What do you do if everyone says they love you, but you hate yourself? That sounds dramatic. Cliché. Morbid. Whatever negative word you want it to be. Yes, it has to be negative. Because if you don’t believe the positivity of the people around you, then you have to believe the negativity that hides beneath. You know it’s there. It’s there when you say it’s a beautiful day (which by any objective standard is true), but you’re lying because you prefer stormy days that force you to stay inside. It’s there when you say someone looks pretty (which, objectively speaking, is also true), but you don’t think the trite, hollow blonde is that pretty. It’s there when you let them tell you that you’re a mild-mannered gentleman (which by objective standards is, once again, true), but you don’t believe it because you know yourself better. You know what you think. You know you’re intentions.
What are you going to do about it?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You say what you don’t mean, you agree with those you disagree with, you do what you hate, and life goes on. You wish you were anyone but the pushover that you are, but wishes are wishes. And life goes on.
You watch the saturated orange street lamps flicker on. You watch your nonexistent customers file out the door. You stop pretending to dust and you lock up “Books and More.” You pretend that you didn’t just rhyme in your inner monologue and push those round, tortoiseshell glasses back on your nose where they belong, cursing them for insisting on being anywhere but the place they're meant to be. You step out into the gloomy atmosphere that you secretly love. You leave the collar of your long black coat down. Despite the fact that the extra fabric would protect your clean-shaven cheeks from the churlish wind. Because jerks pop their collars. And you’re not a jerk. You’re a “mild-mannered gentleman.” Not that jerks are frowned upon or hated or despised. You’re just not one. You’re just you. And there is nothing you hate more than you.
Perhaps you wonder what it would be like to be the opposite of you. Outgoing, disagreeable, confident, unshakable. You wonder, sometimes with intense conviction, if you really are that person. That esteemed jerk.
It isn’t so hard to imagine on these gloomy days when you’re alone on the empty brick road. You imagine what life would be like. What kind of wife you’d have. What kind of friends you’d acquire. What kind of escapades you’d experience. You’d be different, so you’d act different, and they’d treat you differently. You wouldn’t be the “mild-mannered gentleman”, which seems to translate into very effective doormat, exceptionally adept at cleaning the mud off people's boots and smudging it on your own face. That is, after all, why they have such a high opinion of you in the first place. Doormats are so very convenient when the world is a deluge of mud up to your ankles.
Maybe, instead of a right turn to your small but cozy flat, you just made a left. And you didn’t do it on purpose. But left just seems like a good direction today. So as the rest of the world grows more caliginous, you keep walking down the semi-illuminated road to the left. And your perfectly plastic hair begins to flop down under the weight of the light rain. And your glasses start to slip off of your dripping, numb nose and you don’t try to push them back up; you just let them fall to the ground. You walk right over them. The rainy sky and warm lights appear all the more alluring as they blur together behind your nearsightedness. Some foresight could do you some good. But you just don’t have it. That’s why you found yourself walking down Left Street to begin with.
As you walk, you begin to slouch. The wind thrashes your cheeks and thrusts your collar up. The sole soul on the road scampers out of your way before you have the chance to. You trudge in the run-off, all the mess of the world the rain swept up, just waiting till you see a doormat to scrape it off on.
You pass the bakery on the corner. The windows are so lustrous and bright that, while staring at the assortment of sweets inside, you catch the glimmer of a reflection. You pause. You take a step closer because of your nearsightedness. And you realize that the person looking back at you is the opposite of you. The person with a pestiferous grin, a soggy head of dark hair, and a popped collar. That person you see is someone you could admire. Someone you could be. Someone the world could respect.
You smile at him, but he lours back. You take a step closer, and he becomes fuzzier. You call to him, but he walks on. And you are alone. The baker closed his shop and shut his lights off. You’re alone. Lost on Left Street. Blinded by your nearsightedness. Abandoned by your ideal.
Abandoned by yourself.
Having lost yourself somewhere on the convergence of Left Street and Right Street and having lost your ideal when the presence of the world vanished, you’re left alone. Worse than a doormat, worse than a jerk, you’re a nobody. Blind, wet, and mired.
You wipe a pale hand over your drenched face and continue down Left Street. You try not to regret too bitterly that your ideal walked on without you. You try not to recall the fact that the real you never followed. Then you catch another glimpse of him, Mr. Ideal, in another display window. This time he looks right at you. This time, you don’t get a single step closer to him before the shop lights go out and you're left alone again.
The cycle repeats. You run forward, playing tag with your reflection. The lights go out and you’re alone. The first shop you see with an inviting glow, you rush after. Right, left, straight, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you reach that ideal.
You kick something; it scrapes against the bricks. Rain drips off your nose as you pick it up. Your stare into the reflection of your cracked glasses. You see your ideal again. No. The ideal wouldn’t weep. Wouldn’t stand in the streets at twilight chasing after something that doesn’t exist. Wouldn’t run from the problems of the world only to end up where it all began. The ideal wouldn’t, couldn’t escape himself.
The Ideal slips the glasses back on his face and makes his way down Right Street; his back straight, his collar pleated. With a gentle smile on his face, he cracks the door to his cozy flat, greeted by rosy cheeks and warm smells. The Ideal takes the weight of the world in a mild-mannered and gallant way, all cold thoughts and selfish intentions warmed by a cup of hot tea and a plate of verity.