Thank you Rod Serling

How to save the life of a lonely widower over a long, solitary ‘holiday’ weekend

Imagine, if you will, a widower living alone in a bungalow in Upstate New York. He is going out of his mind with thoughts of his dead wife. He doesn’t know if he can survive the long weekend. Then, purely by chance, he turns his TV to the Sci-Fi channel, where he discovers a marathon of continuous, nonstop episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The award-winning series, which ran from 1959 to 1964, was created by Rod Serling, who wrote more than 80 of the 156 episodes. Rod Serling was a man of brilliant and unlimited imagination, sadly a chain smoker who died in 1975 at the age of 50. [Rod Serling was a U.S. Army paratrooper with the 11th Airborne in World War II who saw an unforgettable amount of death in the Philippines — but that’s a story for another time.]

Let us return to our lonely widower in the bungalow in Upstate New York, where, incidentally, Rod Serling was born and died, respectively, in Syracuse and Rochester, New York.

The ever-bereft widower (it’s been three years for godsake!) spends the entire weekend — how many days? two, three, he doesn’t know — watching back-to-back episodes of The Twilight Zone, consuming countless shots of gin and becoming swept up in an other-world of ‘reefer madness.’ He truly, and as far as he knows, enters The Twilight Zone.

He becomes the lonely astronaut marooned on a distant planet; the writer who can bring people back to life by describing them to a tape recorder; the bitterly unhappy actor who becomes the blissful character he’s playing in a movie; the loser who can stop time with a magic stopwatch…

And from watching these episodes, our widower — anti-hero, madman, loser, alcoholic, solitary inhabitant of a planet that in his case is the planet Earth — comes, in an epiphany-like haze, to the startling and possibly life-saving conclusion (at least for the time being) that if he cannot be with his wife in reality because she is dead and unreachable and always will be since oblivion is an unreachable destination, then he will be with her in his own gin-soaked purple haze now known as — thank you Rod Serling — The Twilight Zone.


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A long time in the Twilight Zone

Consider, if you will, the plight of Timothy T. Terwilliger…

THE TWILIGHT ZONE


 

It has been one year and seven months since the death of his wife but in his mind it is as though she just vanished. Poof! One minute she was here and the next minute she was gone.

Mr Terwilliger still looks at the empty armchair in the living room in disbelief. In bed he looks at the empty pillow in disbelief. He reaches over and touches it. She is definitely not there. Was she ever there? Was it a dream? He cannot recall the details of her not being there.

Images come and go. Holding her hand in the ICU, a machine humming or beeping, he cannot remember which but it was either humming or beeping or a combination of the two.

He does not remember phoning her sister and her brother, sometimes he remembers phoning them but he does not remember what was said but they tell him he phoned them, phoned them several times.

He thinks he remembers a priest coming into the room but in the next second he does not remember a priest in the room. He thinks he remembers a nurse saying it was time to turn off the machine but in the next second he does not remember anyone saying that.

Mr Terwilliger does remember someone from hospice driving him home and he remembers hoping the man would come into the house with him but the hospice guy just dropped him off and drove away and that surprised him and he went into the house by himself and walked from room to room knowing his wife was not in any of the rooms because he remembered leaving her in the hospital room and then in the next moment he did not remember leaving her in the hospital room.

He remembers sitting in an armchair in the living room for what seemed like days, sitting there alone and the phone never rang and no one came to the door and the days must have been separated by nights but he cannot remember that either because he cannot remember ever going into the bedroom and getting into bed and sleeping.

It was like nothing had happened because he could not remember anything. He was in a vacuum, like the first moments of regaining consciousness after you black out. He thinks he thought he was losing his mind but he was not sure of that either.

All he knows is that one year and seven months later nothing has changed. The silence, the dead phone, the dead doorbell, the vacuum. The nights, the days, all one. One year and seven months is a long time to be in the first moments of regaining consciousness after you black out.

Sometimes he thinks he is dead. But if he is dead, who drank the contents of all those empty liquor bottles?


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