I don’t know where it comes from, that feeling of dissatisfaction. I wake up everyday and usually want something different from the previous twenty-four hours. One day I want a girlfriend, the next day I want to seduce that woman that looked twice at me on the subway. Or at times having a stable job and a three-bedroom house seems like a nice life, but then I look around my apartment and think that I’m right where I need to be, despite the fact that my shower, toilet, and washing machine are all within two feet of one another.
Life really isn’t that hard. We usually are our own worst enemy, unable to get out of the way of our happiness because we are so concerned with asking ourselves if what we are currently doing is right. This feeling is toxic, like the air I breathe in everyday. I know I can’t be alone in this train of thought, and then I look on Facebook and Instagram and see everyone else and their perfectly framed lives.
I don’t resent others portraying their lives as idyllic. I do the same thing. In most of my photos, I try my best to hide all the acne that has engulfed my neck, back, and forehead, and also the small dent on the side of my head, the origins of which I still have no idea. I look in the mirror every morning, tactfully lifting up my shirt so the light hits my stomach just right, a way of reinforcing my confidence that hinges upon six muscles most women are completely indifferent about.
Vanity isn’t everything, but it is something. There is something to be said about liking the way you look. When I look good, I usually feel good. My mind has this crazy way of tricking me into thinking that the two are inextricably linked, that I shouldn’t feel good if I have just rolled out of bed or if a pimple plasters itself onto my chin.
These are all silly thoughts, because all humans are forced to deal with feeling gross. After all, we are humans, and when you take away our makeup and Instagram filters, what remains are usually small wrinkles that will gradually become more noticeable as we get older. I can’t leave out birthmarks either, those tiny, dark spots that pop up on all factions of my skin. The people in magazines don’t have these, especially on their faces, but I do, so consequentally I feel inferior.
When I was a young kid, I had horrible teeth. They were so crooked, food particles would get lodged in various crevices, and since I never flossed my teeth, my breath would be god-awful. That made me 0 for 2. 0 for 3 was when I’d go to the dentist, and he’d use this instrument with a small hook and start poking away at my yellow tinted incisors. My teeth would bleed beyond belief, to the point where I was referred to as Dracula, as the dentist operated on my mouth for the next forty minutes. I could see in his eyes that teeth like mine were not why he went into dentistry. He hated the fact that he had to clean my woebegone mouth, and I hated the fact his last name reminded me of a dinosaur. Needless to say, it was not a winning combination.
I often wonder what my life would be like if my parents never forced me to get braces. “I’m confident with who I am,” I remember telling my dad, not yet ready to embrace the social suicide that would come with having braces in eighth grade.
“People will make fun of you when you get older. You won’t be able to get a job,” he said in a fatherly tone that suggested I better stop complaining or else my life would get a lot harder.
I’ve met people throughout the years that have been great. Super nice, friendly, reliable, and even attractive. But their teeth took me back to my youth. I didn’t know if I was repulsed by their imperfection, or the fact that if I had gotten my way all those years ago, I’d be in the same position. And then I wonder if I am too cynical because how fickle is it that I judge someone based on something they might have little control over.
I read Nathaniel Hawthorne in grad school. I can’t tell you anything about him because I am not a good note taker, but I remember his short story, The Birthmark. In this fictional piece, he writes about a young woman that is perfect in every way, except she has a massive birthmark on her cheek. It mortifies the male character in this story, to the point where he questions if he should even marry her. I can’t remember how it ends. I think it was a sad ending because Hawthorne can’t reward his male lead after he waffles on marriage over a birthmark. The takeaway from this fable isn’t that if a prospective life partner has a birthmark, marry them or else you will die an unsightly death. It’s more about coming to terms with who you are, embracing your imperfections because they are part of your larger, more metaphorical perfection. It’s a backwards way of looking at life in many ways, but there is a true power to using yourself as a template instead of comparing your traits to those of others.
A couple weeks ago, I met a lovely young woman. Her name is Dana. I mean, her name isn’t actually Dana, but I have spent the last fifteen months trying to come up with pseudonyms for a library’s worth of people, and that is extremely exhausting, so Dana it is.
Dana is unlike any woman I’ve ever met before. I don’t want to have sex with her, but I find myself craving her presence. This is unique because I’m still in the stage of life where I am a complete tool and if I’m not physically enticed by a woman, I find no rationale for getting to know her. But Dana is chill. She listens to my problems, tells me what I don’t want to hear, and is the consummate wing woman. She epitomizes what friendship is all about.
Her and I go through our respective pasts, talking about relationships we used to have that never worked out. We lend perspectives that previously weren’t available. None of it is jaw-dropping material. I still don’t understand how the female brain works. She still doesn’t get why everything with men has to come back to sex. But what we have works.
I often look out the window and think about how many things have happened in my life in the past couple years, virtually all of them unpredicted. When I was nineteen, I thought my life would be the same two years later. When two years later yielded a different outcome, I then assumed that two years from then would be the same. That didn’t happen. And so has been the par for the course as I look back on the last half-decade of my life, which has proven to be both highly transformative yet full of questions left unanswered.
It’s crazy how people can enter my life so quickly, and then leave it equally as fast. I haven’t been able to decipher if this is a good or bad thing, if these short relationships and decaying friendships are my fault, or if they are just a part of life. Change has always been a great thing for me, but there comes a point where change seems inevitable, and I yearn for small doses of stability.
I know there are others out there like me, people that just can’t seem to get out of their own way and put it all together. I didn’t expect to be financially stable, own a house and have three kids by this chapter of my life, but I also didn’t expect to be writing this from China. And that’s not to say that my life has been anything less than a joyride. It’s been great, perhaps everything I dreamed of having not too long ago. But that’s the scary thing: that everything I wished would happen comes true, and I’m not ready to deal with a reality I for so long envisioned.
As I’ve begun writing and rewriting my second novel, the chronicling of a self-inflicted failed relationship amid the euphoria of another epic cycling journey, I’ve encountered a past I still don’t yet fully know how to process. Perhaps this means not enough time has passed for me to fully grasp the meaning of a tumultuous 2017, or perhaps it means I still don’t have a strong sense of identity.
Many people go through this in their twenties, the seemingly endless struggle of searching for a part of us that we just can’t seem to find. I have found myself running from who I used to be, only to attempt to recapture that identity. The crazy thing about trying to go back is learning that who I once was is only a shell of the person I am supposed to be. In essence, whether we realize it or not, we are all on some type of personal journey, a quest that will take us to places we never expected to visit.
For more Quentin Super, buy his book, The Long Road North
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