If you felt a ripple in the air at approximately 8:55pm last night, I have to tell you that it was me. I gasped so hard, trying to fill my lungs and catch my breath, that I perhaps mistakingly sucked up all the air in North America. I apologize.
Here’s the thing: I have loved Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins’ love story from their first kiss in the dirty bathroom of Joe’s Bar, way back in season 5. Callie, fresh off her heartbreak from Erica Hahn walking into The Parking Lot Of No Return, still in throes of a messy coming out, was crying alone in that bathroom. She was doing that thing that I think all women have done at one point in our lives — heaving out all our tears in one swoop when no one is looking, and then drying our eyes quickly with scratchy brown bathroom paper towels. We do it so that no one will see our vulnerability. We’ve been taught that showing our tears is weakness. And in walked Arizona Robbins — all smiles, and dimples, and infectious, bouncy personality. Her eyes crinkled at the corners in compassion.
That night she told Callie that she was “the talk of the hospital.” Callie scoffed; of course she’s the hot gossip. Her life was a complete mess. But Arizona assured her, the talk is good. She’s respected, and warm, and people really like her. When she was ready, there would be people just dying to sweep her off her feet.
Callie tried to laugh off this new stranger in her life, asking, “Yeah, like who?” That’s when Arizona came in close. She let their breath mingle together. She swept in for the kiss that launched one of the greatest queer love stories on network television. Seven seasons of laughter and dance parties and break ups and divorces and pain, but more than all of that, love. Undying love. It all started right there, underneath the busted out lights of a dirty bar bathroom.
I’ll never forget it, what it felt like the first time I saw them. How many times I rewatched that scene on YouTube, just to remind myself that even at my most vulnerable, my darkest despair, someone might one day see brightness in me.
When Callie left Grey’s Anatomy at the end of season 12, Arizona and Callie had already been divorced for over a year. After all they’d been through (A car crash! A plane crash! Cheating! Yelling and Crying in Shower Stalls!), their relationship had become sour, maybe even toxic. To top it all off, on her way out the door, Callie cornered Arizona into the most painful custody hearing I’ve ever seen. Now that we’re at the finish line — it’s easy to want to forget the worst of their relationship, understandable even. But, that would be a mistake. When they were at their worst, Callie and Arizona were ugly with each other. They were careless and brutal. They had to separate in order to heal back whole. They needed time and distance to become healthy again. Hell, their self-care plan involved putting an entire country between them!
Arizona and Callie wasn’t the kind of love story that you read about in story books. As much as I wanted it to be sometimes, their love wasn’t all pink heart balloons and sweet kisses. It was grown up and messy. But ultimately, it also meant finding their way back to each other. It’s important to remember the full scope of their love, the best and the worst of it. No one promised that grand romances were pretty. As Meredith Grey reminded us in her closing voice over last night, “You need someone who will celebrate your wins, and grieve your losses. You need someone who can forgive you.”
I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a bit. In her last day living in Seattle, Arizona Robbins has one thing on her mind and that is getting her former mentee down the aisle. Karev wants to say a proper goodbye, but she won’t let him. She grew up saying goodbye to a lot of people moving from army base to army base, and she’s learned that the best thing is to push forward. She won’t cry on his wedding day.
She will, however, wear the gayest blue flannel and steam his suit for him. She’ll also take a kiss from his fiancée for good measure. (The fact that Arizona’s last on camera gay kiss came from Jo Wilson is almost too pitch perfect, I laughed so hard. Alex better watch out! — I’m kidding, I’m kidding.)
No Grey’s Anatomy wedding has ever gone off without a hitch, so you could assume that this episode would have a few snafus along the way. Whew buddy, did those snafus come in spades! First most of the wedding guests went to the wrong location, then the bride and groom snuck off to have quick wedding sex and ended up locked in a shed! Excuse me, LOCKED IN A SHED WITH A DEAD BODY!! Did I mention that the wedding planner almost died from an allergic reaction? They had to cut her out of her Spanx and shove expired Benadryl up her butt! Oh and, TEDDY ALTMAN IS BACK AND SHE IS PREGNANT!!!
The comedic mishaps gave us lots of time to catch up with Arizona and April ahead of their monumental life changes. In the wake of her near-drowning, April quit her job at Grey Sloan Memorial to do more of “God’s work.” She’s now working with patients at local homeless shelters across Seattle. That’s awesome and a fitting closure for her character on the show.
Also biding her time at the wedding, getting drunk with the rest of her intern class, is Intern Hellmouth. I’m almost positive this girl is going to be our new queer character in the wake of Arizona’s absence next year. She dedicates the first round of shots “to Meredith Grey — and the way she’s rocking that dress!”, the second round goes to Meredith’s “hair and the way you could just drown in it!” Hellmouth, is it too early to say that I love you?
It’s apparently not too early for Hellmouth to crash the wedding toasts and drunkenly declare her love for Meredith in front of all her co-workers. Carina DeLuca, who’s been playing intern chaperone all day, stops her at the last minute. Love is precious, Carina reminds her. You don’t want to waste it on someone who can’t love you back. She looks over her shoulder longingly as the camera zooms in on Arizona, smiling at her phone. Trust Carina about this. She knows.
Arizona’s lost in her own world in the back row of the wedding pews. Just her, and those smiles, and that phone. April plops down next to her, worried that she has cursed this failing wedding with all of her “I left someone at the altar and now everything I touch will turn to poo” magic. Arizona comforts her best friend, this wedding is not a catastrophe.
Her biggest worry right now? That whenever she gets a text from Callie, she smiles. She smiles dammit! And she can’t trust her heart to love again. We’ve been building to this moment for almost a month now. Ever since the day Arizona got the entire hospital high and spent all her time waxing poetic about how much she loved Callie. Ever since Arizona told her patient that Callie made the right choice in deciding to amputate her leg. Ever since she broke up with Carina and that heavy thud hung in the air between them. Ever since. Ever since. Ever since.
Now she’s moving to New York. And she’s single! And (EXCUSE ME WHILE I FAINT ALL OVER AGAIN) — Callie is single!! But Callie left her twice, first in the divorce and then when she moved across country with Sofia in hand. No one ever, in the history of her entire life, has hurt her like Callie.
April gets that. She hurt Matthew in unspeakable ways. He found a way to forgive her anyway. They found their way together, despite all of the pain. She wants that for Arizona, she wants her best friend in the entire world to have love and peace. For that to happen, Arizona has to stay open to possibilities. April holds her hands and looks her in the eye; it’s not a catastrophe that Callie is making her smile again. Webber — my favorite Robbins wingman who just happened to eavesdrop in on the conversation — wholeheartedly agrees. With her people by her side encouraging her, Arizona decides it’s time to be brave.
The episode ends Arizona’s story with the slyest, most romantic, slight of hand. You see, it was announced early Thursday that despite a lot of fan hopes, Sara Ramirez would not be making a guest star appearance to sweep Arizona off her feet. That’s fine, it turned out she didn’t need to be there to make my heart melt.
From the first note of the closing montage’s music, tears sprang to my eyes. I would know Sara Ramirez’s rendition of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” anywhere on the planet. Grey’s Anatomy has always had a specific relationship with music. Particularly in the early seasons, songs became tied to the show in ways that now feel permanent. Does anyone hear The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” and not feel transported to an OR room? That song, along with Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”, has always belonged to Meredith and Derek. But, “The Story”? That one is ours. That’s the anthem of Callie and Arizona’s love for each other.
Sara Ramirez’s version in particular will always gut me. It’s the song Callie sang at the end of the season seven’s musical episode. It’s the song she sang to newborn baby Sofia, still in an ICU incubator. It’s the song she sang before waking up from her coma and accepting Arizona’s marriage proposal. It’s the song of the strength of their family, a promise that they can overcome whatever life throws at them.
I sat on the very edge of my couch, inches from the tv, pillow clutched in my hand and mouthing along the words, “All of these lines across my face/ Tell you the story of who I am/ So many stories of where I’ve been/ And how I got to wear I am/ But these stories don’t mean anything, if you’ve got no-one to tell them to/ It’s true. I was made for you.”
Sara’s warm voice fills the space as Alex and Jo get married. She croons as, in a surprise ending to the episode, April marries Matthew! All those years after leaving him at the altar for Jackson, they have found their way back to each other. Sofia is their flower girl. Arizona walks April down the aisle, Jackson proudly stands as witness.
Finding your way back to each other — that’s the theme of the night. Sara Ramirez’s voice is lowered just a bit as Meredith’s voice over gets to the part about forgiveness being necessary for love. Arizona looks down at her phone. A text from Callie types across the screen, “I can’t wait to see you!”
Arizona smiles. She looks at Sofia — their daughter — and hugs her shoulders. They are going to be ok.
Earlier in the episode, Zola and Meredith were getting ready for the wedding. Zola told her mom, “ I don’t think love is like candy. I don’t think you could be too greedy for it. And I don’t think you could fill up on it.” Arizona and Callie’s love for each other, their love for their family, it’s not over yet. It will keep multiplying. This is their new chapter.
So no, we didn’t get to see Arizona and Sofia land in New York, Callie waiting for her girls at the airport with her arms wide open. I’d like to imagine that she maybe has flowers for Arizona in one hand and some chocolate for Sofia in the other. Maybe they have one of those big movie kisses where Callie dips her in front of cheering bystanders. Or, maybe their love will take its time finding security again. Maybe they will start dating slow and steady, getting to know each other fresh. With a few special make outs in dirty bar bathrooms for the nostalgia of it.
In some ways, those details ultimately don’t matter. One thing is for sure — as the screen goes to black, Sara Ramirez’s voice sweetly reminds us one last time, “Oh yes it’s true. I was made for you.”