6.21.2010

Life After the Bell: Jessie Spano

Continuing my examination of what happened to the characters of Saved by the Bell once the lights turned off.


Jessie Spano was always a little out of place at Bayside: she was the rigid, unwavering feminist/environmentalist forever fighting the current of mindless consumption and sexism roaring over Southern California like a tidal wave 24/7. Sure, she wasn't so committed to her principles that she didn't pose for the occasional beauty pageant or get hooked to "caffeine pills" in order to further her burgeoning lip-syncing career at The Max, but she was still the Class of '93's moral compass in most cases.

After failing to land admission to Stansbury, "The Harvard of the West," Jessie fell into a deep depression. She briefly considered throwing caution to the wind and moving in with her longtime boyfriend A.C. Slater to raise a family, but her mother eventually convinced her to pursue her education, even if it wasn't at the university of her dreams.

One chilly December night she paid a surprise visit to Slater at California University. Her exposure to the binge drinking and blatant homoeroticism of partying with Slater's "bros" led her to question if their entire relationship had been a decoy to throw their friends off the scent of Slater's latent homosexuality. Jessie decided she would be the first true friend Slater ever had, and asked him directly if he was gay. She hoped to coax him out of the closet by showing that she cared for him and supported him no matter his sexual orientation, but the confrontation threw Slater's defensive mechanisms into overdrive.

Jessie endured his screams and insults as he called her a whore, a filthy no good pig bitch, and assured her that he had cheated on her with the majority of girls at Bayside High and half his freshman class at California U. Deep down Jessie knew these were all lies; she had tried to initiate sex once with Slater at a late night study session. He'd blanched at the idea, and she could see the abject terror in his eyes as he rattled through excuses as to why everything had to be "perfect" before he could "nail" her.

She had called his bluff, leaning in to kiss him passionately on the mouth while stroking his manhood through his acid-washed jeans. He was completely flaccid. She'd spent several months wondering what was wrong with her, but in that terrible moment at California University she realized it was no fault of her own that she could not satisfy A.C.

Unable to convince the one person she'd ever loved that he was worth loving, she left Slater there drunk, teary-eyed, and screaming obscenities at her as she headed back home. Jessie wondered if her staunch feminism was a coping mechanism for the failures of all the men in her life: Slater's inability to admit his gayness, Zack's constant scheming and womanizing, her father's divorce and subsequent marriage to that tart she never approved of, and of course Eric, the creepy step-brother she'd acquired through her mother's second marriage.

So many times she'd returned home to find her panties missing, or rearranged in their drawer; that was when she was lucky. Some nights Eric didn't even have the courtesy to throw the semen-coated thongs and boy shorts into the laundry. They'd be waiting for her the next day until she would slip them on, feel the cold slimy embrace of her step-brother's jism on her labia, and scream.

Her mother wouldn't listen, and of course her step-dad took Eric's side, so Jessie was forced to take matters into her own hands. Taking a page from Zack's book, she created fake correspondence between her step-father and his secretary. Using Zack's gargantuan cell phone she would make late night calls and in her most breathless, sultry voice ask her mother to put her step-father on the phone. At first the fights only made things worse; the tension in the house led Eric to act out even more aggressively, at one point threatening to kill her mother if Jessie wouldn't give him anal.

Strengthened by her convictions and the confidence in her own abilities, Jessie stuck to her plan and before long Eric and his dad were heading back to New York, disgraced. Jessie's mom apologized profusely for not taking her warnings and subsequent complaints more seriously. Jessie said she forgave her, but the words were just words; they didn't mean anything to her.

She finished college and went on to study Law at Princeton. Shortly after passing the Bar Exam she was recruited by the top corporate defense firm in the nation, which offered to make her an immediate junior partner. She turned down the offer to open her own practice serving the needs of immigrants, unionized workers, and victims of sexual assault and discrimination.

She never looked back. She never returned to Bayside, either; not even for Christmas or the birth of her daughter, Liberty Virtue Spano. Jessie chose her daughter's father from a catalog of sperm samples after deciding that was all the male contact she would ever need again.

As Liberty grew up Jessie didn't realize that the strength and pride she thought she was displaying and instilling in her daughter were actually fear and weakness. Her disdain for men as being useless, empowering in her mind, came across as a meek, fearful anger. She could never operate in a man's world, she could never be "one of the guys." She'd certainly never trust another man again.

Jessie could never bring herself to come out of the closet. She craved men, fantasized about them, but could never admit to wanting or needing one. When Liberty came out of the closet at 15, Jessie was elated that her daughter would never know the sting of male hegemony in her relationships. When Liberty came out as "confused," two years later, Jessie became depressed with the knowledge that there was no escaping the white-male-dominated society in which they lived.

She remained a successful, albeit financially struggling attorney for 41 years before finally retiring to live out her days in her daughter's care at the home Liberty shared with her wife, Maureen, in rural Massachusetts. She died at the age of 82, and was celebrated as a champion of the downtrodden and the victimized.

No one from Bayside came to the funeral.

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