So, What's It Gonna Be?
I like to think Community will always be a cult classic, a weird and wonderful show, but overall its popularity is dwindling. The “jeff x annie” tag on Tumblr, which I now consider an old haunt, is quiet.
Jeff and Annie, sometimes referred to as “Jannie,” are together now. Which is cool. Vindication or whatever. But most of us are dreading a movie, which is the inevitable and slightly poetic follow-up to the slogan, the jingle, the last-ditch attempt at a renewal: six seasons and a movie. Dan Harmon, Community’s creator, has a tendency of ruining things, and Jannie deserves a happy ending. Or, I guess, whatever’s closest to one, considering the Greendale Six might’ve slipped headlong into the darkest timeline by now.
The show ends with a Jannie kiss. Jeff drives Annie to the airport, they kiss again, Lord Huron sings something about the ends of the earth. It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.
It’s the closest we’re going to get to a happy ending and please, Harmon, can’t you just give us this?
I’ve always enjoyed the Jannie dynamic. I remember enjoying it from afar—I’d never seen the show, didn’t know anything beyond what gifs and the occasional piece of Tumblr meta taught me, but somehow was still rooting for them. Season four aired, people started reblogging gifsets of Annie in a turquoise cardigan at a fan convention, and I caved.
I watched it freshman year of college, recognizing myself in Annie: the young brunette with a big heart, an obsessive desire for good grades. But there was more to it. She loved love. She was willing to do anything, be anything, if it meant part of her would know love. When I eventually fell into a depressive spell—when the academic drive I’d maintained so vigorously in high school fell apart, crumbling beneath the weight of discontentment, alienation—the love remained, the love of love.
You expect everybody to be better than who they are, Troy says to Annie in “Mixology Certification.” You expect yourself to be better than everyone.
I’m depressed, so I stay up late. I buy some of my favorite episodes off of iTunes, watch them obsessively. Annie wants to be someone else. I’m not sure who I am, she says, eyes glassy, glazed, distance pooled—and neither do I.
We’re just in love with the idea of being loved, Annie tells herself in “Virtual Systems Analysis.” And if we can teach a guy like Jeff to do it, we’ll never be unloved. So we keep running the same scenario over and over, hoping for a different result.
I meet a boy online. He has a nice voice, and so I tell him that, and so it unravels. Begins. Whatever.
We flirt. Or, really, he flirts, and I sometimes manage to flirt back. He makes me clumsy, fat-tongued. I can never think of what to say. Whenever I talk to him—and it gets to be often: once every few days, then every day, a kind of nighttime ritual—I feel like I’m making a fool of myself. He’s popular, and so I beg for scraps. Knead the carpet beneath the dining table, scratching the wooden legs, butting up against his knee.
I try not to. But of course I fall in love, and of course it’s because he says my name that way, the sound in his throat a quiet vibration.
It becomes a thing. But the thing about this thing is that we never name it. He invites me to play video games online with his friends, his ex, and I do—of course I do—of course I can’t refuse. When he introduces me as his friend, the knowing stops, just for the night. I am the dog again. That wet, quivering nose, deposited so gently into someone’s unseeking palm.
I survive my first year of college. I’m still depressed, but he helps, makes it easier to forget. We stay up till ungodly hours in the morning, and when we finally say goodnight, good morning, whatever—me in my bed, him at his computer, insomnia keeping him up for days at a time—the vibration remains. Get good rest, hon.
Sometime in June I tell him the truth. The term crush gets thrown around, which sounds juvenile to me, especially now. But I was in love—a jittery, anxious mess; feeling so much, with nowhere to put it all. It was always going to end with me unspooling at his feet.
I don’t remember what he said. Sometimes I wish I did, but most days I’m glad I don’t. All I know is what it did to me, what it turned me into.
I cry a lot that summer. Watch a lot of House, with him, because of course we’re still friends—I’m not about to let my embarrassment from ruining this, whatever it is we have, a fleeting state of known.
He’s popular, so we go days without talking to each other. He has friends, other friends, and so do I. Looking back, this could’ve been a good thing. A healthy sort of boundary. But I was still adjusting to my new diagnosis of social anxiety, so his silences meant more than they should’ve. I drove myself nuts. I grew familiar with impalement: the art of self-violence. How easy it was to mistake these things for acts of sacrificial love.
I rediscover Community, Jannie in particular. Suddenly I understand Annie in a way I never have before. Something unlocks inside me. My lungs unhitch for the first time in what seems like forever, even now.
Either you want me or you don’t, Annie tells Jeff. Yes, in the men’s room, in the iconic “Asian Population Studies.” What’s it gonna be?
So he didn’t feel the same. Whatever.
Only he doesn’t stop flirting with me. And when I ask him to—when I ask him in no uncertain terms to please stop telling me about your ex-girlfriend and how much you miss her, it makes me uncomfortable, I can’t be that kind of friend for you—he does. That is, until he starts telling me how much he’d like to meet me someday. How great I am. How much he loves me.
It’s not flirting. Only sometimes it is. And sometimes when I send my friends transcripts of our conversations, they reassure me that yes, this is absolutely flirting.
He wants to watch the sun rise with me. It’s stupid, I drive myself nuts, yet I can’t help but think of all the places I’d take him—hypothetically, of course, we only ever talk about visiting each other in the vaguest of terms.
I wish I could give you an answer that makes sense, Jeff says in response. Relationships are complicated.
I’m no stranger to fanfiction. I’ve written plenty of it. But my relationship with Community fanfiction is a bloom of one, blush and obsession.
He doesn’t stop flirting. I go back to school, my grades drop further. I’m hospitalized with a kidney stone. (I tell him I’m experiencing sharp pain in my lower abdomen. I tell him it’s probably a kidney stone, I’ve had kidney stones before, I know what they feel like. He dismisses it. Why would it be a kidney stone? Later, when he calls me in the hospital—when my father asks the nurses to leave the room so I can talk to a friend, they cluck, titter, mutter something about my having a boyfriend—he says nothing about the mistake, he who doesn’t know my body—he who’s never seen it, touched it, felt it shrivel beneath the weight of anxiety.) My friend sends me Parks and Recreation gifs to cheer me up, the one with Leslie complaining about light bulbs and making out.
Season five of Community leaves Jannie in a terrible spot, with Jeff having panic-proposed to Britta, his longtime on-again-off-again friend-with-benefits. They break up in the finale, but Annie’s still heartbroken, and Jeff’s still reeling from the realization forced upon him by a computer from the 70s.
He loves Annie. Or so the story goes.
All signs point to Community’s cancellation, so I wring my happy ending from fanfiction. It’s almost better than Harmon’s canon, because Jeff goes to therapy in fanfiction. Jeff gets better. And Annie—Annie stops waiting. It’s a bit of a pipe dream, but I dream it anyway. There’s something appealing to me about a lovesick girl who… falls out of love with love, I guess, the way I want to.
I take comfort in these endings, probably because they’re so unlike my real life, in the real world. In the real world, he flirts, I wait, it’s an ouroboros—a snake eating its own damn tail.
He gets sick. Tells me that, if things get bad, fatal, he’ll visit me before he dies. He makes me promise the same thing: Either I’ll come to you, or you’ll come to me. Or maybe there’s no coercion. Maybe I just want to calm him, reassure him. Either way, I promise, and it haunts me to this day.
We’re on better terms. Sometimes he mentions his ex, and most times it hurts, but I let him do it anyway. I’m desperate, at this point. Pain-seeker. I don’t care if it’s immolation so long as he’s near me, so long as I hear that vibration. That dog again, the one inside me, bone-thin. In search of raw meat, even if it’s just leftovers, even if it’s just a scrap.
I think she’s still in love with me, he says one night. Maybe she never fell out of love with me.
I can’t tell if he’s pining, if the thought of getting back together with his ex excites him. So I ask. It’ll be better if I know, I tell myself, better if I can stop wondering. Do you still have feelings for her, and he comes back with: No, of course not, you know who I have feelings for.
This feels like the beginning of something. That first step, that mindless plunge into a dark and stretched-out depth. It feels like a victory, because finally I am vindicated—finally we can reach out and touch each other’s hearts.
I fall asleep with a smile on my face.
When you feel the way I feel about you, Jeff tells Annie in “Geography of Global Conflict,” the easy loophole through the creepiness and danger is to treat them like a child. ‘A chip off the old block, you’re the best, kiddo.’ It’s a crutch. It’s a way for me to tell you how important you are from a distance.
Jeff gives Annie a bone. Something to gnaw on. Something to turn her gums raw.
I’m given a bone, too, only it’s vague, too abstract to mean anything. Jeff admits to having feelings, which in the moment feels huge, life-altering, the point of no return, but then I start the next episode—I get up the next day—and nothing’s changed, and Annie and I are expected to wait.
I’m good at waiting. Not as good as I am at flagellation, at giving my heart away. But it’s a process, right? It’ll get easier. So of course I sit on the mat at the door, the dog bed in the corner, of course my tail wags, of course I jump at every stray sound. I’m waiting for love. Don’t you see? I’m waiting to be fed.
It doesn’t help that his reasons are fair. He’s sick, he doesn’t want to be in a relationship in case things go south, he doesn’t want to do that to me. When we first met, he’d just gotten out of a relationship, he still loved his ex, he wasn’t ready to move on. I can’t refute any of it, and I don’t want to make him feel guilty, so I just don’t talk about it. I don’t bring it up. We watch movies and sometimes, if I’m lucky, he’ll Skype me. It’s the closest we ever get, a screen between us, a whole swath of land.
It’s a recurring deformation of landscape, my fear of guilt. I’m scared of being needy, of being too much, of being--
A few months ago, I found some of our chat logs, and it struck me how often I apologized. For little things, yes, probably the result of near-constant anxiety--I’m sorry I haven’t been around much, I would say, everything’s just been really overwhelming—but also big things. Whenever we’d talk about the thing, which is to say our relationship, I’d start with reasonable requests. Please stop flirting with me. Please stop talking about your ex, it’s not something I can deal with right now. Yet it always ended with me on my knees, tail between my legs. I’m sorry, I should never have brought it up, it’s not that big of a deal--
Now, years later, I recognize it for what it is. Back then, though, it felt like I was trapped in one of those fun houses—mirrors everywhere, distorting reflections, throwing myself into my own path.
A memory: He asks me if I think he’s emotionally abusive—that’s what his ex has been telling everyone—and I shake my head. What? No, of course not. Why would you even think that?
He pulls away—he’s sick, he’s depressed, he just can’t be around people right now. Which is fine. I’m good at waiting.
I don’t really resemble Annie anymore. There’s nothing in me that’s competitive, that wants to be the best. The only similarity is the color of our hair, and even that’s a lie—I’m a natural blonde, and have been dyeing my hair for years now.
One night in July, we end up talking about us, his flirting, how hard it is for me to wait. We talk ourselves in circles. I drive myself nuts. Finally I ask him if he still has feelings for me—I figure that, if he does, it’ll at least be a place to start—and he doesn’t give me an answer. It’s not yes, it’s not no, it’s vague.
Just tell me the truth, I say. I don’t care if it hurts, if it’s not what I want to hear. I need to know.
Relationships are complicated, Jeff says. Always another sidestep. Annie twirls, hair a dark curtain when she stomps off. Jeff is left standing there, alone in the men’s room—faced with his reflection, the thing that hurts.
I tell him I need time.
A few weeks becomes a few months. I start school again. I get all As, my first 4.0 since fall of freshman year.
I consider my timeskip, much like Annie’s timeskip between seasons four and five. She graduates, gets a job at a pharmaceutical company, reinvents herself. She grows her hair out. She stops wearing skirts, starts wearing pants. In the first episode of season five, we see her in a suit, and it’s so unlike the Annie we’ve come to know, Annie-in-the-floral-skirt.
Season five is dark. Jeff tries to kill himself, Troy and Shirley leave the show, Pierce dies. Harmon seems to suggest that these people need each other. That there’s some sort of vampiric connection, parasitic. When left to their own orbits, their bodies swing wide.
It’s different for me. I find that I’m happy, the happiest I’ve been in a while. There is purpose in my life again, direction. I stop waiting, like Annie stops waiting, only there’s no ultimatum. I don’t ask him if he wants me; I don’t serve him with a what’s it gonna be, punctuated with a hair flip. It’s quieter. Acquiescent. I find it within myself to accept this, this thing, the ending he has chosen.
We talk occasionally. He misses me, says I make him better. It’s nice to hear, but it makes me feel like I’m on a pedestal, like I’ll shatter if I step down.
This feeling follows me, my own dark shadow. I don’t want to appear angry; I don’t want to make him feel guilty. When, in fact, I am angry, he should feel guilty, there are all sorts of terms I apply to this now. Emotional abuse. Gaslighting. Idealistic, purifying love. I think of Annie, how she accuses herself of being in love with love. How running the same scenario leaves us empty, Annie and I, my dark hair a lie.
I try and be his friend again, but it hurts, I can’t do it. My therapist asks me what it is I want from this relationship and I realize that, no, friendship is not enough, I will never be satisfied with just friends.
I draw boundaries. He asks me what he could’ve done differently and, for the first time, I do not speak in abstracts. I use the word love. I tell him I loved him, I tell him it’s his prerogative to not reciprocate my love, I respect that. But I love myself too much to let him lead me on, because that’s what he does, he leads me on, he flirts with me when I ask him not to. There is power in naming it, in learning this new language. I feel like Annie, Annie-in-the-men’s-room, Annie-with-the-heaving-bosom. What’s it gonna be? Only I’m not wearing a tight-fitting cardigan, I’m not wearing a short skirt, the camera does not get a glimpse of my legs as I twirl on a heel and flounce away. I’m wearing pajamas. My face is red and splotchy from crying, and I’m probably even breaking out a bit. There’s nothing beautiful about this moment, nothing for the male gaze. Just me and my heartbreak, spread out across the floor.
He doesn’t reply. His silence strikes me as privilege, his ability to remain stoic, closed-off. If I were in his position, there would not be enough room in this world for my apologies.
We watch the series finale of Community.
I’m a few minutes ahead of him, so when I send long, rambling, all-caps messages about how Jeff’s fantasizing about settling down with Annie, can you believe this, he wants a dog, it takes him a while to respond. When he does, it’s never with any enthusiasm: Wow. I didn’t see that coming.
Years ago, back when we first met, Community was brought up. I remember asking him about Jannie. I remember him saying: I guess I’m more of a Jeff and Britta fan.
I write a long, messy Tumblr post, throw it in the “jeff x annie” tag. I talk a lot about Annie, how glad I am that Jeff apologized to her, how glad I am that she left. It all comes back to the waiting thing—how much of her arc revolved around Jeff, how important it was for her to go to D.C., follow through on the FBI internship, live her dream. She regained her autonomy, which is what I wanted, what I desperately needed to see. But she also kissed him, a kiss that was a promise, a kiss that was forgiveness. Finally a happy ending, so unlike my current one.
The post goes viral. He likes it, but does not reblog.
It’s been a year.
Sometimes I look up Jannie fanfiction. Jeff apologizes, goes to therapy, commits; Annie has autonomy, the autonomy she deserves, more than Harmon ever gave her. She leaves, but always comes back. And when she doesn’t—when she moves halfway across the country for her job—Jeff follows her, and there is balance, and it is good.
I don’t need a happy ending anymore. But I take comfort in knowing that, somewhere on the internet, Jeff and Annie are making up, out, getting their dues. It’s a small consolation, strangely voyeuristic, but I take it anyway.
I think I love him still. I think I always will. But I have found other loves, loves to take his place. And I am happy in my pants, my suit, my long dark hair. So I allow myself remembrance, just for a moment. It was not easy love, or even really good love, but it was love all the same.
About the Author: Brianna Albers (she/her) is a storyteller, currently based in St. Paul, MN. In 2016, she founded Monstering, a magazine for disabled women and nonbinary people; in 2017, she co-founded ZRIE, a private new media collective. She is also on staff at SMA News Today, and writes the column “The Wolf Finally Frees Itself.” A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her work can be found in DIALOGIST, Guernica, and Word Riot, among others. Find her online and on social media @bhalbers.