The Twilight Zone set a standard for television, and writing in general, through its anthological tellings of bizarre, previously unthought of stories, characters and visuals. The more I watch various episodes of the show, the more I have to remind myself this show was produced from 1959 – 1964. Once you get past the black and white, the show nearly acts like its living in the universe(s) it created (if you’re comparing it to the standard of television at the time)! To say the least, The Twilight Zone was decades ahead of its time, which makes it even more perplexing that any reboot attempt falls on its face through a ‘Twilight Zone twist’ of its own. But, they say nothing new is under the sun, and I’m sure that’s true, but much like disco and Paul McCartney, sci-fi never died.
And thank God for that.
Fifty-six years ago, the eighth episode of the first season aired, “Time Enough at Last”. In it, a Mr. Henry Bemis works as a bank teller, but instead of working, spends any and all free time reading. Reading all the time. Reading as if his life depended on it. His wife, Helen, can’t stand his addiction, and neither can his boss. He has no time to read, even in the comfort of his own home! Instead of feeling like he can do what he wants, he’s a slave with his own captor. So just like any other day, he takes his lunch break, but in the bank vault this time to avoid any snarky comments — to have time to himself.
(And, well, I’m not going to ruin it for you. Watch it. Now.) (Unless you don’t care, then read on.) (I actually can’t find a link, so.)
The world is blown apart by bombs, and he’s the sole survivor. His wife is dead, and he’s happy. His job is gone, and he’s happy. There’s no one to criticize him anymore! He can do all that he wants, all with himself! It’s freeing! Liberating! But then reality sets in. What is this world? How will he survive? What will he do? There’s nothing anymore, so what’s the purpose?
Books. Pages upon pages, sentences upon sentences; the library, mangled and roughed up, is the spring in his empty desert. Almost in sheer disbelief, Henry finds the remains of the library and gleefully finds peace with his newfound buddies. Books are stacked, one for each day of the year, and he sits down, coming off a natural high.
“And the best thing, the very best thing of all, is there’s time now. All the time I need. All the time I want.” – Henry Bemis
“What’s that,” his eyes glance towards an overlooked book near his feet, and his joys of surviving the apocalypse are nothing more than a mirage now. His glasses shatter on the ground, and he stutters to himself, crying.
“That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all. There was time, now. There was…was all the time I needed. That’s not fair. That’s not fair.” – Henry Bemis
Per Henry’s somber cry for help, I’m reminded of that certain quietness that comes in your worst moments. Not the quiet that fills the woods in a campout, not the quiet that sluggishly creeps in your mindset as you fall asleep for the night, and not the quietness you find when driving through a small town, or an empty building, or a tear-filled drive to the funeral of a loved one. Rather, it’s a tangible, audible quiet.
I guess you could compare it to the bitter winter, or maybe like a physical interpretation of the everyday awfulness you hear about it in the news or on the streets, yet even then, it carries a sense of urgency unlike the others.
“Where do I go from here,” you ask, and you can’t provide an answer. You can’t provide even a simple hypothesis for your next step. There’s no simple guessing, because if it were simple, you wouldn’t be sulking in the emptiness. If it feeds off your ability to love or to hate or to get back in the regular rotation of things, what’s the pull out method?
These are questions I find myself asking often. And by often, I mean most everyday. There is a future of course – graduate college then move to Boston – but what about all that fluff in the in-betweens? What about the next two weeks when I can’t see past the current minute? I know that my mind is overthinking and searching for the answer I want, but telling myself, “Okay, seriously Joel, just stop.” does as much as good as having someone else telling me the same thing.
A recurring theme I seem to talk about is loneliness, but I swear I don’t mean for that to be. And believe me, the last thing I want is for you to feel bad for me. I don’t write for others to give me attention or praise; I write because its my voice when I don’t have one, and it’s my company when quietness is eating me alive. There are moments everyone in life feels helpless, but I’ve always been fascinated in just how they get over that. It’s human nature to feel misery, but it’s also human nature to fluidly combat it with the help of time.
This past July, I felt like I could no longer control just how unbearable this disgusting, putrid silence was. I was not happy with anything. I’m not exaggerating, either. I genuinely was not happy with how one single thing in my life was playing out. From my home life to my friends to my car, all of it looked like rotten food to me. So, one night, I sat alone in my room crying, toying with the idea of either leaving town for a few days, renting a hotel room for the night, or going somewhere and getting drunk enough to forget about my worries. Leaving town wouldn’t work because of funds, getting drunk by myself didn’t seem safe or logical — so the hotel it was. I messed with at least five different hotel booking sites, finding many I liked it, but couldn’t commit to booking a single room. My thumb resisted not because of the money, but because of the escape. Thinking about it is one thing, but committing to it? That’s like comparing The War of 1812 to the Cold War.
I resisted for a solid hour. Every excuse I had made its three-minute presentation and sat back down, ready to listen to the others. My mom comforted me over the phone during this ordeal, and at one point I remember telling her, “I can’t stay here tonight or I’ll never sleep.”
It wasn’t until 11:15 P.M. I finally made a decision on a hotel, and the place I picked was miles and miles away from where I live. I needed the distance. So, I stop by the grocery store and pick up a few things to eat (and two beers, because why not?) and drove across the metropolitan area until I pulled in, locked my car and brought my luggage to my room.
“And the best thing, the very best thing of all, is there’s time now. All the time I need. All the time I want.”
Turning on the lights, this is what I expected to feel. I wanted to feel liberated. I wanted to feel like I had escaped my worries, even just for a night, and I wanted to be the Joel I remember being before July. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I was met with a sobering (yet very nice) hotel room, and just like where I was 40 minutes prior, I still felt distracted and disrupted by the same eerie silence.
It stalked me.
But I allowed it to.
The night itself ended short only because I took sleeping pills with me, and I’m still beyond thankful they ended up mudding my thoughts as I fell asleep for the night. Before I knew it, sunlight crept in through the blinds and I got up and ready to continue right from where I left the moment I walked out the front door the night before: real life.
Much like the closing shot of “Time Enough at Last”, the post-hotel week felt like a slow zoom-out that I could view from afar. Things fell relatively back to normal shortly thereafter, even if they were twisted and torn and ugly through my poor point of view, but that was what I needed.
Because in a weird twist of fate, my digging through the trenches no longer dictated the future I held. In fact, I ended the month of July feeling happier than before, stronger than before and prouder than before in any recent time leading up to it. I may not have felt liberated, but I felt like me. And I missed me.
For if I was able to subdue that quietness, that lack of company and that lack of any real comfort, surely Mr. Henry Bemis, too, found a new pair of glasses to continue on with his journey. That’s what I like to believe.