It’s something I have always done, even from my earliest days. In the late ’60s, when most kids didn’t have a TV, I had one, in my room. 20 inch, black and white, portable TV. No remote. I can’t remember the brand anymore, but that’s just one invisible detail in a story about becoming invisible. With that TV, I watched Japanese monster movies, and re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. With that TV, I watched local news with anchors nobody remembers. With that TV, I watched the Dodgers and the Giants.
With that TV, I would disappear.
In the late ‘60s, both my parents worked, and they had plans in place to counteract leaving a child on his own before the age of ten. My grandmother lived with us, but by the late ‘60s, she was in her early eighties couldn’t keep up, and there wasn’t much she could do to make interesting to a child the things she was interested in. Just like there wasn’t much that a woman born in the waning years of the nineteenth century could understand from a kid growing up in the mid-twentieth. So, when all the afterschool sports and games were done; after all the neighborhood kids were called inside for the doing of things like homework and family dinners; before my parents would return from work, in the dark; I would retreat to my cluttered room, with the 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.
With that TV, I would disappear.
It became a habit almost impossible to break. The retreat from loneliness into a different kind of loneliness. One of my own choosing. With my stunted social skills, learned well, but honed badly by the lack of brothers and sisters, or hands-on parenting, I was more at home in my room, in front of a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV, as I was in the company of other kids, or their families. When I tell this story now, to people who think they know me… and I seldom tell it… they have a hard time believing that I’m not a lifelong extrovert. Only decades of well-rehearsed dealings with folks… of knowing when, in conversation, to press in and look genuinely interested, or when to back off, so as to come across as informally cool… have gifted me with the ability to keep myself from disengaging, yet remaining in a soothing isolation from the crowd. All of it reminding me of a childhood in which I felt more in control in the shadows of a room lit by a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.
With that TV, I would always disappear.
And now, because this is a blog post and not a novella, I end with this.
Today I live in the second decade of the twenty-first century, almost fifty years removed from a time when a kid could disappear into the world of a 20 inch, black and white, portable TV. The second decade of the twenty-first century, where listing the potential distractions for a child of this space and time would take longer to write than it took you to read this. And it is no great surprise, except to most of my friends who think I could not possibly be anything other than an extrovert, that my retreat is still TV.
But they will always be wrong. Because I will always have that need. To fade into the shadows, and hear only the voices of those whose words I can turn on and off at will. To close the door on the outside world, and let go of things beyond my control. I miss that 20 inch, black and white, portable TV.
Because with that TV, I would disappear.
© Copyright 2015 Bill Friday