Once again, I forgot the stars. They were always there, so hard to understand, so easy to forget. I remembered dark summer nights, tarps and sleeping bags laid out beneath the clear sky. I remember stars; so many stars that couldn't compete with the lights back home, and we never even thought of them before. The conversation fell off as we turned inward and upward. The sky was an ocean and our lives but a pebble thrown in without so much as a ripple. If we held our breath we could feel the Earth turning beneath us. Our desires, though clearly vain, only magnified beneath such a clock, pulling against the reigns that enslaved us to tasks that seemed, more than ever, a complete waste of time.
I was a long way from those summer nights. It was cold. I could only see a few stars through the lights, but there they were. They seemed sad that I forgot them, but then, they were there whether I remembered them or not; It had nothing to do with me. I was ashamed to forget. something died long ago and I wasn't paying attention. How could I get it back?
It was quiet on my back porch. The occasional dog bark or passing car, of course, but still quiet. I envied the smokers who had an excuse to step out for a few minutes every now and then.
Inside the dishwasher was running, my wife was talking on the phone, and everything I needed to do, meant to do but never got around to, were reproaching me. And it's all, I need to do this, I never did that, this is due tomorrow, whatever happened to that dream, three decades have slipped by and this is all it's added up to, I need to get going, but where.
And the TV was on, I guess, just for background noise. After a long week work, and people talking just to feel important, it was more than I could bear. With all that outside, and my ever churning brain inside, I needed an escape.
The cold and the stars shocked my system into silence. For a brief second the world opened up before me as if I'd never seen it before, as I stood back and watched. But one by one, the thoughts crept back. As my ears adjusted, even the sound of the TV was able to penetrate the glass door and reach my tired ears. Something was lost.
I learned to hate the TV as a teenager. Too much time was spent flipping through the channels, not finding anything, until I could feel my life bleeding from me as my brain turned to glue. Close my eyes, and there were changing channels. It would take everything to push a simple button and tear myself away. I told myself tomorrow would be different, but it never was.
When I moved away, I had no TV and I didn't miss it. I considered myself much better off for it. I had more time to read, which I rarely did. I had more time to think, which meant pacing the room as my mind went on and on until I wished it would just shut up. I had too much time to lay there and stare at the ceiling, thinking I should be doing something until I finally gave up and went to bed just to end the pointless day, hoping the next would be better.
Having put some distance between me and the tube, I had a much better perspective on those rare occasions I did get to watch. First, I didn't take any of it for granted. A box of light displaying images and sounds from around the world, from the past to that exact moment in time but for a brief delay for the signal to be shot to space and back again, jumping entire continents. Here was power, sitting so innocently in so many living rooms. I could almost feel what my parents, my grandparents, felt as they watched it for the first time, and knew the impact this thing had on their lives. There were so many channels, so many shows, so much opportunity, so much waste.
Seeing it with new eyes, everything was magnified. The good was miraculous, in full color right before my eyes. The bad was infuriating, like sandpaper on the soft flesh of my brain. I noticed the subtle condescension of the good commercials, felt their gentle magic on me, as they humored and lulled me into the notion my life might actually be better with their product in it. I felt the slap in the face of the bad commercials, as if I was stupid enough to fall for it. The stock audio laugh tracks, rarely even noticed before, made my blood boil.
A few months after meeting the girl who would be my wife, we sat on the couch and the TV was on. Her head was on my shoulder and her hand was in mine. We couldn't come up with anything to do, so the TV was on. What was on, I don't remember. It wasn't something I would've watched on my own, but at the time it didn't matter. I didn't have to come up with some place to go, something to do, spend money, and wonder if she was enjoying herself. I didn't have to come up with something to say only to hear my voice and think I sounded like an idiot. After only a few minutes I noticed my mind slowing, quieting. For the first time in years, my mind was quiet. There I was, the warm body of a beautiful girl next to me, her free hand stroking the inside of my forearm, her perfume under my nose, and I was comfortable. I was comfortable with her, with the TV, and with myself.
I saw a vision there, something comfortable, something domestic. I saw myself coming home from work, not caring what that work was, to this warm comfort. Before this image of someplace comfortable with someone to love, all my grand pursuits, whether intellectual or artistic, seemed just as silly and the worlds pursuit of fame and money. This enemy, this TV, this symbol of an idolatrous world's vanity, revealed my own vanity and replaced it with something better.
It was strange to admit to myself that it was that flickering blue light that told me this girl was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. From that moment on, my course was set.
But years had passed. Life is full of stuff, noise, and things that need to be done. It crowds in, makes it hard to breath and impossible to see. It talks and screams and beeps and buzzes away thoughts, dreams, and memories. And there I was, in the cold, trying to remember something. The door slid open behind me. A voice, soft, holding that secrete, that one thing I was looking for, somewhere in its smooth timbre.
"What are you doing out here?"
"Just getting some fresh air."
"Come sit with me." It wasn't so much a question as a demand, but a gentle one. Her eyes were somewhere between devious and pleading. What could I do?
Inside it was warm. The dishwasher hummed in the dark kitchen. The living room lights were dimmed and a show I actually liked was starting on the TV. There were two whole days before either of us had to go to work, and there was nothing that couldn't wait for another day. So we sat down before the great electric narcotic, proving once again that all things, though easily abused, are good in appropriate moderation.