I was a high school junior the first time I saw an episode of One Tree Hill, a few days after a girl had walked past me during study hall and said I was “kind of like Lucas Scott.” I had no idea what this meant, thinking maybe she was riffing something on my first name, and she had to explain to me that he was a character on a television show who liked reading and basketball.
This is how uncommon reading for pleasure is where I come from. It’s a thing of note. My friend just told me she’s writing a newspaper article on a guy simply because he’s read every Pulitzer fiction winner. So if you’re a teenage boy who’s got sweatpants on and an unassigned book in your hands, then you immediately resemble some melodramatic television character with a soul patch instead of just a normal person who digs what I feel is a pretty normal pastime. Nobody back home said you were like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Signs just because you liked baseball and lived on a farm. I actually had a math teacher ask me once why I was reading a book during study hall, as if it was something atypical to be doing while you were in an institution of learning. I felt like a nerdy Ren McCormack because I was getting my Chabon on instead of playing paper football or seeing who would murmur “penis” the loudest (though I did occasionally participate in “The Penis Game”).
My surroundings made me feel much more literary than I really am, as you will see.
I found out Lucas Scott was played by Chad Michael Murray, who I knew of because of the movie A Cinderella Story. I had seen it with a girlfriend when it was in theaters a year or so before. Say what you want about that film, but the slow dance scene where Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” plays in the background is pure, loin-stirring emotional fire.
I decided to watch a random episode the next week, and had absolutely no clue what was going on. I sought the counsel of my younger sister, an aficionado at the time on most things CW-related. I’d been left behind when it was still the WB, during Dawson’s Creek‘s glory days and the beginnings of Smallville. (I will still sometimes get drunk and wax nostalgic by watching a YouTube clip of the final scene from the pilot episode of Smallville. Lifehouse plays in the background, man. Lifehouse.) My sister had the first and second seasons, which she retrieved from the annals of her lady cave and lent to me.
I watched about three-fourths of the first season and stopped. I just couldn’t get into it. The OC had set a high bar for teenage programming, and I stuck with that. I wished girls would compare me to Seth Cohen and not Luke Scott, because Cohen was awesome in every way.
The next year we had to pick a poem to recite out loud in English class. It was a toss-up for me between Percy Shelley’s “To a Skylark” and one I remembered hearing somewhere about making fate your bitch and captaining your soul or something like that. I Googled “captain and soul,” and an entry for William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” came up. It quickly became my favorite – beating out Shel Silverstein’s “Magic” by a slim margin – and I recited it. Because it was much shorter than the Shelley selection.
I latched on to “Invictus.” I think it was the inaugural entry into the “Favorite Quotations” category when I created my Facebook profile, thinking it would illustrate my bookishness and make me seem deep. This was 2006, back when you could still select random play as what you were “Looking For.” Simpler times, right?
One day during freshman year, I decided I’d go get a tattoo with my friend since we were old enough and could do so without parental permission. I got “Invictus” tattooed in tiny Lucinda Calligraphy font on the inside of my left wrist. I chose the word because I genuinely like the poem and thought it’d be just super edgy to have something literary embossed on my body. (I didn’t know better at the time, due to my rural upbringing.) I chose the font because in the 15 minutes of research we’d done it seemed to be the coolest font Microsoft Word had to offer for that particular word.
Since then, countless people have asked me what my tattoo means. I used to tell them it’s the Latin word for “unconquered,” the name of my favorite poem, and that no, I do not know what I refuse to be conquered by, exactly. Also: No, it is not because I am a huge fan of Matt Damon or rugby. If I was going to ink an homage to Damon, I’d get “Do you like apples?” tattooed on one bicep and “How do you like them apples?” on the other.
I’ve since added, “I got the idea from One Tree Hill,” which is kind of true, to that explanation.
One day I walked into my friends’ dorm room, and they were watching an episode. They’d been marathoning it instead of going to class (which is funny and depressing at the same time because they both make more than twice what I do right now). Episode six of season three, to be precise. During the final scene, Lucas Scott is running a suicide sprint, and Chad Michael Murray is reciting “Invictus” in a voiceover. I realized this was the first episode of the show I’d seen when I was 16 years old, and that it had been where I’d first hear “Invictus.”
When I share this story with people, they usually laugh and call me an idiot, which I understand. I’d react the same way. Good thing they won’t be able to see my next tattoo so easily. It’s going to be a long-term gift for the woman who raised me. For Mother’s Day, I’m planning on getting an M inked on each ass cheek, so when I bend over it says “MoM” and when I do handstands it says “WoW.”