Born in the mid 1980s, I have a handful of early television memories. I remember wearing out the VHS tape watching Bambi, begging to rent Lady Lovely Locks from the indie video store my aunt worked at, and Katherine Bell being poisoned on General Hospital some time in 1993. According to my mother who started watching in the heyday of Luke & Laura in 1979, I’ve been watching General Hospital since I was in the womb.
General Hospital is a member of my family. I love this show because it’s been in my life since birth. It’s part of my family tradition. We also have fights and long estrangements, and I often disapprove of the hella poor life choices my family member makes, but you don’t get to pick your family. That’s the magic of soap operas and why the medium refuses to die out. It’s why fans who love the show bitch about it and still watch.
I already had a decent history with General Hospital by the time Rebecca Herbst showed up as spunky spitfire Elizabeth Imogene Webber on August 1, 1997 when I was fourteen years old. I had watched Audrey get brain surgery earlier that summer when Port Charles premiered and had rolled my eyes as Sarah Webber came to town, and for some reason, Lucky Spencer and Nikolas Cassadine feuded over her.
Elizabeth was a troublemaker who never took any shit from anyone. She went after what she wanted. Lied, manipulated people, and even cheated to make people look at her and not her perfect sister. She wanted Lucky and went after him.
I loved Elizabeth Webber from the second she came on screen.
I had watched in a half-hearted manner before that summer — Jonathan Jackson was my first celebrity crush; Jason Morgan and Robin Scorpio were my first OTP. But nothing captured me in my teen-aged years like Elizabeth Webber, and by extension, her relationship with Jonathan’s Lucky. Even though Elizabeth hated the nickname Lizzie, the fans called them LL2 because we saw them as the second coming of Luke and Laura, even before the rape storyline catapulted them into General Hospital history. Though I’ve moved on from my LL2.1 to being a firm Liason fangirl, there’s a special place in my heart for 1997-99 LL2.
For the last twenty years, I’ve watched General Hospital and loved many characters. Patrick Drake. Dillon Quartermaine. Jason Morgan. Carly Corinthos. Georgie Jones. Damien Spinelli. Johnny Zacchara. Nadine Crowell. But no one has ever eclipsed Elizabeth as my favorite character. Her character was about the same age as me, and I always felt like she and I were growing up together.
But as the years passed, I started to think maybe I was only loving Elizabeth because of that nostalgia. I hated the way they made her look when she married Ric Lansing in 2003, and then again later that year. I hated the way they had her lie to Jason about paternity and put up with all of Lucky’s insecurities. I hated the affair with Nikolas. I hated her lie to Jake Doe.
And I loathe Elizabeth’s relationship with Franco. I don’t care what they do to the character or how much I genuinely enjoy Roger Howarth. It doesn’t change anything for me. She’s a rape survivor, and he’s a sexual predator. The tumor argument didn’t work for Manny Ruiz, and I don’t believe it now.
I was starting to feel disconnected from this character who had meant so much to me and starting to wonder if I could continue calling myself a #LizFanFirst as I had somehow been able to do through LL2.2 (Jacob Young) and LL2.3 (Greg Vaughan) and LiRic. And Niz. The Friz relationship seemed to be my breaking point.
And then I took a step back. And I thought about a project I’ve been working on.
I’m writing a story, Mad World, set during the summer of 2003. It’s a rewrite of the panic room and its aftermath. Part of the story has Elizabeth attending therapy session with Gail Baldwin, and I’ve been using Brene Brown’s Rising Strong as a map for the sessions. This book talks about vulnerability and shame, and trying to be kinder to yourself when you’re struggling.
I was rereading a passage I wrote over the summer the other day:
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Somewhere along the way…I decided it was difficult to love me, and that most of the time, people didn’t think I was worth the effort. That’s why…they left. Or forgot me. Or moved on. That I’m high maintenance or something. Or that I just…there’s something inside me that makes it impossible to say forever and mean it.”
I’ve always argued that the core of Elizabeth’s character comes back to her rape. Not because she hasn’t moved on from it in a lot of ways, but that the show has missed the opportunity to talk about that development and how the rape tied in with her back story.
She came to Port Charles after Sarah when her parents went to Europe to work with Doctors Without Borders. She was sent to neighbors. Sarah got to stay with family. She even later tells Jason that her parents gave up a fellowship when her mother got pregnant with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth has felt her parents didn’t think she was worth it.
Elizabeth had to lie and break the rules to get to PC. Everyone looked at her and found her wanting. Even Lucky. After the rape, that really only changed for Lucky. Audrey and Sarah didn’t really adjust their thinking, and it goes without saying that Elizabeth ought to feel some serious abandonment issues with her parents. And then Lucky died. And Jason left. And when Lucky came back, she clung to him even when she knew she didn’t love him.
And she walked away from Jason, but stayed with Ric. Fought for Ric. Fought for Lucky. She never fought as hard for Jason as she did for Ric or Lucky. Or now as she defends Franco. She didn’t fight for Nikolas or AJ either in those relationships. But Ric, Lucky, and Franco? Arguably her most self-destructive romantic choices in the last fifteen years? Elizabeth continually gave them second chances. Continually believed their lies and manipulations.
Even now, her instincts should be telling her not to trust Franco. That if she thought about it, he’s been telling half-truths about the twin situation for months. But she continues to champion him.
Is that love?
No. For Franco, it’s a toxic outgrowth of his sociopathy.
I don’t think Elizabeth knows what love is. She measures it by the people who want to stay.
Gail hesitated and then set her notepad aside. “Words have a power. Saying something gives it life. You can’t deal with something until you’ve made it real. And to be honest, Elizabeth, this is what we’ve been working towards for the last six weeks.”
“Yeah?” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Yeah, okay, I guess that makes sense. I made so many choices out of fear of being alone, but I guess…I never thought about why I didn’t want to be alone. Why was I so desperate for Lucky to love me? For Jason to put me first? For Ric to give up his vendetta against Sonny? Why would I have…ignored all my instincts and stay when my feelings weren’t there? I agreed to marry Lucky and Ric and I didn’t really love either of them.” She rolled her shoulders. “And I did it because they were going to stay. And God, I guess that was…I guess I was measuring love by whether someone stuck.”
She looked out the window. “I should have found another way to measure it, I guess. It should be more than someone who doesn’t go away.”
My Elizabeth figured this out in 2003. Unfortunately, the real Elizabeth is still measuring love by the people who stay in 2017.
Let’s hope 2018 brings her something different.
Along with an assload of therapy.