It is dark outside. Stars are only visible in small cities, but here we have a never-ending supply of mosquitos and cicadas that never cease to sing their songs, or cry deep from their throats. I haven’t figured out which one it is yet. I sit locked in my car in the driveway of my house and stare at the window that refuses to roll down. I stay there for ten minutes, twenty, sometimes an hour, sometimes more. Yes, I have things to do. Yes, I should go inside, but I close my eyes instead. I am there however long it takes to inhale enough air to make it through the night, to remember to unbuckle my seatbelt, to have the strength to actually do it. I have never rushed inside the house. There is something about the transition period, the moments that don’t count in the big picture, the seconds in between, that are my escape.
Humans spend an average one-third of their free time watching TV, and 67% of that is reality television. Engrossing ourselves in someone else’s life, whether it be that of a dumbed-down over-paid model or a drug addict needing therapy from a “doctor”, intrigues society. We dive into the scenery around us and become that world, and bigger TV screens are desired for easier exploration of delusions. Fulfillment is the goal, but contentment is dangerous. America wants to be happy, but we will never be free - from ourselves.
I admit that I occasionally watch television, but I prefer a different kind of escape. I sometimes sit on my bed doing nothing but staring at the wall. It is a yellow a little too bright for my taste, but my sister liked the color. I study it. I need to get up to brush my teeth and change my clothes and it gets late, but I am obsessed with stretching out the transition period. The moments that don’t exist after they end. The moments that will not be remembered. Just like when the minute hand ticks and the show is finally over, I will eventually be pushed back into this chaotic world. My TV always took a few extra seconds to turn on, and that is when I find my mind wandering with a chain no longer attached.
I find memories in TV shows that I didn’t know existed. Favorite birthday parties will always be remembered and our best friend’s name is engrained in our brains, but the experiences we have that result in no outstanding and everlasting significance are where the truth resides. Humans are obsessed with “finding themselves” and entering the “real world”, but forcing our internal clocks to stop and intertwine their hands, entangling themselves together in an arranged love, expose what we didn’t know was behind a foggy stained glass. I sit in my car an extra few minutes when I notice a lack of stars and remember the telescope, now dusty, I used to look through as a child.
I sit in my car, I turn on my TV, and I stare at my wall to deviate from the path of self. There are moments in between when life slows down. The second of comprehension right after the light turns green, the exhale following the lift of the bars when the train has passed and counting cars has become old. There is something in the nothingness that holds a precious piece of life unattainable anywhere else. There is something in the nothingness that unlocks a memory so precious that it can only stand to be forgotten.
I believe my first memory to be when I was three years old. It felt like a Tuesday, and it was just past my bedtime. My kid-sized white frame bed was right in the middle of the bedroom, next to my sister’s bed that was too big for me to even climb on. The carpet was too light and the walls were never painted. I moved my Tweety Bird cased pillow to the opposite side of the bed that night. There was a dark purple T-shirt with big white letters I used to wear all the time. It hung up in my closet on a thin white plastic hanger. The world was giant back then.
I kept the shirt with me that night, gripping it tight in clenched fists and ignoring my sister’s curious glares. It was the first time I ever buried my face into a shirt and inhaled deeply, as if the worn-out cotton fibers were a better substitute for oxygen. It smelled like comfort, like protection, like my mom. I heard footsteps and stuffed it under my pillow. My dad walked in to kiss us goodnight, and he somehow knew it was there. He yanked it away and hung it up high where I could never reach. “Goodnight.” I missed my mother’s smell and cried myself to sleep. I was little and didn’t think to remember, I would see her in the morning.
I flip the channel. I don’t think that memory is very accurate and I am not sure it happened at all to begin with. I do, however, remain sleeping with my pillow on that side of the bed. I flip the channel. One time my sister and I drank straight lemon juice to see who could last the longest. I won. I flip the channel. I land on the memory of the time I skinned my knee skating in front of my grandparents. Cracks in the sidewalk are dangerous. I flip the channel to the memory of Honey Buns in the morning and a hindsight bias of new tennis-shoes on a shiny elementary school tiled floor. No wonder sitting in front of the TV is so tempting.
However, many nights I remain in my car instead. I think of empty spaces in books before the next chapter, the millisecond our eyes close to blink, the moment of silence before a new song plays on an old favorite CD, the second the screen turns black, silence in between heartbeats, the space in between each chicken-scratched letter, pauses between both harsh and soft words, the sound right before a slamming door, the second before the plane takes off, the moment before a comet is united with the earth, the inexplicable space in between parts of an atom, the flipping of TV channel memories. These are the moments where souls reside. This is where we find escape.
I lock the door and my head finds the steering wheel, my hands on the dashboard, feet under the pedals, I never move them myself. But every now and then, usually at night, I turn on the ignition and I drive. I do not stop at stop signs, speeding all the way to the highway, where there are no pauses and streetlights illuminate the lines on the road. Finally, I am free.