I am not a psychopath.
…which is something I imagine many psychopaths find themselves claiming at one point or another. Regardless, let me assure you, I am not a psychopath. I just hate people. The world. Happiness. Tattoos of words like “peace” and “love” written in Chinese. Pet stores. And the grey.
Greyness gives me stomach aches. Skim milk is a crime. Salad dressing with 20% less sodium needs to go die. I want to live my life in absolutes.
I guess that’s really what led me to have my first of many existential crises.
I was thirteen years old and staying with relatives in Florida. It was a miserable affair. Hot. Sticky. Snakes in the driveway. I had never met these people before- a father, a mother, two daughters, and a boy. I don’t remember much about the boy except that his biological parents had died when he was a baby and that he left the game controller unconscionably sweaty after playing. The father was the wholesome sort. He made me write an essay each night about all that I had seen in Florida. I wrote extra big with the letters all spaced out, but he caught on quickly. I didn’t like him at all.
While there, they invited us to go to a friend’s fundraiser. I remember being bored from the moment I sat down, my cheek pressed into the palm of my hand as I leaned my arm against the table. This was a common pose for me. A few men spoke at length about generosity and morality and then finally, the talking stopped and a girl walked onto the stage. At first, I thought something had gotten into my eyes, making her face seem all blurry. I blinked a few times, squinted at her, and then quickly looked down.
Her face was utterly ruined, grotesque... I came to learn that someone had thrown acid at her when she was a child growing up in Pakistan. She was fifteen and wanted to get reconstructive surgery, hence the fundraiser. At the time…all I could think was that no amount of money could fix what had been done to her.
I felt so incredibly insecure as a teen, and I still do. Ugliness is always right around the corner. It’s so easy to notice all of the imperfections which have decided to make ME their doomed host. So it was truly horrifying to even contemplate how she must have felt when she looked in the mirror, when she saw how others looked at her, reacted to her. Who could she have been if this had never happened? How much of her happiness was thrown off course because of one person’s cruelty?
Was she even alive? Yes, she was breathing, walking, talking… but was she alive? Did she have any friends? Could she walk down the street without people staring and whispering? Would a boy ever want to hold her and kiss her? Would she ever get married?
A brain, a heart, blood, limbs, a face…
That’s the starter kit most of us are lucky to have been born with. I never had to question the existence of my face, my identity at the most basic level… but what if I had one and then it was stolen from me? Who would I be then?
I didn’t sleep at all that night and almost puked into my cereal the next morning. My mother asked me if I had eaten an entire package of Starbursts again, something which had led me to have a truly abysmal gastrointestinal experience earlier that year. I just shook my head solemnly and slumped over the table top, feeling the cool surface against my skin.
I had skin.
Prone to being pinched by little old ladies.
She didn’t have skin.
For days, I was stuck. I wish I could un-see what I had seen, un-learn what I had learned, but I couldn’t. None of us ever can. The ideas and images had seeped into my brain, staining everything. You would think something like that would teach me to appreciate what I have, to be grateful that I was spared such a fate, to find the perfection amongst the flaws…but it didn’t.
If anything, it taught me that no one can escape the sickness in our world…the cruelty, the jealousy, the hatred. It made me think that God couldn’t possibly exist because if he was as good and merciful as everyone kept saying, then he wouldn’t have let this happen to her. And more selfishly, he wouldn’t have thrown me into the grey, where nothing was what I thought it to be.
I think this is the right place for me to say sorry. I wrote this, wanting it to be much lighter than it turned out to be. On a slightly more positive note, this is as authentic as a personal crisis can get. Now, more than a decade later, I can navigate the grey more skillfully…but I haven’t stopped wondering why it needs to exist at all.
As for the girl I wrote about…I’m not sure if she ever got the reconstructive surgery…or what her life is like now. I just regret not being strong enough to look at her again and see beyond the scars.