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We Are Who We Are: A Reflection on 'Hurt', Friendship, and the Enduring Power of Self

Once upon a time, I knew a kid named Sam. We were friends. And then we weren’t. 

I’m not sure when it happened or why. I just know one day I became aware of a distance between us. He didn’t invite me to his birthday party. He turned away to Matthew when we were in the middle of a conversation. Yet when I tried to speak to him about it, he fervently denied anything was different. I was being needy. I wanted more than he could give, he claimed.

He looked at me with pity when I stopped sitting with him at lunch. “Craig…” he said, when he first attempted to acknowledge the rift. “What are you doing?”

What am I doing? I don’t know. 

In the very first episode of ‘Hurt’, my personal-as-Hell, weird-as-anything, webseries about mental illness, there’s a conversation between Stone, the protagonist who is essentially me, and Fin, the imaginary best friend I’d concocted to give the story some more depth. “There’s an infinity out there,” says Fin. “And we are who we are.” This simple thesis means very different things to the two suicidal main characters– For Stone/Craig, it is a life sentence, a nightmare. We are trapped on the paths we’re on, with no chance at deviance, with no hope of alternative endings. For Fin/Craig, it is a blessing. We are who we are. Out of everything we could’ve been, this is the you-that-you-are. 

As ‘Hurt’ evolves, the idea of possibility gets played with more and more. In Season 2, he meets Griff, an imagined coworker at the liquor store Stone works at (written and created before I began working at Pine Orchard, a real liquor store). Stone finds in Griff an echo of his relationship with Fin, but while Stone and Fin made each other better through their bond, Stone and Griff push each other to the brink through their friendship. “I’m not Griff,” Stone essentially admits in 2x03. “I wish I was. It would be easier that way.” Once more, Stone cannot escape the path he’s on.

In Season 3, the attempts to escape get more literal and visceral. Stone, stripped of his relationship with Fin due to Alvin Edwards III’s amicable departure from the series, journeys through a series of alternate genres for his life, each resetting back to the original timeline despite Stone’s best efforts. This culminates in a time travel episode where Stone revisits his friendship with Ted, a transparent stand-in for Sam, and tries both remaining friends with him and standing up to him. Both possibilities end in dramatically unhappy timelines. Stone is forced to retreat back to the sequence of events he knows so well… not because it's the best of all worlds, but because it is the only world he’s got. What does it say about Stone that his happy ending lies in accepting his path for all of its pain? Is this a victory? Or simply a return to the only option he has?

When I was crafting Season 3 of Hurt, I knew there was a very simple set of rules Stone and Ted’s friendship had to play by. The most important one was this: Stone is not depressed BECAUSE of what happened between him and Ted. Stone is different. He always has been, and he always will be. And that is what causes him to fall out with the normal-obsessed Ted. Stone is depressed because he is different, and the end of his friendship with Ted is just a symptom of that.

Stone can’t escape the choices he made, because they were the only choices he could’ve made with the tools in his toolbelt. He is a gay, autistic, man of color… but most importantly, he is not anybody else. He is who he is. 

But what does that mean?

I have a quote I love from a comic I adore, Loki: Agent of Asgard. “Let’s be something new.” What’s interesting about this is that it’s not impossible, or too late, for Stone or Craig or anyone else to reinvent themselves, so long as they accept that there are limits to reinvention. I can be any number of Craigs, but I have to be Craig. I can be something new, but that something will always carry the burden and the blessings of my choices and personality. Because it is a burden. And it is a blessing.

It’s unfair of me to talk about Sam and not talk about the friends I’ve had who have accepted me, and all the different versions of me, wholly and without judgment. Each of them have given me the opportunity to explore and question my sense of self. I’d especially like to talk about the “Alexander Variants”... Lexxi, Alex, and Zander, who I met in high school, college, and at Pine Orchard, respectively.

Lexxi met me in high school. My first impression of her in French class was that she was terrifying. I think she’d been wearing a black leather (pleather?) jacket, and had a deadpan expression when faced with the characteristically severe Madame Walk. But we were paired together the next year, when the tips of her hair were green, and I learned more about her… her name was spelled with two X’s, she was a twin, and she was a very good person. The rest of it is a bit muddy… it was high school after all… but Lexxi encouraged me and supported me as I tried ice hockey, and ultimately stood by me when my teammates/”friends” turned out to be, occasionally, a little shitty. I learned around this time that I’d still be the odd one out even in a team-based environment like ice hockey. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, Nick would still give me shit for drinking out of a straw and Evan and Cindy would laugh.

Alex met me in college. My first impression of him was that he was completely different from me. I’ve written about my friendship with Alex in depth before, so I don’t need to go into too much detail, but Alex was always driven and always supportive. He pushed me in a lot of senses, but also recognized when I just needed support. In college, I was working overtime to try to prove I belonged in rugby (a group that meant well but by and large was not a good fit for me) and Alex was the sane presence I needed to keep me grounded.

I graduated Bates, came home, and subsequently and anticlimactically found myself working at Pine Orchard Liquors, where I met Zander. Zander is a private person, so I’m not trying to put him on blast or anything, but he has this intensely likable quality that can be aggravating for him because he is not a people person but people love him. I was no exception. And somehow, accidentally, I became friends with him. Zander and my other coworkers are interesting because, on paper, they had a lot in common with my high school hockey team, who teased me mercilessly, but the difference was that most of them just didn’t give a shit, in stark contrast to my “Everything and everyone matters” ethos that prompted me to be aggressively nice to all of them. This isn’t to say they were mean… they were all quite nice, but we aren’t teammates, and we mostly aren’t friends. We’re coworkers, something I’m still getting the hang of. So with the Pine Orchard guys, it can be kind of interesting, because I’m not trying to be like them or make them like me (anymore…) but they do challenge my worldview sometimes. That could be a whole different essay. But: RE: paths:

I had an interesting half-conversation with Zander once where we both agreed that we’d probably be better off if we had taken different paths even if that meant we’d never met. Because that’s a piece of the puzzle I’m trying to explain… everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Things aren’t “meant to be”. We’re trapped on the path we’re on in the sense that we are who we are, but we also have some flexibility in how we travel the path. I don’t have to slog forward if I don’t want to. I can stop, smell the flowers. Skip. Crawl. Cry.

The only place I can never go is back. 

So we have Sam, we have Hurt, we have the Alexander Variants, and they’re all pieces of this explanation I’m trying to give, not just to you, but also to myself. It’s like Griff said in the 2023 Hurt special… “You are who you are but who you are, what you are, is pretty damn big.”

I have choices, even if they’re not the ones I want. I can’t be someone else, but I can learn to be the best Craig I can be. Maybe that’s the real message of Hurt. Play within the space you’re given, with the tools you’re given, but get creative. Surprise people, and yourself. You’re what people think but you’re also so much more.

If I could go back to 2014, if I could sit with Sam at that lunch table one last time and see him crack that smile, I know what I would say. He’d ask “Craig, what are you doing?”

And I’d say, in response: “Whatever I want.”

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