It happens once in awhile where you encounter a movie or a film that just speaks to you. Recently I’ve had a few that really just pop out to me and leave me begging for more or with a pit in my stomach and the need to binge watch. Today I watched a series through from Episode 1 to Episode 8 without interruption twice through. I just needed to see it again and upon second watch it made me think about something.

You might be wondering what sort of series could have such an impact. Well it could be any number of the fantastic series that have been produced in the last few years. Bridgerton is like a drug that keeps on giving, with the family drama of ancient times that just gives and gives and gives. Merlí, a series about a philosophy professor in Catalonia and the subsequent spin-off Merlï Sapere Aude in which a main character of the original series follows in his inspired teachers footsteps. And then there is the chillingly disturbing series Anatomy of a Scandal which caught me staying up way too late on a Sunday night. David E. Kelly strikes again, I said upon reading the credits. No, dear reader, these are not the series that haunt me in the most positive of ways; this one is more and more inspiring, and unsurprisingly a Netflix series (and let’s be honest, they are all just of a greatly high quality).

And so enters the connection to bowling, and I know you were thinking that this title is random, but let’s be honest, if you know me then you’ll know how randomly tangential I actually am. I was watching this casually charming series, Heartstopper, which the Netflix analytics put right to the top of my queue, and boy does it know me. This adorable coming of age series about 15-16 year olds harkens on a time innocent and organic affection and how it grows in the otherwise high-tech world of Tinder and such dating apps. In one of the episodes, the protagonist Charlie is turning 15 and invites his friends to go bowling, and he invites his form classmate with whom he’s developed a rather intimate friendship and vague “it’s complicated” relationship status. In walks the rugby lad Nick with a little birthday present in tow, and my jaw just drops.

It was the spring of 2016 and I was living in China, and at this point had been seeing someone since October of the previous year. Unspoken expectations, awkwardness all around, but it just was such a familiar situation. A bunch of my teacher friends decided they wanted to escape from the village and come into the city to do some bowling. As always I said yes to social events but texted my friends that I’d be bringing the person to whom I’d been referring to as the “asshole non-boyfriend,” herein referred to as ANS. I could go deeper into that background and why there was this designation, but for the moment that’s enough context.

It was the first time that I was merging two worlds together and I didn’t know what to expect. I talked to friends about people before, but somehow it was always just conceptual and not actually physical, and then suddenly I’m placing myself in a situation that reminded of my family’s Christmas gatherings where girlfriends and boyfriends of cousins were thrust into exuberantly positive family setting, overwhelming and off the deep-end for the non-related one because it was always a lot of people and just… a lot. My friends were a bit weary about this, and so ANB shows up and I introduce everyone, and we bowl. We have fun and everyone is enjoying themselves; my friends are chatting ANB up and all acting bewildered about the nickname. There was an unspoken awkwardness that sort of melted away and it was the first and one of the only few times where I felt like we were together, in some way. It just worked, and felt natural, and yet so complicated due to underlining circumstances. This moment just was so interestingly and curiously captured in this episode of Heartstopper: an unspoken connection.

ANB Taking an Artistic Approach to Bowling

This friends with whom I spent some time in China might remember this evening differently from me, but this video is a moment captured it in time, and the subsequent photo captures the hours after bowling during which strange conversations and ridiculous self-hatred was revealed, and even more stuff that just boggled my mind even more.

And so you might wonder about why this is a tangled web? A few days after this my friends were grilling me about why I was so harsh about this person and why I called them what I did. I tried to explain myself, but I just couldn’t articulate the feeling. I mean, I wasn’t being treated very well by them, but at the same time I didn’t really care because the whole situation was just getting me out of my village and meeting people and spending time doing fun things, but then also I knew that I’d be leaving China. So for me it was just a fleeting throw my hands up in the air situation (clearly not one in which I’d normally find myself).

Subsequent dinner

The true web was in the dinner that followed and on the taxi ride home to the village. ANB got a call from the otherwise unspoken about boyfriend. While I was slightly annoyed having listened to the complex nature of this on-again-off-again situation, I just rolled my eyes at the situation. I wasn’t until the phone call ended that I got a taste of sweet sweet juicy karma. ANB was gobsmacked that the partner disclosed that they had just admitted having an affair with a woman. I honestly just remember laughing because it was just perfect karma. I was asked why I was laughing, and I just said, “Well now you know how it feels like to be led on by someone and treated like shit,” which clearly never occurred to ANB beforehand. They had no idea how toolish they had been, and never thought that they would be treated the same way. It was a moment of true revelation for me, it just felt right and while I don’t revel in the derision of others, it was just perfect.

And that’s how heartstopping moments, tangled webs, and bowling are all related. I guess in truth the heartstopper moments came in the months that followed, but watching this series was just a trigger for this reflection. Parallels with the series were quite obvious, except for the mutual affection the characters shared, hence ANB being given a nickname. But I’ll never forget that feeling of eerie bliss at the bowling alley in Zhenjiang, and the sordid self-hate drama that would follow (at least not on my side). In truth, this situation helped me get through the otherwise mundane village life and the last weeks and months of my time in China. I suppose every time I go to a bowling alley I will reminded of this situation, and how people can show completely different sides of themselves when placed in unexpected situations.