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Growing Up With TWILIGHT

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Sarah Smeltzer

Staff Writer

Sarah Smeltzer is a writer and educator in Minneapolis. Born and raised in Minnesota, she recognizes that lakes are the best and spookiest bodies of water around. When she's not teaching, she's usually writing stories, rollerskating, cuddling her dog, or researching medieval women's mysticism.

Twilight took us all by surprise.

B.T. (Before Twilight)

In 2005, I was a thirteen year old girl. My memories of eighth grade are mostly a blur of attempting to execute this role correctly. Each morning, I did my level best to neatly line my eyes with thick black eyeliner (times were tough before beauty guru YouTube was there to guide us). Hoping to land on a voice that sounded right to me, I consciously tested out different intonations of speaking. I loved my friends, but it seemed that when other people looked at me, they saw right through my face to my blood and organs and bone. I felt like the wrong type of girl, like a monster inside my skin.

Just teen girl stuff.

Somewhere in there, as I stomped around my middle school in my green Converse and an ever-present cloud of doom, my friend Haley told me about a book I had to read.

On Knowing My Bright Beating Heart

twilight book coverMy first memory about Twilight is bringing it with me to the laundry room in our basement because I couldn’t bear to stop reading in order to put my clothes in the washer. I held the book in one hand and stuffed the clothes in the machine by handfuls with the other.

My second memory takes place on a day in winter when every neighboring school district had called a snow day except for ours. My mom was able to drop me off at school in the morning, but school buses couldn’t make it through the snow. The very few people who did make it to school on time didn’t justify holding class, so we all just kind of hung out inside the school in the morning.

I pulled my copy of Twilight out of my backpack and sat at a table near my locker to read. The school was quiet. Students and teachers filtered in over the next few hours, shaking the snow off their boots. I barely noticed.

Things I felt as I read and reread Twilight as a 13-year-old: elation, and like my heart could fly. Despair, that none of it was real. Loneliness. Hunger. Desperation to grow up. And, finally, the desire to have someone love me so much that it consumed them.

Being Thirteen is Very Hard

Twilight blended concepts like death and love and devotion and desire in a perfect cocktail, erm, soda beverage, for my 13-year-old brain. Edward watching Bella sleep without her knowing was romantic. It was hot when he pushed her against a car before kissing her to demonstrate how very Strong and Dangerous he was.


To a 13-year-old girl who felt confused and wrong in every way, the idea of someone being dangerously obsessed with me was appealing. I do not know why, and I do not know who to blame.

Bella didn’t find love until she met a vampire, I thought as I graphed slope and intercept equations, and ate chicken nuggets in the cafeteria, and looked in the mirror and sucked in my stomach. Maybe I would find my own monster. Maybe I didn’t belong to the world of humans, either.

Yes, it Really is That Bad

The Twilight saga has a lot to answer for. Here’s an abbreviated list:

  1. Why is every relationship dynamic in this book so abusive and scary?
  2. Why does Meyer write like that?
  3. Did you know that Meyer has never thanked the Quileute Nation for her bastardization of their people, culture, and history?
  4. The vampires are white colonists who have stolen Quileute land. They even have a land treaty dividing their respective territories. This is historically and socially tone deaf. Why doesn’t the story ever investigate this?
  5. Jasper is a literal Confederate soldier. As far as I can tell, this is never adequately addressed in the saga. Does anyone care that he is a violent racist?
  6. I have seen no evidence for Jasper having a moral compass, so I assume that he abuses his power of controlling other people’s emotions. To what effect, and do the people around him realize when he is doing it? Is that why Alice stays with him—because he can make her feel however he wants?

A Fact

I read and reread the saga countless times. I would recognize its font at the end of the world.

The Beginning of the End

I don’t remember when exactly Twilight blew up, but I wasn’t happy about it. No one could understand it the way I could. I lived inside it. I had read the meadow scene so many times I could recite paragraphs.

However, when it exploded, and the criticism came raining down, I realized how very stupid it was, and how very stupid the girls who liked it were.

(Spoiler: the girls weren’t stupid or at fault. They’re just the easiest for everyone to blame.)

Why I Didn’t Stand a Chance

When I first read Twilight, I was a brand new teenage girl trying to understand how desire worked. Who was going to love me? Would I ever love anyone? Why wasn’t I growing up fast enough? Why wasn’t I who I wanted to be yet?

For better or worse, Twilight arrived on the scene with answers to those questions at the exact right time for the fluorescent hormonal pinball machine I had for a brain.

On Loving Twilight

Who can I blame for how Twilight reached out a creepy, cold white vampire hand and touched the tenderest parts of my 13-year-old heart?

I’m of two minds now when I think about Twilight. There will always be a weird dark corner inside me where my younger self still lives and yearns for love, and she holds Twilight against her aching chest as a salve. Though I want her to think more critically about the racism and relationship dynamics in the Twilight saga, I feel affectionate towards that corner in me.

Even now, the series is always good for comedic value (do you remember when Bella wore a floor length khaki skirt to meet Edward’s family as though such a garment was normal? Amazing). Yet, there are aspects of the series that are unforgivable and just kind of sad.

I keep a safe, warm place in my heart for the girl who felt so wrong, impatient, and full of unmet desire. She found a troubling vampire-werewolf romance series to live inside for a while, just until she figured things out, and I’m not going to be the one to tell her she can’t.

If you suffered for your love of Twilight, check out this post for an apology to Bella Swan.

What do you remember from growing up with Twilight?