(contains spoilers for Revolutionary Girl Utena)
It’s a coffeeshop not too far from my apartment. They have tables, but they’re all full, and I’m here alone anyway, so I’m sitting in a tall chair at a bar against the wall. My laptop’s out, but I’ve got nothing to do at the moment, so I’m alternately clicking through Facebook and watching the customers go in and out.
And then a woman with pink hair catches my eye. She’s probably around my age, maybe a few years older. (But I know I’m bad at guessing ages.) Her black track jacket gives her a trim, in-charge look, and I could swear I recognize her from somewhere—
“You’re Utena Tenjou,” I blurt.
She turns, looking a bit surprised and a bit resigned. Half the coffeeshop looks over as well, but most of them are just staring at me. They don’t recognize this celebrity from 20 years ago.
I blush and duck my head in Ms. Tenjou’s direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Don’t worry about it,” she says easily, and I’m struck by how much it fits her public persona (candid, forthright). “I got used to it years ago.” She looks back at the counter and I realize she’s waiting for her order—or perhaps her girlfriend’s here too. (Wife? Can’t remember if they actually got married.)
“What’s your name?” Tenjou asks, and I feel myself blush again at this brush with celebrity.
“Oh, I’m Jordan,” I say. “Jordan Rose.” For once the dictionary meaning of my name doesn’t even occur to me until Tenjou smiles.
She doesn’t comment on it, though. “Nice to meet you, Jordan.”
I don’t really know what to say. Like so many other people, I watched the story of Tenjou’s childhood, her time in the surreal private school where it turned out the vice chairman was playing sick games with the students. It was fictionalized, of course, and they only aired the story after she and Anthy Himemiya escaped from the school and the place got shut down. The real Utena Tenjou was probably closer to 40, even in though when she played herself in the show in the late 90s the character was only 14.
(The first time I heard the story behind the show, I thought about how awful it would be to re-enact your abuse like that, but in all the interviews—well, the few I read anyway—Tenjou always said that it helped her reclaim her autonomy and get more of an outside perspective on what had happened.)
Tenjou is still looking at me, and so I decide I have to say something. “I know it’s nothing you haven’t heard a million times, but,”—I’m stumbling over my words here, like always when talking to celebrities or musicians or whoever—“what you went through, sharing your story…it’s really inspiring. I mean, not that I’ve had anything like that happen to me, but some of my friends…” I shut up and wave my hand helplessly.
She smiles politely. “I’m glad to hear it,” she replies. “The fewer people have to go through what we did, the better.” Of course, she has heard this a million times, so she’s had the chance to practice that kind of answer.
“Do you have any advice to offer?” I ask. “I mean, about life. In general.”
The question doesn’t exactly make sense. Tenjou frowns. “I guess it’s…” She stops, rephrasing her answer. “It’s okay to have ideals and goals and all that, but don’t let it get in the way of real connections with people. That’s what really matters.”
I can’t help smiling at that. In the moment, I understand exactly what she means, and she’s right.
Tenjou turns, and I see a darker-skinned purple-haired woman wearing a light green sundress and cardigan step up behind her holding two to-go cups. She hands one to Tenjou.
“Ah, thank you, Himemiya,” Tenjou says. “I was just talking to Jordan here. He recognized me.” She gestures in my direction, and the detail-oriented part of my brain notices that she’s wearing a simple gold ring, not the infamous rose signet from the TV show, and that she still calls her girlfriend/wife/whatever Himemiya rather than Anthy.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Himemiya,” I say, ducking my head courteously once again.
“Likewise,” Himemiya says, giving me a polite smile for a few moments. To Tenjou, “Shall we go?”
“Uh—!” I interrupt. Both of them turn to look at me. “Can I get a picture with you two?” Again with the blushing, I think, giving myself a mental eye-roll.
“I’m sorry,” says Himemiya, at the same time as Tenjou says “Sure”. They look at each other, amused and comfortable despite contradicting each other, and I’m amused too even though I’m not exactly sure why.
Tenjou lowers her head a little, understanding something. “Right, we do have some history with photographs,” she says to Himemiya, as if it were a private joke. (I didn’t remember this from any of the interviews, but I did become a fan rather late.) “All right, maybe you can take the picture, then?”
Himemiya relaxes slightly, or perhaps she’s putting a polite face back on. “Sure,” she assents, and turns to me. “Do you have a camera?”
“Just my phone,” I say, feeling like I’m not measuring up. Then I remember that most people use their phones for cameras these days, and the chagrin turns to annoyance. But just for a moment.
“It’s dark in here,” Tenjou notes. “Why don’t we take it outside?”
“Sure,” I say, and then turn to the person next to me. “Would you mind watching my stuff for a moment?”
They take their headphones out—AirPods. “What?”
“Can you watch my stuff?” I repeat.
“Oh, sure,” they say, already turning back to their own laptop. There’s a fleeting sense of worry, since no one really pays that much attention when you ask them to watch your things, but it should be okay.
Tenjou and Himemiya are already standing by the door, looking back at me. I hurriedly go over to join them, pulling out my phone and swiping it into camera mode.
We stand in front of the coffeeshop, and I hand the phone to Himemiya. Tenjou puts her arm up around my shoulder with the longstanding ease of someone who’s been taking photos with fans forever, and I smile embarrassedly. (She’s not short for a woman, but that’s still half a foot shorter than me.)
“Ready?” says Himemiya, and we both look at the phone. “One, two, three, cheeeeeese.”
We hold the pose for a moment, and then Himemiya lowers the phone and walks over to return it. “Thank you,” I say.
“You’re welcome,” Himemiya answers with the same polite smile, and there’s a hint of formality and elegance in the phrasing that I wouldn’t have expected from a non-native speaker, wouldn’t have expected a non-native speaker to be able to pull off.
“Anyway, we’ve got to get going,” interjects Tenjou. “It was nice meeting you, Jordan.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Tenjou, Ms. Himemiya,” I reply, holding my phone with both hands. I can’t wait to message ______ about this…!
Tenjou laughs. “Please, ‘Utena’ is fine.” (Himemiya smiles but says nothing.) “Maybe we’ll run into you again someday. Until then.” She grins at me and puts an arm around Himemiya’s waist. Himemiya leans into her slightly and they start to go as I smile back. I feel like I should say something else as a goodbye, but I already said “nice to meet you”, and nothing else seems appropriate, and then it’s too late; they’re already several steps away. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter.
I step back inside the cafe and blink, trying to get my eyes to adjust faster to the inside lighting. “Thanks,” I say to the person who was “watching” my laptop.
“What? Oh,” they respond, and nod.
I still have the phone out. As if the picture might disappear, the first thing I do is AirDrop it to my computer, and then the next is open up my Facebook messages, scroll to the right person—
This is fanfiction, and on top of that it’s self-insert fanfiction (of a sort), and years of, I don’t know, vague cultural impressions have taught me that that’s one of the lowest forms of self-indulgence. That makes me reluctant to share it, and even a little ashamed of having spent an hour or so to write it this afternoon. And maybe I wouldn’t have shared it if it weren’t for this Twitter thread I recently saw about fanfiction:
All right, y'all: we're going to take a moment to talk about my last retweet. Specifically Sarah saying "Every time I talk about writing fanfiction, I get hatemail." I am not tagging her in because I don't want to dogpile her mentions.— Seanan McGuire (@seananmcguire) March 28, 2018
Buckle in. It's going to be long one.
(click through and read it. or don’t? I can’t make you, I guess.)
There’s certainly a point that maybe no one wants to read this piece, a self-indulgent story that requires not only understanding the original characters but knowing me as well. But why should I be ashamed to write it? Or even to share it? Fanfiction, like everything else, is full of good and bad writing, and I’m pretty sure a large chunk of its poor reputation comes from the bad writing being way easier to find than bad original writing.
I haven’t quite been able to pin this all down, and so I’m posting this on my site anyway, almost out of spite. And I refuse to be embarrassed if a coworker finds it, or a friend, or even someone random from Twitter who follows me.
Oh, and the idea itself: it popped up in my brain a few nights ago, and I was pretty sure it would work. And I think it did? The piece doesn’t exactly do anything, but it still feels like it has some small bit of meaning.
P.S. This is not in the same continuity as Memoirs of a Student. And yes, I intend to keep writing that one.