“It might be the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” I told my friends across the lunch table in high school. They looked at me with anticipation and skepticism. I was, after all, the same kid who had tried to explain to them Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.
But that day it was something different. I told them about a strange red room with a zigzag floor, about a dead girl resurrected, about a little man and a giant and the spirit of a serial killer, about doppelgängers, about a strange otherworldly place where people walked and talked backwards. I was telling them of what was then the series finale of Twin Peaks.
I could tell that they’re skepticism had won, that they didn’t understand why I had found it so frightening. I realized then that I’d never be able to explain my fear: the fear of recognizing something in that traumatic final scene.
I’ve lived my whole life in Astoria, Oregon. With a population of about 10,000, we’re not as small as Twin Peaks, but we’re not huge either. It’s about a three-hour drive to Snoqualmie, Washington, home of the waterfall from the opening credits and other filming locations.
And I see a lot of Twin Peaks here, which is both comforting and deeply unnerving. Of course some comparisons are obvious, though no less important. Astoria is surrounded by a thick layer of tall, green trees. Lumber and fishing are major industries here and in the surrounding areas. And there is something magical about the nighttime, about the smell of swaying pines mixing with the briny water of both the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.
But it’s true to life as well, not just the scenery. The town is full of beautiful eccentrics of every offbeat variety. Though we never had our own Double R Diner, we do have coffee shops that are the absolute best for those that know where they are. And while we don’t quite fall into the small town trap of everyone knowing everyone, we’re almost there. If someone doesn’t know you, they at least know of you.
Unfortunately, the darker side of Twin Peaks doesn’t escape our veins. Occasionally there is a brutal outburst of violence that shocks the city. There are spots in the woods you know to avoid because that’s where trouble is likely to be had. But as a teenager watching the show, what I connected to most were the lives of the teens. Like in Twin Peaks, drug and alcohol abuse are huge problems, seemingly because kids here have nothing better to do. According to a July 2013 Clatsop County community assessment, youths in the county were more likely to abuse prescription drugs as well as consume alcohol compared to the state average. County residents on the whole were more likely to die from drug-induced deaths compared to the state. Heroin and methamphetamine abuse is a well-known problem, with heroin in particular on the rise. In school everyone knew who the Bobbies and Mikes were, the people obviously involved in things they shouldn’t be. But occasionally you’d learn of a Laura, someone you’d never expect who was involved in all the same things.
I saw all these happening around me growing up and I saw them on Twin Peaks too, though the show took things to a different level. But I also saw the wonderful, exciting, inexplicable things happening that are universal and unique to the people who have lived in the Pacific Northwest, the strange, mystical call that draws people here. And somehow, Twin Peaks understood those things too.
Sitting down to watch it was like going home, even at home. It was like seeing everything I loved and hated about my town, but through the eyes and with the help of Special Agent Dale Cooper.
Because as much as it’s a show about coffee and pie, a woman who talks to a log, owls carrying clues, and curtain rods, it’s also very much a show about trauma, violence, and the aftermath of such things. How they can shake individuals and whole towns.
The nostalgia for the show sometimes seems to outweigh what it actually was. For all the talk about the kooky residents of Twin Peaks, they were also people so narcissistic and self-involved with their own small-time troubles that they failed to see Laura Palmer desperately, desperately calling out for help.
I saw Astoria in Twin Peaks: the good and the bad, what made me laugh and what made me shake, the tragic fringe and the warmhearted center, the deeply human and the impossibly supernatural. I saw these things and it all made sense to me. And the labyrinth “bizarrie” of that final scene made sense to me too, because it finally provided an explanation for the two wholly incongruous halves of my hometown. And that is why Twin Peaks frightened me so much, moved me so much, means so much. Because when I hear the opening chimes of that iconic theme, I see the face of Laura Palmer in everyone I know.
Nikolas Kalar has lived in the Pacific Northwest all his life and has been writing for just as long. Originally a hobby when not working at the local record store, encouragement from his friends, family, and co-workers convinced him to begin submitting. Though he mostly writes fiction, he could not pass up the opportunity to write an essay about something so close to him.