THE MAN WHO LOVED TV
My beloved husband died a protracted, terrible lingering death, but I didn’t attend the funeral because he was in the living room watching TV.
While it is true that some men punctually die, and that others become enslaved to drink, drugs, gambling, loose women, cars, sports, or anything eles not a wife, I certainly did not desire his demise, and wasn’t looking to enslave. Instead, I was looking for talks, walks, and an adult to relax with after phenomenally taxing days with three children: a teen, an emotionally disturbed pre-teen, and a toddler. But , tough as things were, my husband gave me each precious one of them; one must remember that.
You might wonder, if we were so disparate, how these creatures even came into existence? Well, there were times. There was respite. There was actually just me, and no electronics at all. All right, so they, the kids, were my idea, as is true with many couples, but they were not meant as replacements for a the man who loved TV. At least, not the older ones. Yes, it’s quite possible that, subconsciously, that last little girl sprang into being because the man was pretty much on the wane. Off course, TV is a nasty excuse for a cute little girl.
I have loved people before, who have left me, forever, like my father in his futile battle with cancer; like Annie, my earliest friend, whose similar battle was lost at age 42; and, as well, those who only virtually withdrew, as in, my mother, alive and well and as complete without me, as an amputee who’s compensated to the max. My husband’s ex-wife had warned of the obsession with TV but, as well, with the guitar, but because one thing was so admirable I laughed off the other. It never occurred to me that TV could be life itself, a person's very lungs and air, and one long and annoying commercial in the show (sitcom? Greek tragedy?) called marriage.
For many, many years after the first child’s birth, I was ill, and this man that I still love, took care of me. TV burgeoned then, because I was in bedridden so much of the time. Bed became our dinner table, our scrabble table, our talk-it-over place, our crossword place, my child-raising place, our conjugal place, but most of all, our TV place. To be honest, TV was our happy thing, passive as it is; it took so little effort for me, yet provided entertainment and a human to share it with. The glowing screen brought laughter, drama, and news of the outside world. It saved us. It was only gradually, over time, as I got better, and our family grew, that TV became, for my husband, not only a fixture in our family, but its most important member, the one that never let you down, whose options kept growing, that never criticized, complained or burdened you with its problems, that exacted no chores, that calmed, mollified, suckled, and in the end, mercifully deadened.
My husband loves old movies. I’ve thought a lot about this...the times when men were men and women were women, when men could be old and craggy and cranky (as in today’s movies as well) but the women were always beautiful (ditto) and docile, and completely fulfilled by finding the right man, and cleaning and child-rearing; the times when things were rather black and white, before various types of color. Lately, I’ve had an idea. Why don’t I watch TV with him, and be together? After all, those old movies, while they seem so sexist and often bore me, are better than football, the sit-coms are sometimes funny, and tsome of the cop and lawyer shows can be thought-provoking. But then I feel angry. I begin to remember how my husband, for all purposes, dropped his daughter off one day, so to speak, as a baby, dropped her from his schedule, let’s say, and just now, when she is a high-school junior, and her homework now challenges him, has re-appeared. I remember years when the Cosby kids were irresistible but his own, reading or playing or saying “the darndest things” were not. I think of the four-course hot dinners I make when I am dead tired, and his insistence at eat in front of the tube, effectively silencing us all.
My husband does not look in a TV guide, find a show and watch it, and then turn the tube off until something else palatable appears. Anything is palatable, especially now so many options, so the TV goes on the minute he walks in from work, my bursting with things both adorable or dreadful, regarding our kids, and my eyes' feasting on something that is taller than I am, with a brain equal to or surpassing my own. TV stays on. When there is nothing, the channels are flipped, and channels can flip for an entire half hour, hour, several hours. Sometimes I try and talk during commercials. Sometimes I steop in front of the screen, and flap my arms like a bird. “Look at me! My dimensions are three!” I want to shout, but don't. I ask him to mute at least the commercials. For decades I have asked him to mute them, but it has not become automatic, and is a further annoyance.
I am a person of some intelligence, creativity, and wit. I'm not too terrible on the eyes. Many (most or all, it seems) find me engaging and fun. I read a lot. I paint and write, compose music, and adore silliness. Still, with all this esteem, I tend to remember negative comments the best: “other people like me,” I'll say to him. He says, “that’s because they don’t know you well.” That was about seven years ago or so, but it repeats, like a commercial, although to this one comment, he has added passing praises on my now dwindling beauty, and other positive remarks. But that comment rings in my ears whenever I start to get a big head on me, in other words, think that I deserve better. Another of his mantras is “it's not what you say; it's what you do.” TV he what he does.
I say goodnight to my husband. Although it causes some discomfort, he turns slightly so I can kiss him. He makes an attempt to look a bit like he cares I was leaving. But something neon is just too compelling. So off I pad, to my cell, to read alone, sip hot milk alone, and read something sadder than I am, or, often something detached from our world enough, that our world can recede. I love the short stories of Ray Bradbury. I call this desire for science fiction “retreating into the global.” I think it might be like religion is for other people. Think Big. Think Other. Think thoughts that will put a perspective on how things are, a perspective that diminishes the pain, because it is now left behind on earth, and I am not living it, just observing, and eventually, not observing, but ignoring. In other words, these coping mechanisms are my soap operas.
Then I pop my pills, two trazadone, two clonazepam, and a lot of cal-mag. The clonazepam is scary, because if you take it and stay up, you can feel it start to remove you from yourself, which is what I want, except I don’t want to be there. It’s physically weird. So those go under the tongue the minute I want out. I can still hear the TV, and an occasional chuckle, or the jarring of switching from show to show, the increased volume of the blaring commercials. And I remember that a long time ago I went to sleep to the sound of his guitar, and without pills. I focus on this, and fall asleep, and then, it’s a new day. I arise, and the TV is on for the toddler, those cartoons. It’s the first thing I hear. This keeps her busy, which really is okay, since it is he who must always arise with her as I sleep the medication out of my system.
One night after hearing TV for about 6 hours, I retired to my room, doors closed, earplugs in. I had to go out from time to time, nerves jangling, passing the inert form on the overstuffed chair. As usual, I knew I still loved him and had figured out long ago that TV was just a safer form of drug, and drugs are for problems, for pain. I knew I would never be a salve or palm for that pain, though I had tried. I couldn’t compete for the chronic quick fix.
So I passed him for the last time and went in and ate a baked potato. I had my three-year old with me. She was delighting me with stories, fabrications and permutations and weird summations of all the fairy tales currently in her mind's cache, intermingled with the adventures of her pretend baby sister who had been “born” within the last two weeks and decided to stick around. I was mesmerized. It was so much better than TV. When she was done, she said “Mommy? “ “What?” I said. “When I get up, first thing I’m going to do is watch Pinocchio.” And I knew that this was as true as Pinocchio’s truisms were false.
Each day I look older, so, actually, leaving my husband is not a good idea. I like having a man in my life. I like the one I have. I look at him, and hear, when he chooses to speak to me, his lucid, clear, gentle voice, like an gentle stream that is steady, steady, steady. I look in his face and I think, someday he could really be gone. In the dim room, in the reflection of his glasses, there is the flicker of bodies speaking, moving, chasing, crying, loving, leaving, shouting, ......I can’t see the downward-turning, melancholy, light-brown eyes which, I know as much as anything else, for decades, have lit up my life. That is, I lurch forward into past tense.
I say that tomorrow maybe we’ll unpack some of the acres of books in the garage. He loves displaying books, even if he doesn't enjoy reading. This is something we had planned on for today. I say, if the hardware store is closed, we’ll go somewhere else, in order to get those shelves made. But he is not listening. A woman on TV is kissing her man, and he is tenderly stroking her hair.
Copyright 2002 Julianza Shavin