I remember waking up at an hour which, at the time, seemed incredibly late. I don’t recall why I awoke and I can’t even remember getting out of bed and walking through a bedroom that I have long forgotten. However I remember one image, clear as day: the sight of my living room from the doorway of my bedroom. The image of my mother sitting on the couch watching TV, eating rice cakes, as the lights from the television flickered. I always thought she looked strange wearing glasses, which she only used to watch TV. When I walked up to her, she jumped, startled by my small figure’s approach in the darkness. At first she reprimanded me for being up so late, but ultimately held me and gave me a rice cake to eat while we watched some sit-com I didn’t understand.
I don’t know how many times this happened, or if it even happened exactly how I remember it, but none of those things matter. The food she was eating, the glasses she was wearing, and the show she was watching weren’t important. All that mattered was the feeling of immense content and safety I felt in my mother’s arms. I can think of few, if any, recent events where I have been so happy for something so seemingly trivial. Looking back, the spaces between these moments of happiness were few and far between compared to those nowadays. Even as I write this I find myself thinking back to the cliché: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” I hate at look on myself as someone who dwells on the past, but it certainly feels like those times were much better.
It was back in those days that something as simple as a trip to the flea market could make my weekend. On Saturdays, my wake up time had to have been at least 5am, and not only was I able to, I actually wanted to wake up that early back then. Why? To watch cartoons of course! I’d walk downstairs and into the kitchen to make myself a glass of chocolate milk. It made me feel like such an adult, making the drink for myself. Then I’d sit and watch the flashing colors and animations until my father eventually got up. He’d make breakfast while I sat there; the smell of Bisquick pancakes was the only thing powerful enough to pull me away from Dexter’s Laboratory. Words cannot describe how good it was to eat those pancakes for breakfast. I’d sit there with my dad and jabber on about Star Wars or whatever had caught my attention that particular day. Star Wars… now there’s a defining part of my childhood. Ever since my dad showed me A New Hope, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. To this day I can still talk your ear off about how badass Han Solo is, or how George Lucas deserves to be thrown in jail for almost ruining the franchise with the Prequel Trilogy! But back then, it was never anything so analytical. In fact, what I said didn’t even really matter to me. The simple fact that I was sitting there with my dad, the coolest, strongest, smartest, and nicest guy I knew, and he was listening to whatever I said. The way he’d smile and laugh occasionally and play along when I’d tell him that I’d be a Jedi someday: nothing made me happier than that. I didn’t need an enriching intellectual conversation to make me content with how I was spending my morning. Bisquick pancakes, and Dexter’s Laboratory, and my dad were enough.
Once the pancakes were long gone and the maple syrup had been licked clean from my plate, my dad and I would head out to the garage. Living in Florida, one doesn’t have many opportunities to travel by bike. The combination of intense heat and humidity made travel by any method other than car perilous. However the flea market was close enough to reach by bike. Even the bike ride was fun-filled as I rode along and talked to my dad. We’d pretend I was Speed Racer, from the old TV show, trying to win a race against the Mammoth Car. After a few minutes of riding, we’d eventually reach the Oldsmar Flea Market. We’d walk up and down the makeshift corridors of junk-filled stores, browsing through all the antiquities, searching for treasure among the junk. But, I already knew where the most valuable items were. At the very end of one of the hallways lined with stores sat a small shack filled, wall to wall, with everything Star Wars. I could stand in there for hours, looking through the various Luke Skywalker action figures or staring in awe at the giant AT-AT statue which stood in the center of the store. Now that I think about it, we didn’t actually do that much while we were there. Like a meth addict chasing his first high, I have gone back to the flea market relatively recently and found I do not take the same joy in those simplistic activities. The last time I went, there was a voice in the back of my head insisting that there were other, more interesting and fulfilling things I could be doing with my time.
There was a strange permanence to things in those times which seems to have disappeared. When I was very young, I had not yet lived long enough to experience extreme, life altering changes. There was never any incentive to fill every minute with a productive activity because I always thought there would be more time. In my world, nothing ever changed. With this naïve concept of time came an ability to truly live in the moment which I have long since lost. I never felt like Emily in Our Town, the way she “c[ouldn’t] look at everything hard enough.” I did not perceive the danger of letting a moment slip away from me, swept into the past by the raging river of time, so I never focused on trying to remember everything. I always gave myself up to the moment, and allowed myself to experience everything to the fullest.
However, deaths of grandparents, a divorce, and life in general quickly taught me that nothing in our lives is permanent. The motto “Carpe Diem” is unrelentingly shoved into our minds at schools and by every motivational speaker who gets a chance to speak to you. A night at home, sitting and watching a television program I don’t care about with someone I love is no longer enough for me. I find myself noticing the precious seconds, minutes, and eventually hours slipping through my fingers. I no longer feel that I have “seized the day” when a trip to the flea market is all I have done in a Saturday. There’s a nagging notion that I am wasting time as I am swept closer to death. It’s hard to enjoy activities as I once did now that I am aware of my duty to fill every moment with a worthwhile endeavor.
But, every once in a while, there is a moment where I find myself taking pleasure in doing nothing. These experiences most frequently occur on those rare Florida days where the humidity and heat are both low enough to venture out into the world, unprotected by the AC of a car. While walking, I no longer have the distractions of driving or the radio to fill my head. When I am alone with my thoughts, my wandering mind sometimes forgets of my responsibility to “Carpe Diem.” The quiet monotony of footsteps lulls my mind and I am able to carry on a sort of internal dialogue with just my thoughts. However, as soon as I realize I am enjoying myself while doing nothing, the magic is lost. I realize that I am not filling my time efficiently. As time goes on I find these moments becoming increasingly shorter, fewer, and farther in between, but I can still take solace in the fact that I can, if only occasionally, take joy in things that are simple and meaningless.
Written by Mathew Paul Caputo 2013
Paul L. Caputo, DDS3490 E Lake Rd S Suite A