On the surface, I have almost nothing in common with kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard. And yet, something she said in her interview with Diane Sawyer this summer sparked a moment of self-recognition.
During the first few years of her ordeal, locked alone in a backyard shed, Dugard recalled, she had nothing more than a television queued up to QVC for company. It was in the endless stream of perky hosts hawking simulated diamonds, skin creams and twinkling Christmas ornaments that the terrified 11-year-old found a strange slight solace amid her suffering.
While I can hardly imagine Dugard's nightmare, I, too, have found weird yet significant succor in QVC.
We've had a long history, together -- QVC and me. The connection started in my early tween years, when my parents would go out for the night and leave my older brother and myself alone to babysit each other. As long as I can remember, I've been unreasonably afraid to be home alone after sundown -- I was convinced that a burglar or a kidnapper was going to break in. So while most adolescents would be thrilled to have a night without parents to monitor their phone and TV time. I spent the hours avoiding anything potentially scary, which was tough when you consider that I was terrified by something as bland as the show "Hunter" and the evening news.
My solution was to turn on QVC. (And every single lamp in every single room. Sorry, Dad.) I'd quickly become transfixed by the sparkle of the Diamonique Hour, by the way the hosts rhythmically rotate their bejeweled hands and the constant glinting of the stones. I found myself focused on the objects being peddled, not the shadows in and around our house. (My brother, two years older than me and not very sympathetic to my fears, wasn't very helpful -- he often spent the hours playing video games or carousing neighborhood with a friend from next door.)
While I was sometimes tempted to buy the baubles, I never actually lifted the phone to make purchase. That wasn't the purpose, and anyway, it wasn't like I had my own money.
Over the years, watching the network became something of a sport for my mother and me. She'd hand me any item within reach and challenge me to spend a full minute describing it -- a coffee mug, her eyeglasses, the remote control. I'd entertain her with my uncannily precise imitation of the presenters' limitless selling skills. As I reeled off the fake item number and preposterous details, we'd both topple over in hysterics.
Then my brother died in a car accident when he was 18, and during that first blisteringly quiet summer and the equally icy holiday season that followed, I'd settle into a half-hour with QVC as a way to drown out the silence in the house, to muffle the sounds of my parents crying, or to simply chase away the settling sorrow in my head and heart. Plus, the channel was a refuge from regular TV shows, which could be dangerous; you never know when there'd be a sudden car accident, a young person dying too soon, or a family in distress.
By contrast, that rainbow of Huggable Hangers from über-inventor Joy Mangano was free of such weight or surprise endings. (Yes, I'd stray to rival network HSN once in a while, but usually only for Joy's inventions.)
Still I abstained from making a purchase. By this time I'd made a firm pledge to keep money out of the relationship -- a promise I've kept to this day. I figure that it's weird enough to actually watch hours and hours of the stuff -- to squeal when I see that PM Style host Lisa Robertson is back from vacation; to recognize the goofy "Quack, Quack!" salute of Quacker Factory fanatics. But to begin stocking up on a kaleidoscope of no-slip hangers, oversized cocktail rings, or pleather purses with never-ending pockets? Well that's bordering on problematic -- a TLC reality show waiting to be born.
For me, the pleasure lies in the feeling that I've got company -- another voice in the house when I need it most. I turn it on and almost immediately feel my jaw loosen; my eyes and temples soften. Some people achieve that sort of reverie with a glass of wine or a cigarette or through, I don't know, knitting. I've got ten minutes of QT with QVC and I'm chill. For whatever reason, it's an old, easy-fit friend.
Of course I see that on some level, I'm probably using this HD-pap to numb out and disconnect from my emotions -- to block off the real and imagined sources of my own anxiety. But so what? When it comes to ways of coping with stress, I could do a lot worse. In QVC I've found a simple way to stay anchored during trials both big and small: cross-country moves, serial lay-offs, romantic disappointments, and even the long, sleepless nights following the birth of my daughter two years ago.
QVC was a flickering babysitter when I was a child, and I guess it's still babysitting me -- a steadfast, bubbly presence that streams into my home day and night with a non-judgmental voice, shiny objects to entertain me, and the promise that no matter how crazy things get, no matter how tired or scared or sad I am, there's always that small ticker at the bottom of the screen telling me how many items have been ordered ... 200, 1500, 2400 ... each digit representing real people like me (except for the fact that they buy and I don't). We're all at home, lit by the cool glow of the TV screen, together and apart, when I need it most.