the best!
Third time is the charm. Again echoing the The Sandlot, he pointed to us like Hambino calling his Babe Ruth homer. This time, the prize landed in Diette’s grasping hands without incident. If you know Diette, you’ve probably seen her dance at some point. Imagine her dancing after downing a couple of energy drinks and after LSU scores a touchdown and after someone hands her $1000. That image you have in your mind is about a fifth of the dancing taking place in the dark median that night.
Don’t think Diette forgot about her friends standing empty-handed nearby. Before long, we were communicating by sign language with JJ that we would be needing beads for two more people, and he graciously accommodated us. To this day when people ask me if I have ever met a celebrity, I always have to reply, “kind of.” He didn’t know us, certainly, but we definitely had a bond. There was communication. There was gesturing. There was an exchange of presents. We practically bought a time share with him.
As for our coveted photo, we did cajole our celebrity boyfriend into posing with his hand raised in a wave at us. This involved a particularly extensive game of charades with him, but he did stand atop that float frozen with his hand waving in our direction as we took turns flashing away. We developed those pictures faster than you can say, “Why did Katie break up with him?” You will not be shocked to learn that our late 20th century cameras did not produce quality work. In the all the images, he appeared hazy or miniscule. Not that I don’t still have a copy of the best contender and not that it’s not tucked away in a memory box next to the program from our graduation.
I’ve lost track of that once priceless necklace. At one time, it was draped over a framed picture in my bedroom at home. It may still be there, but it’s just as likely my parents wandered in and snatched it up to add to their yearly Mardi Gras decor.
It’s cool though. I don’t need the picture or the beads. Over ten years later, I still have Diette. She’s still pretty enthusiastic for Pacey. She’s still cheesier than queso. She still lets excitement take over when little bites of happiness appear. She still embraces joy when she sees it and grabs the beads from the air for her friends. She still dances like a fool and she still leads me on adventures that I would usually decline. 17-year-old Maryann would be sad to know that we don’t see each other every month, let alone every week. But I think she would take some comfort in knowing that we’re the kind of friends who can go months apart and then lapse back into a completely easy friendship when we’re near.
So, here I am at the age of 30, and here’s some things I know to be true:
1) College boys are still pretty much interested in the same things as high school boys, they’re just sneakier about it.
2) Overalls do not flatter anyone. Ever.
3) Diette’s one of my best friends and I can’t imagine a life without her.
4) Pacey Witter is the single greatest television character of all time.
Cheers to you, Spaghetti-O. I’d stalk a celebrity with you any day. Or you know, just get ice cream or something.