Farewell, kiddo: Kathryn Hays

The experience of watching a soap opera, following the story, becoming a fan….is one that’s next to impossible to explain to someone who isn’t. Often, the mainstream media coverage focuses on the big splash moments – the weddings, the explosions, the comings and goings – but the plot points are just a place for the thread to stop and make a knot, to weave together that tapestry.

And the particulars of a plot point often aren’t as key to those of us watching as the way the story made us feel.

I’ve been thinking about this since last week, when we learned of the passing of Kathryn Hays from As The World Turns. I’ve written about Hays and Kim Hughes here many times (I’ll link them at the end of this post).

I originally started this blog to express my opinion, and in most cases, I felt that my posts had a solidly objective opinion about my favorite shows, what was working and what wasn’t.

But there are some stories, and some performers, where objectivity was a challenge. Those stories that hit close to home for me really make my little one man Statler and Waldorf grumpfest a challenge.

There have been several times a strictly fictional story became something more to me. Seeing bits of myself on screen with Nola Reardon’s attempts to fantasize and lie her way into the life she’d dreamed for herself. I knew those feelings so well.

Watching Reva Shayne jump off a bridge, feeling defeated from years of fighting, and watching her fight her way back to life made me rethink my own thoughts and struggles when I was a suicidal teenager looking for my own escape.

And then there was Kim and Bob Hughes. I’ve told this story before, but please humor me for a moment.

I love my parents. With maturity and grace, I’ve come to a really lovely place of understanding them both. I am a combination of the best characteristics – and a little of the worst impulses – of both. As a teenager, though, I felt alone in my house – a gay kid that trusted no one – not my siblings (all older with lives of their own) and not my parents.

I was struggling through serious trauma at school, and wasn’t entirely sure I would graduate. My parents couldn’t understand why I wasn’t willing to go to school. I felt ignored and unheard.

At about this time, ATWT was playing out the culmination of months of suspense about Frannie’s doppelganger, and we learned of Sabrina’s existence. Again, I’ve written about this sequence before, and what it meant for the show’s history and in the context of Irna Phillips’ own history with ATWT.

But setting all the radio noise of a particular plot twist or turn aside, what I remember is what I felt. I’m remembering it so vividly that I can see the scene in my head, 35 years later. It’s the scene of parents, especially a mother, who crossed an ocean to look for their child. Kim and Bob loved her on sight and embraced her, literally and figuratively. The symbolism of that just resonated with me.

It probably sounds very weird, but that act of unconditional love and the unabashed display of that love – was what I craved from my own parents.

So much of my joy of the Marland era of ATWT wasn’t about the particular stage markings or plot twists of a story – it was how it made me feel. That was 35 years ago. It seems impossibly far away in some ways – my life is so different now – and yet, the news of Hays’ passing brought those memories back as if it was yesterday.

I’ve said in earlier posts that I used to dream Bob and Kim were my parents. I had to smile when I saw many other people, on various social media sites, say they felt the same about Kim.

Last weekend, I watched an episode of the HBOMax show Julia, one where Julia Child realizes that the TV that brings her into thousands of homes establishes a sort of relationship with the audience where the audience her as a friend, or family.

This was a thought expressed many times at the end of ATWT and GL – we mourned those shows. And while Kim may have been a fictional character….well, let’s just say a few onions were being cut when I heard of her passing. A moment of goodbye for a body of work well done and a life well lived. A farewell to a fictional character who was, literally, a lifesaver for me – honoring that work, and how it made me (and millions of others) feel.

And, as every passing year reminds me, the seasons continue to change in my own life, of course – the threads of my own tapestry, the story that continues to unfurl around me.

Those older blog entries mentioned at the top of this post:

Twilight in Oakdale

Thoroughly Modern Kim

How it’s done: Kathryn Hays

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