Photo by Mandy Goldberg/Flickr

When I think of home, I can’t help but hear the T.V. running like a toilet. Except with T.Vs, jiggling the handle means banging the remote against the table so the batteries work, or turning the dial to the next station, or adjusting the antennae so the image comes in clearer.

I’m not sure when my beef with television began, but I do know a T.V., at any volume, always sparks some irritation within me.

My grandfather calls it “Tell Lie Vision,” a riff that, like all jokes, has some truth to it. And perhaps, that’s precisely my issue: T.V. lying on my vision.

Unlike most of the kids I knew growing up, my brothers and I were not allowed to watch whenever and whatever we wanted. We had strict rules. T.V. watching happened on “T.V. nights” or on certain days after school. This also meant that all of the shows I watched were either shows we watched as a family or because the first person who got the remote after school turned it on.

Family shows were “Star Trek: Voyager,” “7th Heaven,” “Smallville,” “Heroes,” “Everwood” and anything else that came on Thursday or Tuesday evenings on the WB. “First to the remote” shows included programs like “Family Feud,” “Veronica Mars,” “The Parkers,” “My Wife and Kids,” “Girlfriends,” “Reba,” “Half & Half,” and “One on One.”

If you notice anything about this list, notice we didn’t have cable. Only four channels and one highly sought after remote.

I never got the remote. Which stands to reason ‘cause I was the worst T.V-watcher. This was because I was the worst eater and the best talker. T.V nights, directly after dinner, meant one could, after finishing their plate, saunter from the kitchen over to the den and claim their seat directly in front of the wooden machine.

But I couldn’t stop talking long enough to focus on the meal and we weren’t allowed to eat in front of the T.V. So I’d sit alone at the table with a plate full of baked chicken and broccoli, chewing slowly, screaming into the T.V. room, desperately trying to hold a conversation. And, by the time I finished my food and put my plate in the sink–God forbid it was my week to do the dishes–I would enter the den, the show halfway finished, and immediately start asking “Wait, what’s going on?”

If I was in a sitcom, I would have had a laugh track following me–and the redhead who sat in the front row cackling would have had a lot to laugh about and have gotten paid very well to do so–because “Wait, what’s going on?” was my catchphrase. And like the moments before “Go home, Roger” in the Mowry twins’ “Sister Sister,” I got the same rhetorical question over and over, “Why aren’t you paying attention?”, which soon mutated into the imperative “Pay attention!”

But I couldn’t. Every time I sat down to watch T.V., I would get The Drift. The Drift would begin with an image. “Star Trek: Voyager”’s Chakotay and Janeway would be chatting in her quarters and suddenly the stars outside her window, unmoving and illuminating, would look so bright and so dim at the same time. And then I’d start thinking about other bright/dim things like mozzarella cheese and the way it was so white and smelled so good, but tasted like air and water had a soggy, yummy baby. Or, I’d remember my alarm clock that I painted over with clear nail polish because I thought it would make it shine, but instead it just made it hard to read; how the numbers still shone through despite the polish, like slug juice, painted over its screen. And what if I programmed my alarm clock to go off every time it was time for me to consume a bright/dim thing like mozzarella? Maybe I’d expand my taste across the cheese board and set my alarm to my favorite song, David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do.” I’d call my new invention “Charm”–cheese alarm–and dance while Byrne exhorted “So slip inside this funky house.” I’d slip. And inside the funky house, I’d eat cheese and then, eventually, the alarm. Then, I’d look up and Chokotay was dead or dying and I was confused, asking my age old “Wait, what?”

Early sci-fi leads to early speculation which leads to reason: nobody wanted to watch T.V. with me. And that was fine, because I didn’t really want to watch T.V as much as I wanted to talk and find someone who’d tell me the story of what had happened, but in their own words.

My dad was the best at this. Whenever I’d ask him to tell me what had happened in a movie I hadn’t seen (or, admittedly, in some cases, had), he’d tell it to me in full detail. Lights, camera, CGI, climax, plot, etc. You name it, he re-told it. His retellings were the one time I’d find myself actually listening to what he was saying. Otherwise, I’d fight The Drift and with it my imagination’s urge to begin planning the marriage between my homemade Chia Pet and the sink.

There are two kinds of childhood homes: the house where everyone went to watch T.V and the house where everyone came to watch T.V. Which house was yours is a question that only you can answer. But luckily for me, my maternal grandfather had 12 kids, and my mom, the eldest of the 12, had plenty of houses to offload us and my drifting imagination to.

Aunt Tricia’s row home in Yale Heights was the best, both in terms of screen quality and trance induction. I suspect it was partially because Aunt Tricia was also generous enough to allow me into the snack cupboard–a place my strict parents selfishly didn’t even think to have in our home–and to eat those cream-filled wafers and indulge in Lorna Doone’s cookies, without judgment or restriction. She’d also fry her chicken. This was the best reprieve and “I told you so,” after months of begging my father to stop baking juicy chicken into dried out banana slices. So admittedly, between the grease highs and sugar lows, I did watch every stage recording of Tyler Perry’s “Madea.” All while Aunt Tricia, the industrious single mother of 3 growing boys, sat beside us or wandered in and out of the living room in between variations of her own Drift.

Recently, in my Res Hill residence, my roommate and I have been watching all of the reality T.V show “Black Ink Crew.” If you know nothing about the franchise, know that this New York tattoo shop is run by a Gemini man who, naturally, gravitates towards a Pisces woman, and in their romantic union, chaos ensues. While laughing at this show, and Drifting–which, in my adult years, is mostly a slippery slope into anxious daydreams about my future and my finances–I always come back to a series of images–plots, conflicts, relationships–that have escalated to even more hilarious and fantastical situations than my own imagination could conjure. And, like humans do, I tune back into the drama as my laughter–and my judgment–help me to feel better about myself.

Grown as I am, I’ve never owned a T.V. Though, I’ve been privileged to live in houses that come with people who have them. Recently, I helped two friends move out of their Res Hill residence. We cleaned the whole place, but the T.V., hung up on the wall like a taxidermied deer on the mantle, had yet to come down. Apparently, the way it was hung up required special tools to unlatch it from the wall. I left the operation to Drift about my day as I do and when I returned they had figured it out; the T.V was gone. It was official. They had moved out. Their house was no longer a home.

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Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...