He stood at the sink, staring at the faucet for several quiet moments. Without thinking, he turned on the cold water and splashed his face a few times. The water was icy, and it stung his cheeks. He turned the faucet back off and shook the water from his hands. Drops trailed down his face and off his nose and closed eyelids. He took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. It was time to face his reflection.
The man who stared back at him was only vaguely familiar. The features were the ones he remembered; the deep eyes, the high cheekbones, the dimpled chin. Those things were the same, but something about it looked like someone he had never seen before, on an existential level.
It amazed him that the face can stay the same, but the person behind the image can be so different from who he once knew; it was especially surprising considering he was looking at himself, and had such a hard time identifying the man he saw. He looked into his own eyes, searching desperately for the person he felt he should be, the man he thought he was. The eyes that looked back were dead, cold, and empty.
He wasn’t sure where he went wrong. Or, for that matter, if he had actually screwed up in the first place. Things were just sideways, and he didn’t know why. He had done what he had thought was right. He tried to be good to people, he tried not to interfere where he didn’t belong, and he struggled constantly with always making the best decision. But it seemed as though his efforts had been all for nothing. His life was in shambles, and perhaps so was his soul.
His mind drifted slightly to matters somewhat adjacent. He thought of his friends. Several in particular. He wasn’t sure what to do with them anymore. Things had happened, things he’d rather not think about, and now the relationships were strained at best. These people he had been so close with, that he had confided in and who had confided in him, were distant and closed off. They pretended that everything was fine, but he could tell that everyone noticed it. No one was oblivious to the rift, this schism in the group.
He knew it wasn’t all them, though. He knew he wasn’t the same. He knew that, unbeknownst to him, he had undergone a metamorphosis and become this thing that stood in the mirror. It burned him inside, the shame of knowing he should be a better man, but he had no idea how. He felt like there was something wrong with him, but he didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. He didn’t quite feel completely human…whatever that might be.
Maybe this was exactly what it meant to be human. Maybe the essence of man boiled down to a state of total confusion. At least in part.
Perhaps it was simply his age. Maybe he wasn’t old enough or wise enough or experienced enough to handle his circumstances properly. They say youth is wasted on the young; maybe this is what they mean by that.
He wished he knew how to fix things. He wished he knew what needed to be fixed. He wished his problems were much less…cerebral, and much more, well, real. If he were hungry, he could deal with that. If someone were injured, he could handle that. But this personal, emotional, social garbage…man, was he lost. Was everyone else this lost? Or was he the idiot in the masses?
He reached for the towel and dried his face. He had to get to work, so it looked like he was going to have to figure all this out on the fly. Joy.