When “One Tree Hill” premiered on The WB on September 23, 2003, I was a 16-year-old high school senior. I watched it because “Dawson’s Creek” was off the air and I had nothing better to do once I’d finished my physics homework.
It was almost 8 years later to the day that I, a real live adult, visited the set of the show to conduct interviews with the cast and observe while they filmed one of the final episodes of the series.
I sat behind the camera on set at Karen’s Cafe, watching Sophia Bush‘s effortless transformation into Brooke Davis, as directed by Greg Prange. The scene wasn’t sad or even particularly poignant — she was flirting with her husband before he spotted something on the street and rushed outside. It was practically filler. But I blinked back tears anyway, because in that moment I felt instantly connected to my 16-year-old self, and, simultaneously, uncomfortably far away from her. It hit me that in a few months, I’d say a last goodbye to a childhood friend.
When Brooke made her first appearance in the second episode of “One Tree Hill,” she could have easily been written off as a brainless, slutty cheerleader. Initially, she was — her best friend labeled her as shallow, her parents nurtured her with their wallets. Boys pitied her as she propositioned them, naked in locker room showers and backseats.
At the time, I couldn’t have told you why I related to Brooke. At 16, I wasn’t promiscuous — I wasn’t even brave. I kept up a solid B+ in honors and AP classes, kept the bench warm for my teammates, and when my parents were out of town, I always volunteered to host parties, because that way, I knew I’d be invited. My journals from senior year alternate between wondering if people didn’t like me, then wondering why they did like me, back and forth.
Somehow, though, in Brooke, I found a fictional comrade onto whom I could easily project all of my problems and heartache and self-indulgent teen angst. In a Season 4 episode, Brooke confesses to a friend that she lied to him. “
And there it was. For all of her brash, naked-in-the-backseat bravado, Brooke was a girl who frequently fell short of who she wanted to be. People had low expectations for her, and often they were wrong, but sometimes they were right. She had her heart broken, repeatedly, by people she trusted, and she forgave them, disarmed and unprepared for the next painful twist of the knife. She made bad choices and suffered consequences.
Not to mention — on a show that revolved around romance, Brooke was the only lead character who didn’t meet the love of her life in high school.
The four-year time jump after high school graduation found Brooke as a fashion designer, the face of her own brand. She had, for all intents and purposes, succeeded in achieving the goals that she’d set for herself as a kid. Again and again, her downfall lay in trusting people who ultimately let her down. Her empire crumbled when she entrusted it to her mother. A foster daughter walked away from her with barely a glance over her shoulder. Her best friend didn’t show up for her wedding. The baby she planned to adopt was taken away.
Brooke is, in many ways, still that high school girl she was. She’s still got the fierce conviction that made her a loyal friend, but now she’s got the wherewithal to be loyal to herself first. This season, after some soul searching, she took a stand against a man who assaulted her years ago. She opened herself up to forgiving him, found that she couldn’t, and ultimately, she was right to have prioritized her own safety over her instinct for compassion.
On the other hand, she trusted her absentee father to help her cultivate a passion project. In the end, he prioritized money over her, and she was furious — duped, again. The following week, she had again forgiven him his transgressions, again sought his approval.
Whether or not she was right to give him another chance is irrelevant. What’s important is that, through 15 years of heartache, Brooke has yet to build a stone wall around her heart. She knows, now, that she is enough — good enough, smart enough, pretty enough — and she’s got the confidence to know that no one else gets to decide that. She deserves to be prioritized, and to be protected, and to be respected for what she is, not what she pretends to be. She doesn’t need to ask why people like her. She doesn’t care if they don’t.
Brooke, Haley, Nathan, Julian, Mouth, Dan, Chase, and the rest of the Tree Hill characters have represented a lot of things to a lot of people over the years, and tonight, we’ll finally get to see how their journeys end. We’ll remember who they were, nine years ago, and as an extension of that, we’ll remember who we were nine years ago.
As the lights go down on the rivercourt, I will thank Brooke Davis for
laughter, tears, and a hundred little reminders that I am the only one who gets
to quantify my own “enough.”
I’m certainly not the only person who feels like they grew up with “One Tree Hill.” A quick Twitter search reveals that it’s a widely shared sentiment this week. Take to the comments below and let me know what “One Tree Hill” has meant to you over the years, and with which character you’ve connected the most.