By the time he left elementary school, two significant life-defining patterns emerged in my brother Merle’s life.
Television became his best friend. They were inseparable.
All his responses – laughter, anxiety, engagement – flowed freely when he watched TV or, more accurately, when he peered through that glass tube to enter the reality of television life.
As soon as he was able to flee the harassment and failure of school he became a full time resident of TV territory.
At about the same time ritual added more structure to that provided by the TV Guide. They changed over the years but counting remained a constant. The number of times he had to walk in the room before eating, the number of times a certain display had to be touched before exiting a store. For years he would not move from the basement of my parent’s house except on Thursdays.
No diagnosis like OCD existed, at least in our world.
He was just different, often tormented, seemingly buffeted by fears beyond his power, happy or satisfied only when watching television.
His moral code seemed to have come from my fundamentalist leaning parents but I often wonder what moral mandates have come from his other reality. Certainly he has absorbed a consumerist mindset that manifests itself not only in his compulsion to acquire video discs but also in his expectations of others.
It is easy for me to grow impatient with my brother’s TV habit and OCD but, at a deeper level, his life prompts me to wonder: What are the practices I use to help me manage reality and when do they distort rather than engage reality?