We’ve Got Time to Kill (So Let’s Smash the Clock)
How old are you?” she asked, my haircuttress, as I sat in her chair staring forward at the reflected visage of my unshaven face and pudgy gut and expensive shoes, arranged altogether in an unfetching way that Saturday morning. “43,” I answered truthfully. I sometimes have to count on my fingers the difference between the current year’s ending number (5) and my birth year’s ending number (1) and subtract 1 (because I was born on December 29th and it is usually before that date) to get the right answer. When you pass the big four-oh, you tend to want to forget whatever comes after.
She gawked. Literally, her reflection looked at mine and her mouth hung open and her eyes went wide and she gawked at me. “No,” she countered. Yes, I nodded. “No!” she reiterated. Yes, I vehemently acknowledged. “You’re not 43!” The exclamation point came out like a high-pitched whine, as if a bullet had just flown by my ear. “I am,” I said.
I must admit that it felt great. She then added, “I would have pegged you at mid-30’s, tops. Maybe 36. Not 43!”
“I’m well preserved,” I said, adding, “I think it was the lack of sex.”
If she had a look at my body, she would not have been so shocked. Hair is starting to sprout in entirely new and altogether unattractive areas, including across the shoulders, on the lats, and from the insides of my ears. Why the hair waited so long to make itself known, I have no idea. My boyfriend, Scott, asked the other day, “Did you stop shaving your back?” At first I had no answer for this, as it immediately occurred to me that I would have no idea how to shave one’s own back. It’s a little like trying to see one’s own ass in one’s own jeans. As you turn to look, everything else continues to turn and soon you’re like a dog chasing his own tail.
I think it’s probably something of a lie to call me an intensely private person. Obviously, I wouldn’t have this web site and this URL and this enormous collection of my thoughts and fears and frustrations were that true. I am, I suppose, private from an angle. Sideways private. Next door to private.
I am also not particularly shy, but I am remote and quiet. My boyfriend has described me in prior introductions as shy, and I think I even told him I felt that way myself, but I think it’s less that I am shy and more that I am reserved. I will admit, however, that I hate being the center of attention. I hate having my picture taken, even by me in a mirror. I hate the sound of my own voice on a recording and I hate being in a crowd where people may look at me. All these feelings are legacies of my past self-loathing and embarrassment about being any number of things (fat, gay, badly dressed, awkward, flatulent, tongue-tied) all at the same time.
Not that I am a completely different person than I used to be, but one does not carry around a mirror of oneself all the time so one’s internal mirror tends to reflect the historical data rather than the momentary.
I am reminded of these feelings less and less often lately. Being with a boyfriend who is much better looking means that most glances in my direction are immediately deflected and, although it can be a little annoying to be completely ignored, all in all I’d rather be transparent than gawked at. Still, it’s an odd sensation to be walking next to him and watch the stares of the passing gentry as their eyes become glued to his countenance and I, beside him and only slightly shorter but somewhat more bulky, am entirely invisible to them.
He has said that he finds it annoying, to be stared at all the time. But that depends entirely on his mood. Other times he’ll tell me about some guy at the gym who was clearly flirting with him and how good that felt — which is probably because I rarely flirt with him (which I admit is foolish and thoughtless and, given how he looks, insane) and may be based on what the other guy looks like as well, or maybe he’d like to see me jealous or at least exhibit some emotion other than disdain for his smoking or the calm detachment that comes with being me for so many years.
My face, I think, fools people. When I was much younger and much fatter, I rarely if ever went outside where the sun lives. I mean, of course I went outside, but I didn’t go to, like, the beach. The beach usually requires the removal of clothing, almost all of it, in fact, and there was just no way I was going to do that. Or the mountains. You have to generally climb them. But when you’re carrying an extra 50 or so pounds — and that’s before you sling the backpack over your shoulders — the idea of it is enough to make you stop at the foothills and hit the drive-thru for another Coke.
Also, I don’t tend to smile very much. I don’t allow people to take pictures of me, or I duck out of the way of them in group situations if I am aware that a camera is pointed in my general direction, so I avoid one reason to smile right there.
Because I hate having pictures taken of me. That’s why.
Why can no one ever understand this? Why must I always and constantly and forever explain the reason why I A) turn away from the camera or B) make a stupid face or C) move slowly out of range whenever anyone points a camera at me? Why is this one thing so hard for someone else to explain.
Firstly, there are probably dozens of other people in the vicinity who do not share my dislike-bordering-on-hatred of having my picture taken. Get them all together in a big, grand grinning huddle and take their picture. And when I am slowly moving out of range or discovering suddenly that there is something fascinating going on along the baseboards ringing the floor or that I absolutely must get out of the room very quickly because something (not involving cameras) is happening somewhere else, please do not cajole me into becoming part of the picture-taking frenzy.
Because I hate having pictures taken of me. That’s why.
I know you will still stop all action and draw even more attention to me when I attempt to shrink from view and not be in your photograph. This is one reason why I will sometimes appear as though I will take part in your sudden need to record what’s going on around you forever and undoubtedly share it on your web page at some point, but in truth I will time it so that I either move my face just at the wrong time so you miss me (oh, darn!) or I will line up all the way in the back (because I am so tall, see?) and then lean slightly and bend so that my head is directly aligned with the head of the person in front of me. Because I hate having pictures taken of me.
And, let’s face it, my life until very recently didn’t give me much reason to smile. Loneliness does that.
Still, the offshoot of unhappiness is, at least in my case, a dearth of laugh lines and crows feet. Smooth, pinkish-white flesh all over my face, except between my eyebrows where constant scowling during driving in traffic has left divots in the skin. Now that I’ve even given up cars, I think that’s lessening slightly.
What brings all this up, you see, is my recent therapy sessions. If you recall, I began going to a psychologist about two years ago to help be be less… me. I was, as mentioned, lonely. And tired. Mostly tired of being lonely. I didn’t really like myself very much, had no prospects of ever doing so, wondered privately why anyone else might and decided that if I didn’t seek professional help that I was likely to leave a lonely, sexless, extremely well-preserved corpse over which no one would mourn for very long and, other than the occasional Google hit to these and other pages, no one would ever remember.
So, speaking with my therapist the other evening, she asked me what I was looking forward to in life. “What are you dreaming about?” she asked me. “What are your goals.”
I was stumped. Dreams? Goals? What are those? Those are foreign ideas to me. I stared into space, or more accurately at the cobweb in the corner of the room over her head, and contemplated for some seconds in silent meditation what I wanted from life. What was it that I was shooting for? What’s the bigger picture? What am I doing with all these seconds of time that pile up, that I use up to go to work with and visit the gym and travel to Europe and write these words? What does it all add up to? Or, less even than that, what am I hoping it all adds up to?
Others, probably, think of family and loved ones and children. I suppose I could have said that, but it would be a lie. I expect that none of that will last, that something will happen to end whatever relationships I have, something that I will probably do to end them. Growing up gay, I never expected to have nor wanted a family. No children. No warmth of the hearth and home, nor normal and normative life would I ever have, certainly, so I would never hope for it and never be disappointed when it didn’t occur.
Work is mundane and not very fulfilling. I suppose I could wish for a more fulfilling career than the one I ended up with, but at the same time I don’t want my job to have that much importance. Sure, it takes up a lot of my time, but so does sleeping and I rarely get much done during those hours, either. Admittedly, I enjoy sleeping much more than my job. Perhaps I could combine the two!
So, looking back at her, I could confess of having no dreams or goals, no hopes, nothing to which I was shooting for.
She, as usual, said nothing. It is one of her best tricks. She introduces these topics that would not otherwise occur to me so that they burrow inside and start to percolate. She doesn’t ever say that anything is good or bad, except as it relates to my own well-being, of course. In the meantime, I leave her office and walk down Fillmore toward the bus stop thinking about whatever it is she just planted inside my head.
‘Dreams? Do I need a dream? I probably need something to look forward to. That probably lends some purpose to living, rather than the whole getting up and eating and going to work and sleeping sort of thing I do now.’
But I’m afraid of it, you know. Afraid… of missing the target. What if I set myself up for failure? What if…?’
Oh, fuck that shit. The point, half of it anyway, the point of life is failing. You’re supposed to fail and get hurt and survive and learn and go on and try again. Everyone gets hurt all the time. Everyone is disappointed and angry and fucked up. Why should I be any different.
Now, of course, the real dilemma: What do I hope for? What is my dream? What do I want?
I still don’t really know. 43 years into this thing, and I still really don’t know what I want, what the bigger point is, where happiness lies.
That’s the real issue here. Not thinking up things to do, but uncovering where the happiness is. What’s the thing or things that make me happy? How do I strip the stress of everyday living away and remain content with what I’ve got, happy where I am and who I’m with and where I’m going?
I don’t have that answer. Or if I do, I’m not aware or it. I’ve buried it. I’ve disowned it. I’ve ignored it and left it somewhere behind me, abandoned at the side of the road, in tatters. What was it, once, and can I find it again? If not, what’s the new thing that can take its place, and when does that occur to me?
March 8, 2005