I started writing a short story a while ago. I write a lot of short stories, and the vast majority of them never see the light of day, or the OLED backlight of a screen. This one was different though, I thought it was brilliant. I was writing a parabolic tale about coming of age and managing to hold on to some of the magical thinking of our youth. When I say parabolic I mean parable-like, an instructive or informative anecdote or tale, not the mathematically described perfect curve.
This story was awesome, it was cute and kitschy and catchy and concise, it had it all. I thought about it for a week or so before I sat down to write it. That’s rather fast in comparison to my normal workflow.
I sat down and typed several sentences, digging deep for all my favorite fancy phrases and allegorical analogies. It was great, I was in a flow state and the words just kept coming. Then I realized that I was essentially writing my parable in reverse. Not in reverse like I wrote the ending first, but reverse like the meaning and the tale were at odds with each other, the message I was sending was the opposite of what I intended!
I was at work one day and I walked by the breakroom. I do this several times a day and rarely think about it. Almost every time I walk by I look in and see that the light is on and the room is empty. Usually I just reach in and flip the lightswitch and carry on about my day without thought or comment. It’s a habit, one drilled into me over years and years of raised voices and empty threats.
It all started with my grandpa. We, my siblings and I, lived with our grandparents for several years when I was young. They had a nice house in a nice little town and they ‘ran a tight ship’ if you will. Well, my grandpa really ran the ship. He was a gnarly dude. I used to mythologize him, my brother and cousin and I would sit and make up stories about all the amazing things he’d done, using old photos from the family album as a basis and inspiration for our fanciful tales. He was awesome, but you didn’t want to get on his bad side. One of the many things he enforced, that I didn’t understand at the time, was turning off lights when you left a room. Invoking the wrath of my grandfather was a tremendous experience and, though I love the man that he was and am grateful for the lessons he taught me, he gave me some memories that I wish I didn’t have.
Later on we moved back in with my dad. He was similar in that my little-boy mind viewed him as some mystical type of Ubermensch. He was also similar in his quick temper and Old Fashioned sensibilities. So many, many times I’ve heard that I was going to have my fingers broken, or the classic I brought you in to this world, and I can take you out! because I forgot to turn off the lightswitch. I didn’t understand it at the time. In fact, I distinctly remember thinking a few times that it would save energy to leave the switch on – I was coming back in a few minutes and it’s got to be more efficient to just leave the switch on, I remembered my dad saying something similar about the engine in his truck.
Fast forward a few more years and I found myself in basic training at Fort Knox. Whew, what an experience! I learned multitudes about myself, how to control my body and my emotions, how to push myself to my absolute limit, how to do things I never thought I’d be able to. I also learned that those threats weren’t always as empty as they sounded, something so simple as leaving a light on in an empty room could lead to endless hours of physical and mental anguish. It was good though, I’m grateful for it.
Basic training was when I finally learned the lesson, since then I’ve been hyper-vigilant for vacant, illuminated rooms. I think I am a bit obsessive about it. Most people, I’m sure, will usually turn a light out when they leave a room, especially if they’re the last person to leave it. Most people, I’m sure, also don’t get irrational anxiety when they’re in bed and they can see through the crack in the door that the hallway light is on and everyone’s in bed.
So, when I’m at work and I see that somebody has left the breakroom light on, I usually just turn it off and go on about my day. That day, however, I made a shitty comment, something about wondering who is paying bills and global warming, or something. One of the women who works up front heard me and laughed and said I sounded like her dad. That sent me on a mental adventure into my own eccentricities and I became conscious of all the times I’d freaked out over lights being left on. There were many.
Then I thought about all the times I’d been freaked out on for leaving the lights on. There were many of those as well. Then I amused myself by remembering how oblivious I was as a child, as if there were tooth fairies and shoe elves around every corner, and magical lightswitch fairies that went around behind me turning off all the lights that I’d left on.
Turning off lights when you leave a room is an important habit to get in to. It saves energy, which helps cut down on the impact we have, collectively, on this beautiful planet we call home; it cuts down on costs, which means there is more money in the home for things that are needed, like food and clothes and all the other important stuff; and it reduces the strain on your lightbulbs themselves, which leads to less unnecessary waste and fewer trips to Home Depot – tangentially, going into a Home Depot, or similar store, is a harrowing experience for me, I don’t know what it is but it tends to induce panic attacks.
Turning off lights is also not something that warrants threats of bodily harm to children. I get it, it’s frustrating. You go to work, you work hard all day, and you come home to a house full of heathens and barbarians who don’t seem to care about a thing. I’ve been there. I’ve also learned, through experience, that people tend to learn things when they are explained to them, and they tend to stop caring when all they get is yelled at. Drill Sergeants are a completely different story, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to appease an angry Drill Sergeant.
Anyway folks, thanks for stopping by, I hope you all are having a good week so far.
Go out and be the best you that you can possibly be. And turn out the lights!