When Sixth-Graders Write Soap Operas: West Enders Soap Saga

When I was eleven years old, I went to England over the summer to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins. While there, I rode on a train, visited Jane Austen’s grave, and had a comical misunderstanding with my baby cousin over the meaning of the word “pants.” Most importantly–for the purposes of this post, anyway–I watched telly. Specifically, this program:

EastEndersI didn’t really understand EastEnders as a child, and I’ve never since researched what it’s about. In the interest of not breaking my duck, I’m going to give you a summary based on what I’ve managed to pick up through cultural osmosis. EastEnders is a long-running drama about some people who live on London’s East End, which is the seedier part of the city. They have intense, edge-of-your-seat adventures involving murder, revenge, and nearly marrying chavs. There was a guy called Barry on it for a while who got in trouble for saying kids shouldn’t watch EastEnders.

Barry from EastEnders.

Barry from EastEnders.

That’s literally all I know. And it’s a lot more than I knew at the age of 11. Which is why my sixth-grade self’s decision to write my own version of EastEnders is so puzzling.

West Enders Soap SagaWell, I say my own version: in reality, there’s nothing in West Enders that hearkens back to any particular element in the original. I was way too dumb for that.

(And while we’re on the subject–which West End was I talking about, exactly? If it’s the West End of London, well, I believe that’s the theater district–but I never mention any theatrical goings-on. Also, the characters don’t seem to be British. They don’t even seem to live in a city, which tends to obviate the possibility of there being a culturally distinct “West End.” Oh well, I was only eleven.)

I recently dug this comic out of my mom’s storage closet, and let me tell you, it is something else. Actually, I don’t have to tell you–I can just show you!

Part One: Break-Ups and Brain Surgery
We open on a conversation between our main characters, a teenaged couple called Teri and Bill. I don’t know where I got the names. (Possibly they were supposed to be reminiscent of Terry and June, another BBC show I saw, didn’t understand, and decided to reference for no justifiable reason.) Anyway, Teri and Bill immediately break up.

West Enders, pg 1Which is a harsh way to begin any series. But things get worse for our poor heroine when her best friend, Maria, stops by to comfort her.

West Enders, pg 2Impromptu breast examinations aside, that’s a heck of a way to cheer someone up! We later find out that Maria’s brain is destined for the cranium of the President himself, who lost his own brain in a car accident or something.

The next day, Teri drives Maria to the hospital.

West Enders, pg 3Maria’s surgery is conducted in the Emergency Room of HOSPITAL, one of the West End’s finest medical facilities. Advanced technology! Short wait times! Doctors who jump out at you wielding knives! All designed to make your brain-ectomy as quick and painless as possible.

West Enders, pg 4That’s the last we ever see of Maria.

Teri goes home and cries herself to sleep. When she wakes up, her mom has some news for her.

West Enders, pg 5And that’s the end of Part One. I realize we’ve covered a lot of ground in a single issue, but let me assure you: things only get crazier.

Part Two: Bun in the Oven
Teri wakes up in surprisingly high spirits, given all that’s happened to her in the past 24 hours, and gives Bill a call. The two talk about Teri’s hair, then decide to get back together. After Teri hangs up the phone, her father approaches her.

West Enders, pg 6Notice how Teri’s father (whose name is C.T., for some reason) never mentions having been transferred because of his job or anything like that. He just up and moves to Mexico. Maybe he hates Teri’s mother so much that he can’t even stand to be in the same country as her. Or maybe, as we’ll see later, he’s involved with organized crime…

West Enders, pg 7C.T. travels in style on a double-decker airplane, part of the MEXICAN fleet. He’s really excited about it, too.

West Enders, pg 8There’s this peculiar running theme in West Enders–everyone’s on a really tight schedule. The surgeon drags Maria into the operating theater, a flight attendant manhandles Teri’s dad onto the airplane. I guess that was my impression of adult life. Everyone’s got things to do and places to be, damn it!

Anyway, so Teri’s pregnant. Her dad promises to call her when he gets to Mexico. Then we encounter a bit of a time-skip.

West Enders, pg 9The only thing better than the scribbly-ass cupboard I drew to hide my first, inferior drawing of Teri is the idea that Teri waited until her due date to tell her mom that she was pregnant, and Mom apparently didn’t notice anything amiss. Maybe Teri spent nine months lounging around in sweat pants and a giant poncho, I don’t know. Anyway, it’s a good thing Mom is supportive, because here comes baby!

West Enders, pg 10It’s important to note, at this juncture, that I have a really spotty track record with labor scenes. I wrote another teen pregnancy story when I was twelve, which featured a girl lamenting that she had to shove a pot roast out her “anal.” I didn’t really understand birth, is what I’m saying. As this scene from West Enders shows, I apparently thought the doctors made the dad leave as soon as they saw a head.

West Enders, pg 11Teen pregnancy is a fraught, emotionally complex subject. Human beings are biologically pre-programmed to bond with their children–at the same time, people who are still children themselves don’t have the maturity to raise the offspring they love so much. Underage parenthood can wreak havoc on one’s future, delay college plans, and doom one to a low income bracket for the rest of one’s life.

But that’s all really complicated, so I decided to sum the experience up with a single panel and the phrase: “Oh, how great!” Good enough, right?

Part Three: Break-Ins and Boats to Mexico
The next day, Teri and Bill get married. It’s a somewhat truncated affair.

West Enders, pg 12How tragic! They have to use Teri’s college money to make ends meet! All those summers spent working minimum wage jobs at an ice cream stand, squirreling away nickles and dimes for a grand total of…what, a thousand dollars? Two thousand? How much can a teenager earn over the course of their short professional life?

West Enders, pg 13Wow, four 5000-dollar bills. That is pretty remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that the security deposit on an apartment costs $20,000. Maybe they do live in London.

So Teri and Bill snag an apartment, Teri gets a job at a law office, and things are going swimmingly. Then, one night, the young family’s hard-won happiness turns to ashes in their mouths.

West Enders, pg 14“Otta be some good stuff in here!” says the shadowy burglar as he breaks into the apartment of an underage married couple who are probably living below the poverty line. Fortunately, before he can make off with more than a T.V., Teri walks in on him.

West Enders, pg 15Having somehow managed to dive through a closed window without breaking the glass, the burglar falls to his death. Not only is his neck broken, but his right arm and leg have come clear off. Heck of a fall.

The police show up, which is puzzling since no one has called them. They arrest Teri and Bill in connection with the burglar’s death. Man…the American justice system really is broken! Fortunately, Teri thinks on her feet.

West Enders, pg 16After using her one phone call to arrange for an overnight boat to Mexico (which Teri’s dad is able to provide because…he’s a major player in the U.S.-Mexican drug trade?), Teri gives the guard (her mother-in-law, apparently, though it never becomes relevant) a straight shot to the baby-maker, and she and Bill escape.

West Enders, pg 18And that’s the last issue I have, though I remember there was a fourth that I drew in another notebook. The saga concluded with Teri and Bill getting divorced after Bill cheats on Teri with a Mexican woman, and then Bill getting run over by a tank on a military base. So much for happy endings!

By the way, this is the cover of the notebook these comics came out of:

West Enders CoverYou can see that it’s ripped up, but what you can’t quite see are all the words carved into it in black ink. They read: “GO AWAY!”, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”, “DON’T READ!”, and “I’M MAD AT YOU MOM!” This is because my friend Katie and I wrote dirty songs in the notebook, with titles like “When Will the River Come,” “Katie Is a Penis,” and “Bill Clinton Had a Baby (And He Had to Penis-Feed),” and my mom found them. I was really angry with her.

Honestly, though…after re-reading these comics, I feel like the only person I should have been angry with was myself.


4 thoughts on “When Sixth-Graders Write Soap Operas: West Enders Soap Saga

  1. Pingback: Day Job: Five Things I Planned to Do While Waiting to Get Famous | Joanna Lesher

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