Okay, listen. I am very aware that Grey’s Anatomy first aired in 2005 and that the critically acclaimed Shonda Rhimes series is well in its 12th season right now. But for me, Seattle Grace Hospital (turned Seattle Grace Mercy West turned Grey Sloan Memorial) didn’t exist until a month ago. I know. Where was I all that time? It wasn’t until I literally couldn’t escape talk of Grey’s that I started to think it might be worth my time. All of my coworkers were talking about it, coworkers who have been dedicated viewers from the beginning and coworkers who started binging months ago would bring up characters and storylines that intrigued me. Then a good friend of mine called me “her person” and told me that I reminded her of Cristina Yang, and said it “wasn’t just because I’m Asian.” I think that’s when I really decided to click play.
Now, I’m an impatient insomniac but I never thought I would say, both with shame and pride, that I watched seasons 1 through 10 of Grey’s Anatomy in less than a month. That’s a lot of love triangles, surgery, and medical lingo that I will never understand in a short amount of time. But, and I can honestly say this — it is because of Cristina Yang that I kept the episodes playing.
If you watch the show, there’s no need to remind you of this fact, but for those who don’t, let me be the first to tell you: Cristina Yang loves herself. She knows who she is and she likes it. A lot. I have never met or watched a woman who was so confident in herself and her abilities. The more I watched her, the more involved I became with her storylines. Would she mess up her first solo surgery? Would they make her chief resident? These are the moments that were important in the beginning and each time, I rooted for her. Then the show started to get deeper and more real, as did Cristina Yang.
I remember taking offense when her fellow interns called her a robot. I was immediately taken back to a time when one of my own friends made an offhand comment about my inability to love. I knew I had a lot of love in my heart. I just didn’t know where to put it or how to express it. With time, I could see that Cristina had this same love in her heart. But instead of being thrown off or offended by these comments, she kept on being who she was. And soon, her love was able to shine through in her own unique way. I loved that about her. I understood that about her.
Soon, I found myself understanding her more and more. When the subject of children came up and Cristina made it clear that she didn’t want kids, I applauded in the comfort of my own home. It’s never been in my plan to have children and when I tell people this, I hardly ever receive understanding. “You’ll change your mind.” “You’re young. Just wait and see.” “You just haven’t found the right person yet.” This is what people tell me when I say I don’t want kids. No matter how many times I shake my head or tell them it’s not like that, the reactions I get don’t change. I am a woman and I don’t want kids, and I don’t think that’s a crime. As I watched Cristina suffer, and I mean really suffer, after her abortion and what it did to her marriage, my heart broke for her. Never before have I wanted to reach through a screen and hug a character more. I don’t know what it’s like to go through what she did and I won’t sit here and pretend like I do. But that struggle and pain of being misunderstood because children aren’t in your plan? That pain I do feel. That fear of someone who loves you suddenly starting to make you feel guilty for not wanting kids? I fear that all the time when I think about my future and any long-lasting relationships that may come my way. But she overcame it and I knew that if I ever happened upon that roadblock, I would too.
There are so many layers to my love for Cristina Yang. One of the first being her appearance. I have never felt beautiful. I’m not a “pretty girl.” And in television, Asian-Americans are usually portrayed as “geeky” with parents obsessed with their studies. This never helped me because I could never relate. I am an Asian-American who could care less about my studies. I don’t like numbers or formulas. I find sitting in a classroom boring and I don’t eat dumplings. Cristina Yang was the first Asian-American character that was first and foremost about her many talents, quirks, and flaws way before she was about the shape of her eyes. Of course, this is credit to the writers of the show, and it is them that I thank for making me feel comfortable with myself. Her beauty and her brilliance helped me see my own.
But it wasn’t until her infamous line in her last episode that I truly cried for and with Cristina Yang and anyone who relates to her. When she spoke of the dynamic between Derek and Meredith and which one of them was the sun in their own little solar system, Cristina simply says, “You are,” to Meredith. In an earlier season, Owen tells Cristina to stop thinking she’s the sun. I remember hating him in that moment. If Cristina Yang, or any woman, believes she is the sun, then she can damn well believe she is the sun. But Cristina seemed to run into this problem a lot. People were intimidated by her. And people didn’t like when she was honest about her gifts as a surgeon, even though they knew she was right.
I am not a surgeon and I never will be. I am a writer. And until recently, I believed that I wasn’t a very good one. But whether I believed I was good with words or not, I knew it was the fire in my heart. The feeling I have holding a pen or the surge of energy in my soul as my fingers dance along the keyboard are similar to those of Cristina’s when she’s holding a scalpel. And nothing stopped her. No fight, bomb, gunman, plane crash, or (maybe especially) man could come in her way of that. I realized then that nothing, not my fear or my anxiety or my doubt, could come in the way of my dreams. Cristina Yang is a loyal person who understands when to take care of herself, whether it be her mental or emotional health or her future as a surgeon. This does not make her selfish or cruel. It makes her admirable.
After I met Cristina Yang, I started to tell my doubt to move along and I began writing even more than I had been. I started to push through the pain or anger or any negative feeling that that specific day might have brought and I let my fingers dance. I breathed. I kept going.
I love Cristina Yang. I owe her a lot. I thank her for helping me love myself and encouraging me to be unstoppable. Her departure from the show has broken my heart. But like most good friends, I will never forget her or what she’s done for me. She is the sun.
And so am I.
Leanne Carman is a writer living in New York. There is a lot of love in her heart for perfectly placed words, a good egg sandwich, and words. Her work has appeared in On the Rusk and Inklette. Read more of her daily thoughts and ramblings on Twitter @carmanleanne