I Think About This a Lot: ‘I Never Thought I’d Be This Tired at 22’

St. Elmo’s Fire. Photo-Illustration: Jeni Zhen/Photo: Everett Collection

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

If you saw St. Elmo’s Fire a long time ago, rest assured, it’s much worse than you remember it. If you’ve never seen it, don’t.

I first saw the movie while going through a “young Judd Nelson was hot” phase somewhere around age 18 or 19, prompted by his performance as the bad boy in The Breakfast Club. Generally speaking, St. Elmo’s Fire is about seven privileged and horny white people who make bad decisions and do terrible things to each other without ever having to suffer any real consequences. Judd Nelson, the reason why I ever bothered watching this movie in the first place, plays Alec Newberry, a compulsive cheater and Democrat-gone-Republican-for-the-money with serious anger issues. He tries to hurl his best friend off a fire escape and somehow the movie doesn’t bother treating that like the tremendously disturbing behavior it is. Emilio Estevez (also in The Breakfast Club) plays Kirby Keger, an actual lunatic who sees a girl he went on one date with a million years ago at the hospital where she works as a doctor, decides he’s madly in love with her, and then proceeds to stalk the living hell out of her. I could go on, but you get the idea. There is something wrong with everyone in this movie, except maybe Ally Sheedy, who plays Alec’s girlfriend Leslie, and is perfect.

Because of one scene toward the end involving Demi Moore, who plays the fabulous Jules, St. Elmo’s Fire has become, somewhat inexplicably, the movie I think about the most on a regular basis. Jules is the star of her friend group. She moves through the world with enviable lightness and ease. She embodies the type of the woman I most wanted to be in my early 20s: effortlessly charming, effortlessly bold. Make no mistake, her life is a mess. Her father hates her and is off traveling with his girlfriend. Her “stepmonster” is in a coma and Jules is her next of kin. She’s living in a beautifully decorated apartment she’s paying for on credit. She’s advanced on her salary by two months. She loves cocaine. She’s fucking her boss. But she floats through her mess with such nonchalance that she makes it look cool.

It all comes to a head when a finance company shows up at her apartment and takes all her furniture away, as well as her Jeep. Leslie, who’s been living with her, tries to get in touch with her, but is unable to get through. She goes to Jules’s office to discover Jules has been pretending to go to work each day; her boss fired her three weeks ago. When Leslie confronts Jules about it, she tries to deny everything, then freaks out and locks herself in her apartment. It’s either late fall or early winter — the movie doesn’t specify — and Jules has opened all the windows. She is sitting in her empty pink living room in a nightdress, her legs tucked under her chin, rocking back and forth, her curtains billowing in the cold wind.

I won’t tell you how it all plays out, but if you’ve ever seen a movie before, you can probably guess. At some point in all this, Rob Lowe a.k.a. Billy the Kid (arguably the movie’s greatest fuck-up) manages to get into Jules’s apartment. They sit in her empty, pink bedroom. He takes her in his arms. “I’m just so tired, Billy,” Jules says. “I never thought I’d be this tired at 22.”

“I never thought I’d be this tired at 19,” I thought the first time I saw this movie. “I never thought I’d be this tired at 20,” I thought the year after. “I never thought I’d be this tired at almost 27,” I think to myself these days. In some ways, “I never thought I’d be this tired at 22” is the overarching theme of my 20s. My freshman year of college, going through one of the worst depressions I’ve ever experienced, a kind writing professor put it best: “Being young is hard. You’re expected to figure out who you are, to find love, to build a career.” I never thought performing my identity as a woman in the world would be so exhausting. The magazines and the movies I grew up with promised it would be easy and rewarding, and when it wasn’t, I was confused. “Am I doing being young wrong?” I wondered. Demi Moore gave words to a feeling I hadn’t quite understood before: Sometimes, being an adult is easy and rewarding, and sometimes, it makes you feel empty and defeated.

St. Elmo’s Fire is a bad movie, yes. But it does get one tiny thing right in Jules: The effortlessly fabulous woman I looked up to for so long, and still sometimes find myself wanting to be, is a crock of shit. I never thought I’d be this tired at 27, and I honestly wish I weren’t, but thanks to Demi Moore and one crappy ’80s movie, I can take comfort in the fact I’m not alone.

I Think About This a Lot: One Line From St. Elmo’s Fire