With the release of the second season of Stranger Things, I lost a good chunk of that following weekend to its stunning beauty. It was just as good as the first season, if not better. Binging it over the course of four days was really the only correct option, right? I mean, clearly.
The second season offered a much deeper sense of emotional connection to the characters, which was perfectly timed, after taking the time to get to know their back stories in the first season. I caught myself crying a few times in the second season because the emotions of each character got so raw, unfiltered, and left an impact on me that I’m still feeling while writing this. I cried for characters I didn’t think I’d ever cry for, and fell in love with characters I thought could never be redeemable (god dammit, Steve Harrington.) However, because of the current state of my life, I ended up connecting with a character I never thought would so profoundly grip my heart and squeeze it so tight, that it would leave impressions on it for a lifetime.
Joyce Byers is that character.
I loved Joyce after the first season, of course. She’s a mother who’s doing all she can (and more) to convince an entire town that her son is alive and needs to be brought home. Her dedication to her son, and her bravery against the horrors of an alternate dimension to save him won my heart, and undoubtedly, the hearts of many other viewers. It wasn’t until the second season, however, that I felt such an emotional impact from her relationship with her kids. This season offered so much in the realm of how she interacts with both Will and Jonathan, and as we saw more and more of that throughout the season, it became more and more evident that Joyce Byers and my mother were basically the same person. I’m still feeling the impact of this realization, and it’s making me hold back tears while I’m writing this.
My mom passed away just on Wednesday, October 27th of this year, after an 8-year long battle with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She was the strongest woman I’ll ever know, without a doubt. She was a single mother through most of her time raising both my older brother and I, worked full-time, and still managed to give all of the emotional availability I would expect from someone who wasn’t as overwhelmed as she had to have been. I didn’t really realize it until I got older, but I was basically living with a superhero; she could save the world and still be home in time to tuck me in. Even after her cancer got to the point where she needed chemotherapy, she still wanted to do it all. She still wanted to be there for my brother and I, and be there for anyone who needed her, even if it would mean tiring her body out beyond what it could handle. She was incredible, and I loved her very much; I still do. (Maybe writing this on airplane wasn’t the best idea. Crying in front of strangers is cool!)
As I was watching the second season of Stranger Things, which happened to come out so shortly after she passed, the scenes with Joyce started to bring back memories of my mom. Joyce fiercely defended Will, almost suffocating him with her protection, which happened to be exactly how my mom was when I was his age. When Will was in danger, or she felt the professionals in charge of helping him weren’t doing their job right, she would take it upon herself to make sure they knew they needed to step it up. She made the tough choices to protect her child, though sometimes with hesitation, because her sympathetic heart constantly reminds her that the tough choices can still be harmful. She knew when things would be too tough on her own, and was aware enough to accept help where she needed it, though she’d most likely rather do it herself. She may not have always understood her children, but it doesn’t mean that she never tried, and it doesn’t mean that she would ever stop supporting them. She loved them, and even demo-gorgons from a twisted alternate dimension were no match for how much she loved her kids.
My mom was Joyce Byers; Joyce Byers is the mother we’d all want on our side.
I keep trying to find symbolism in my life after she passed away — little signs that she might still be looking after me. It’s not that I’m lost without her, but I guess with how detached she became from her situation after she started hospice, I never truly felt that I had a moment to tell her that I would be okay after she passed (not that that would stop her from worrying, anyway.) Our cat, Smokey, willing to lay in my lap more than he used to, my random impulses to clean when I know I should be productive, but would rather be lazy and watch more shows on Netflix, and suddenly becoming hyper-focused on all of the little things she did to turn her house into a home. So with all of these signals she could be sending, I’m not at all surprised that I’d still find traces of her in the parts of my life that I enjoy most. Though it hurt to see a mother like Joyce fiercely fight for her kids, paired with knowing that the figure in my life who always did the same for me is gone, the feeling ultimately refined itself into joy. She’s still with me; she always will be.
What makes Stranger Things such a brilliant masterpiece is the sense of nostalgia it elicits from its audience, and the reliability of each character’s experiences. The horrors of the upside-down, the psychological powers, and the ultra-geeky DnD references are all great, but this season’s ability to reach right into your heart and pull out every feeling across the spectrum is unlike anything I’ve seen from a story in this genre. Most of us can relate to being in a relationship that feels like “bullshit” (can I just say that that moment of Nancy’s was kind of brilliant?) Most of us can relate to feeling like we don’t belong where we’re told to stay. Most of us can relate to having a parent who reaches far beyond what you think is possible just to make sure you’re safe, even if it might feel like they’re nagging, or being a “fun killer.”
I know I’m not the only one who could have felt such a profound connection to Joyce, and that’s what makes her such an strong character. Most mothers are Joyce Byers to a tee, even if we don’t always see them that way. Most mothers would risk their lives the way Joyce did for the sake of her their kids, and most would do it without a second thought about how it would affect their own self. Most mothers would rock the boat to the point of it flipping over in an effort to advocate for their child. Most mothers would put themselves through literal Hell if it meant their child would be safe.
Most of us have mothers like Joyce, and most of those mothers have mothers like Joyce. That’s what makes her such a powerful character to see, as she goes through the worst struggle of her life to save her son.
Though it’s unlikely that you’ll read this: thank you, Duffer Brothers. Thank you for this absolute wonder of a show. What I once thought was just an incredibly well-written sci-fi plot with unique characters turned into a show that left a permanent impact on me. It allowed me to connect to a story in a way I never thought I could, and that’s the best thing you could give to someone who wants to write stories as well as you two can.