My Bucharest; or, How Bucky Barnes Made My Life That Much Better
By Hannah J. Rothman
In 2014, two things happened. That spring, Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out and I, a life-long Marvel movie fan with a prior affinity for Thor and his roster, shifted character focus from conniving complex villain Loki to best-friend-turned-brainwashed-enemy-agent James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. That fall, I landed my first full-time job at a publishing company in Westchester.
2015 was a very different year. I was employed the whole time. I wasn’t quite as depressed. I rode out the wave of my previous year’s rediscovery of Pokémon. Doctor Who had my favorite new season in years. I moved out of my parents’ house to be closer to work. Marvel fell by the wayside.
In April 2016, I was laid off from my job. One month later, Captain America: Civil War came out. I’d been following the news and the trailers and I was, of course, eager to know what was going to happen to Bucky next, especially after learning that he was featured in the post-credits scene of Ant-Man. Civil War’s timing couldn’t have been better. Doctor Who was in the off-season and while Hamilton dominated my earbuds, there’s only so much you can get out of a single Broadway soundtrack. I needed something to fill the void. On Tuesday, May 10th, it was like Cap and Bucky popped back up, grabbed me by the shoulders, said “get back in here, kid,” and dragged me down to Marvel hell once more. It was good to be back.
But something was different this time.
My previous height of engagement with the Marvel world was circa 2012, at the peak of Avengers hype and Loki-mania. But for that time I was solely a fandom consumer. I reblogged reams of fanart and gifs and memes about the characters and actors on Tumblr, although I never produced any myself. I spent days watching their several recent animated series, and months playing the online games, albeit deliberately avoiding the original comics for fear that That Way Lies Madness.
This time, I wanted to write fanfiction. Not just any kind of fanfic, Bucky-recovery fic in particular. This was a character that I wanted to engage with on another level. I wanted to add more to his story. I wanted to explore his process of growth and healing. I’d done plenty of musing before about Loki and his mythology and his archetype, but I never actually wrote any of it down and I certainly never built anything from it. I thought about this. I’d had an interest in Bucky since I saw The Winter Soldier, but why was I latching onto him this hard now and not then?
I think one part of it may have been catharsis. The Winter Soldier was the initiator of my interest in this character, since his role in Captain America: The First Avenger was primarily as the supporting-best-friend-who-allegedy-dies-to-fuel-the-protagonist’s-angst. But The Winter Soldier, especially the ending, opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Where was Bucky Barnes going from here? How would he get the rest of his memories back? When would Steve finally find him again? Two years of speculation later, we got our payoff. We found out where Bucky had gone, how he was living, what kind of progress he’d made on trying to put himself back together, and of course he was finally reunited with his best friend. All that, and we were still given plenty more room to speculate on what more had happened to him between the two movies and what would happen next.
But for me, I think it went beyond that: Bucky Barnes came back into my life at a moment when I needed him most.
In the final months at my job, I was slipping into a bad place. I would get up, go to work (not always arriving on time), drone away at a computer for eight hours, come home, and then have no energy left to do anything else. When I got laid off, it got worse. I performed the rudimentary tasks needed to stay alive and functional, and I couldn’t always do that either. I successfully applied for unemployment benefits and did what needed to be done to get my check every week, but I could go for days without showering or brushing my teeth and I regularly neglected to take my medication. Following the infamous reveal at the beginning of that god-forsaken month when we thought that Marvel was actually making HydraCap the new status quo, I suffered severe appetite loss and barely ate for 48 hours. I had plenty of time to write or draw or otherwise be productive, but I took advantage of practically none of it. I was lost, mostly alone, not sure where I was going from here, and had few aspirations beyond making it to the next day.
And then along came Civil War Bucky: a lost soul holed up in an apartment in Bucharest who was still trying to figure himself out, living day-to-day, recovering from years of having no control over his life, and doing it all alone…and I looked at him and thought “I want to help you.”
A few weeks later, I started outlining my first fanfic about him and made an announcement post about the set-up on Tumblr before going to bed that night. I woke up the next morning to find it had been reblogged by a Cap/Bucky blog (with the caption “I fuckin’ need it in my life”), resulting in my having half a dozen new followers and the post escalating to about fifty notes (over 150 as of this writing), many of which were subsequent reblogs with enthusiastic captions and tags like “that fanfic sounds like the best thing ever” and “please I need this.” With the additional drive of the promise of a built-in audience, I got straight to work. About a week later, I completed the fic. “Re-establishing Contact” was ostensibly a story about Bucky and Steve Rogers engaged in a romantic relationship (because you bet I was getting onboard the Stucky bandwagon right away), but its main focus was about Bucky and the healing process, centered around the theme of touch. In it, he deals with how to accept comfort after nightmares, mistakes a neck rub for a chokehold, has an existential bubble bath, has a session of exploratory touch with Steve, and suffers a bit in sensitive places in a scene I’ve affectionately nicknamed “Disasturbation.” As of this writing, I’m about halfway through another fic called “To Have a Home”: a story based on a series of prompts that build on the theme of home, such as acquiring new possessions, having company over, taking in strays, and having a place to come back to. Appropriate, then, that I should start writing “To Have a Home” in the final weeks before I had to leave my shared apartment in Westchester.
The morning of moving day (incidentally also the glorious day that HydraCap was revealed to be the result of brain-scrambling after all), I lay on my bed in that room for the last time, feet so sore from eight straight hours of packing that I couldn’t walk properly anymore, and I had a revelation: Bucky wasn’t just a favorite character of mine. I was using him as a coping mechanism.
Here I was, lost and confused and directionless and kinda miserable, and there he was, lost and confused and directionless and alone, and I didn’t just go “I want to help you.” I went “I want to give you a better life, because I don’t know if I can give myself one right now. I don’t feel like I can help me, but I know I can help you.” I was productive. I was writing again. I felt like I had something to strive for. It was something small, inconsequential even, but if the happiness of a fictional character helped me get out of bed every day and made me produce content again, that was great.
Of course, I also had to wonder if I was spending what little energy I had improving Bucky’s life instead of improving my own. But I think I’m approaching a point where I can do both, and spending time writing again certainly counts as an improvement (even if it’s just one improvement). I spent those last three months in Westchester inching along and wallowing in my anguish alone. Maybe that was my Bucharest. But now I’m back with my parents and I’m closer to friends. I have a support system again. I know I can do both.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to me next, and I don’t know what’s in store for Bucky in the movies once he gets out of cryo in Wakanda, but somehow I feel like we can make it through together. In the meantime, I’m just so happy to have such a great muse again.
Thank you, Bucky (and by extension, Sebastian Stan, who plays him so damn well).