Is There Life In Your Eyes?

The summer after Grade 10 I started dating a Turkish girl. She didn’t know this, but I was absolutely mesmerized by her.  I thought that she was so beautiful and I couldn’t believe that she was interested in me. I had spent so much of my life being the chubby kid who got called ‘friend’ by the girls quite a bit.  Now, in a relationship with this gorgeous girl, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I was very shy with my body (embarrassed really, I still saw myself as the fat kid). I think though, that my shyness turned out to be a real benefit, because it meant that we mostly had a pretty sweet and innocent romance.  The ‘me’ of back then would be so pissed at me for sharing this, I was great at acting like I had all the confidence in the world.

My most lasting memory of this relationship was at first glace a very innocent moment.  We were hanging out one day, laughing about something or other and she looked at me and said, “There is so much life in your eyes!”  Too this day, it remains one of the most powerful compliments that I have ever received. The power of words cannot be underestimated!

However, the power of that moment was partially to be found much later.

Many other relationships followed this one. I came to realize that I wasn’t the chubby kid anymore and had, at different times, many young ladies with a crush on me. I did not, at times, handle this new found ‘power’ very well. Very few of my encounters with girls through the remainder of high school could be considered “cute”, “sweet” or “innocent”. Not until near the end of Grade 12 did I have any kind of ‘long-term’ relationship and when that ended I quickly returned to my former ways.

Part of being effective at relating to youth for me has meant that I try to keep these moments close at hand, fresh in my memory so that I can remember how I felt, what I thought and what my motives for various decisions were.  I believe now, and had tucked away in me then, that I had a strong desire for something much more than ‘flings’.  I wanted love... whatever that meant. Part of the problem was... okay, a lot of the problem was, that I had no real clue what love meant. I confused love for romance, I confused love for physical intimacy... neither of which is love.  I had desired to fit in, ‘be cool’, be the life of the party and ‘the man’ and I had set up all kinds of landmarks that I thought would help me achieve those statuses (be famous, be desired, be the life of the party, be talented etc.).  If I could achieve these things, then I would be happy... I would have it all.

The problem is, I achieved what I had set out to achieve, or, at least, I was on the road.  I had entered into a Theatre program in University and was doing quite well. I could party with the best of them; drink, get high, romance a young lady that I had just met. I played the drums, sang and made people laugh, many good tools for winning popularity and attention. I had a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with a girl from my neighbourhood, “nothing emotional, just sex”, many guys might wish for just such an arrangement. I was definitely on my path to what I thought success was and I wanted so badly for this all to be okay.  But, something wasn’t right. 

I knew that I didn’t really like the ‘benefits’ arrangement for one thing.  This girl had been a long time, good friend of mine and trying to separate what we did ‘physically’ from my ‘emotions’ and ‘thoughts’ was proving to be impossible.

No matter how ‘cool’ other people thought I was, convincing yourself that you are cool is an almost impossible task. I was stuck with all my thoughts, desires, fears and insecurities.  It is because of my popularity through much of high school and into University that I often describe one of the realities of the ‘youth experience’ to be “a bunch of losers trying to convince everyone else that they are cool”.  That certainly was true in my case. I wasn’t comfortable with who I really was. I put on the mask and costume of someone who I thought people would really like, and they did. The Ken that people interacted with wasn’t really Ken, it was a facade, a smokescreen, no substance, all image. I see the same thing played out on so many Facebook pages... look at this image of me... do you like it?  Who do you want me to be? Which image of me will people respond the best to?  ... I will try to become whatever people want be to be.

Early in the school year of my first year of University, I had a girl in my room. There had been alcohol and who knows what else that evening and I had convinced this girl that while everyone else went out she should stay with me. She was more than happy too. I also convinced this girl, who had just ended a long relationship, that having sex with me without any type of commitment was a great idea! (I remember thinking at the time, “I can’t believe she is buying this”). Things preceded as planned, but I, for whatever reason, just wasn’t that into it.  This girl was still a very sweet girl, she wanted the lights turned off because she was insecure about her body, she wanted to cuddle etc... a very sweet girl. Not exactly what I was looking for.  Really, I didn’t know what I was looking for.  I was really just trying to lie to myself.  Convince myself that this is who I was, that this was okay.  I was trying to convince myself that I could handle a ‘non-committal’ relationship back home, that I could be ‘that guy’.

I excused myself from the situation and left the room, a beautiful girl in my bed, and went across the hall into the bathroom.  I ran the tap and filled my cupped hands with cold water and soaked my face.  As I raised my head, I stared at myself in the mirror and a thought so clear filled my head it could have been spoken aloud, “There is no more life in your eyes...”

I went back to my room, threw on some pants and a shirt and went outside for a cigarette (I made lots of dumb choices back then) and tried to clear my thoughts.  I was battling with myself internally and didn’t know what to do with these emotions, so I just funnelled them into anger and punched the beam in front of my dorm.  Shortly after, the girl I was with came out as well and put her arms around me tenderly (a sweet girl), she wanted me to come back to my room, but I didn’t go...

No more life in my eyes.  I wonder how many others feel this way.  Buried somewhere beneath the blur of lies we try to convince ourselves to believe.  Beneath the fog we induce with alcohol and drugs.  Beneath the ‘image’ we have tried hard to convince others, and ourselves, is really me. Beneath the ‘game’ of relationships that we misinterpret as love... I feel empty, and alone, and confused, and sad.

I know that reading this story, we all wish that everything was different for me after that moment in the mirror.  Sadly no. I believed I was too far down this empty path, I couldn’t escape it now. That weekend I went home and one of my best bros was bragging about his ‘exploits’ with the ladies and I responded in kind, bragging about this hot girl that I had hooked up with (the sweet girl).  I didn’t talk about my loneliness, my emptiness or my lifeless eyes, I just kept playing the game. And I kept playing it, keeping the image of ‘Ken’ alive and the emptiness buried deep.  Keeping real relationships at a distance, or else I would have to face the real me.  Unfortunately, I would have much further to fall.

Everyone’s story is different.  I have met so many though, who end up having to confront their ‘lifeless eyes” (in one form or another). Perhaps this is you. Part of your heart and mind is yearning for change but you are terrified to not play the game of ‘image’ that you have been playing for so long.  Maybe your journey is yet a little longer, or your fall a little deeper before you will have no choice but to confront the emptiness and loneliness that you have buried beneath the fog. Maybe you are ready to confront it and have the courage it takes to change.  Maybe you are only at the stage where you need to recognize the hard reality that there is no life left in your eyes.

There is hope though... you don’t have to face it alone... let me assure you... there is hope... you may feel that the flame of life that was once in your eyes has become nothing more than a snuffed out candle, a faint red glow on a smoking wick... but I need to tell you... and will tell you again and again... there is hope... the fire can be ignited again.

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