I don’t remember a lot of TV from when we lived in Ohio. We didn’t watch much. Sometimes at lunch when I ate and my mother folded laundry we would watch All My Children and on Tuesday nights the whole family would watch The Muppet Show. Otherwise most of my childhood memories are sitting in the living room, the fancy room without the TV, in the sun spot on the floor, listening to records, drawing or looking at books, while my mother sewed a dress or a curtain or whatever domestic art she had jotted down in her project book that week. Back then, in Ohio, I got my mother to myself for a bit. Jessica was in school in the afternoons and David took a nap. I wasn’t about to leave my spot by her feet to watch television.
Even if I did want to watch television, there were serious limitations. The Dukes of Hazard was a no-no because Daisy Duke was a bad role model for young women, Fraggle Rock was out because my mother believed it was about drug use somehow, and Emergency was too upsetting to my hypersensitive, over-imaginative mind. My mother saw very early in my life that images stayed with me, and I think she wanted to control them as long as she could. She gave me a very refined aesthetic this way, shielding me from what she called the “garbage,” that would broadcast over what she called “the boob tube.”
It was when we had a babysitter or even better when went to other people’s houses that the real television watching happened. Because I was so infrequently exposed to what could go on on a television, I remember the disturbing things to vividly. Fantastic Voyage gave me one of these psychic bruises.
I was five years old, and my parents had left us, my brother and my sister and me, with some friends of theirs while they travelled to New Jersey to find us a new house. To give you an idea of how spotty my memory is from this time, I have no idea who these people were. I know they were a man and a woman. I think they lived by a major thoroughfare in Troy Ohio, and I remember the sunny laundry room where there was a phone that I would use to talk to my parents every day that they called. I felt very alone there. Television seemed like a nice escape for an anxiety ridden five year old, waiting for the return of her parents, getting ready to do what they called “moving.”
But that afternoon, the movie that they were watching was not at all what I was used to seeing. Everyone was wearing tight suits with zippers, and the lady’s was particularly tight. They were on a ship. They were in outer space, I thought, but then it turned out not to be outer space, but inside a body. Then the girl got attacked by white blood cells and she was silently writhing and they were trying to tear them off of her. My eyes would not move away from the screen, even as my fingers inched to cover my face.
When my father called that day, I remember being particularly happy to hear from him. He sounded far away on the line, but I heard a tone in his voice I hadn’t heard before. I think it was excitement. Pleasure.
“We found a house,” he said, “There’s a big hole in the back yard.”
“Oh,” I said, “Will you have to fix it?”
“No, the big hole has water in it.”
I didn’t understand and in my child’s mind I saw a muddy ditch, brown water.
“Oh,” I said again, really unsure about this whole hole thing, “Well, that’s okay, I guess.”
I didn’t care so much, I was really more interested in us all being in the same house. I was really more interested in this “visit” to these family friends being over.
“It’s a pool!” he said.
I sat silently on the line. My mother was with my father on the phone, and when I didn’t say anything, when I didn’t shout “Yes!” she knew something was wrong.
“What’s the matter honey?” she asked, trying to sooth me and my father, who was likely disappointed not to have pleased me.
“Do I really have all those things inside of me?” I said.
“What things, honey?”
“The white blobs. Are they going to hurt me like they hurt the lady in the movie?”
“What movie honey?”
I didn’t know the name of the movie, I think I called it the Fancy Verge.
My father’s belly laugh, the one that normally brought a giggle up from my belly too, echoed over the phone.
“The Fantastic Voyage?” he asked me.
“Oh, that garbage. Raquel Welch?” she sighed heavily and I was relieved immediately. I knew that as soon as we got to our new house, my mother would reinstate all the television rules, and I would never have to watch something that awful again.
But still, to this day that image of Raquel Welch covered in white blood cells, silenced by a scuba suit helmet, eyes wide in terror, writhing on the ground, lingers. Recently, to determine how close my memory is to that movie, I looked it up online. What I found was even more disturbing. I found the offending scene. It was indeed scary, or could at least be considered so by a five year old. She did indeed get covered with white blood cells. Her wetsuit was indeed tight. And then when the men saved her, they threw her on the ground, all knelt above her and groped at her body trying to get the monsters off of her. In the process I think I saw her boobs get grabbed at least twice. The scene is so thick with innuendo that it’s not a surprise to me that I once found it so frightening. I really didn’t know what was going on in that movie at all, and not just because I didn’t understand the inner workings of the human body, but because of the great mystery that it would take me another twenty years to even begin to understand. I guess in that way Fantastic Voyage was all it said it would be.
“Four men and a beautiful girl launch a journey you can never erase from your memory,” he 1966 trailer proclaimed, “When you come out you may never look at yourself in the same way again.”