Memories, circa 1995.
I had an “overactive imagination” that fed ravenously on anything mysterious or taboo.
I was morbidly fascinated by the true-crime and conspiracy programs my dad would watch late at night. I’d sneak out of bed and get a peek of the television; wide-eyed, I’d take mental notes about potential warning signs: creepy white guys and alien tracks were at the top of my list. Did you know that a distinctive stone is produced in the spot where an alien falls to the ground?
(I just tried Googling “alien leaves stone on ground where it falls on its butt” to find the original clip on Youtube. No luck.)
I would get a cold thrill when I heard the dramatic music of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh’s composed newscaster-like persona told sinister murder stories with a detached, factual demeanor that totally creeped me out. I was haunted by the composite sketches and mugshots they’d display at the end of every dramatized murder re-enactment.
Immediately thereafter, I’d run to the bay window overlooking our front yard and rip open the heavy curtains to look outside. All I would see was the same orange streetlight glow reflecting off car windshields. Quiet suburbia. A little too quiet, if you asked me.
Thus was born the conspiracy-driven investigative fixation of my childhood.
I was ever-vigilant, on the lookout for crazed murderers in our suburban cul-de-sac. I also set intricate traps in my bedroom to thwart potential extra-terrestrial room invaders. Webs of yarn strung like a spiderweb, marbles on the carpet to make an intruder slip and fall, my toys placed with painstaking precision so I’d spot any slight disturbance or irregularity in their arrangement. The only intruders I ever caught were my poor parents trying to tuck me in.
Fast-forward to adulthood.
I’m a notorious fraidy cat. I don’t enjoy watching horror films, or any media with extreme, graphic violence. However, I’m still fascinated by grisly stories, true-crime cases, and creepy unsolved mysteries.
Hearing a true scary story around a campfire is way creepier than watching fictional dramatized storytelling on a big screen. A mental image is vibrant enough, and even more terrifying than someone’s attempt to visualize a “scary” image. Our imagination fills in the dark cracks with those terribly personal innermost fears, those secret things that take hold of us in our nightmares. Our own intimate fear triggers that make our pulse quicken and give us chills when we’re alone in the dark of night.
As for me, I don’t set alien traps or supervise neighborhood surveillance anymore. But I always lock my doors, keep my eyes open, and take an extra cautionary peek over my shoulder. Just in case.
As a little kid, I used to look up into the infinite night sky and feel hypnotized; It was as confusing as it was magnificent. (Of course, my fascination with outer space had nothing to do with the fact that I was convinced aliens existed, and they were headed right to my bedroom to bring me to my doom…) At a time when I was trying to figure out the world around me, and discover what reality meant, the blackness of space was incomprehensible. Out in the infinite vastness, I couldn’t even see anything that looked remotely familiar from my science class. We learned about our solar system with coloful diagrams that showed the other gigantic planets in comparison to Earth. Yet when I looked up at night, I saw nothing but tiny pinpricks. The magnitude of the galaxy was stupefying, and also oddly calming.
I remember asking myself, “If space is infinite, and Earth is nothing but a grain of sand in comparison to everything else, why do we matter? Why do our mistakes, our stress, our rules mean anything? If we’re nothing but grains of sand, why can’t we just do whatever we want? In the end, it means no difference to the universe.”
This thought followed shortly after : “If the universe is infinite and we will never be able to explore all of it, then how do we know for sure that aliens don’t exist?” Hey, I can’t disagree with my little self—I still think I had a point. My parents, however, weren’t so amused with my logic and how it related to aliens—they just told me I had an overactive imagination. See what they had to deal with ?
But the idea that maybe we don’t need to be governed by rules or stress or obligations that we create ourselves is something I forgot along the way. I am now a grown-up governed by made-up rules, and more often than not, I forget to look up at night, relax, and reclaim a bit of comfort in feeling free.
This memory popped into my head during my French literature class, of all places. We were discussing the philosopher Camus and his interpretation of the meaning of our existence and its absurdity; we try to assign meaning to our existence through systems of belief, but it had no inherent meaning to begin with. We can become conscious of the lack of meaning of our existence, realize that this makes us free, and thus we can make the most of our time here by living with passion. Cool. As we discussed how this philosophy plays out in absurd anti-theater by Ionesco, my brain clicked. These guys were writing about an idea that resonated with one of my earliest difficult questions about life.
Of course, Camus wrote about existentialism and the Absurd after witnessing the horrors of World War II, and my little brain tickle stemmed from an irrational fear of killer aliens. So I can’t take any credit for originality, but all the same, it’s comforting to reintroduce myself to this idea, like I’ve come full cycle. I’m only a little less confused about this life thing than I was when I was a kid, and after all I’ve been through to get here, it’s funny how revisiting an old unanswerable question is enough to shed some light and give me hope.