We always have that tendency to look outside of ourselves in order to justify the mere iota of our existence. Friends, family, drifting aimlessly, landing our dream jobs, or anything else that can bring a level of comfort and rationalism. I live with a judge in my subconscious. The man’s stoicism pervades everything I do. Get into a fight, he’s there to slap some sense into me, “You’re back at this again?!” He’s always there to recite his code of law, piercing black pupils ruthlessly drilling my molting outer shell. Am I about to speed over the cliff just to pray to swim safely back to shore? I feel like I need to—I can’t stand to look at his face anymore. Yet, deep down, I know he’s right. I’ve alienated myself to the point that any unfortunate soul that crosses mine is met with Antarctica: barren, questioning, sub-freezing. Visceral sun shining outwardly over this uninhabitable paradise makes you forget that the perennial coldness can consume you and dry out the most ardent fires. I’m better than this. Love so potent that a cure for cancer wouldn’t match. A mind reminiscent of the city’s boom in the late 90’s: Brightness, bliss, and beautiful sights. But here I am, aimlessly sitting in a dark room, wishing to escape my self-dug black hole and prevent global warming from happening in my heart. It’s a continuous push pull and I try to convince myself it’s completely normal. I guess that’s my sin. That perceived escape route looks more and more like another trap the judge’s trying to steer me away from; why does my mind fall for it every time?
Now it hit me. I can still remember that one Friday ten years, three months, and six days ago like it happened last night. I was at the Broadway Mall, your suburban entertainment center for soccer moms and unruly teens alike. It was late fall in New York, and the ruthless snowfall was so close you can smell the frozen droplets in the crisp air. I was thirteen at the time, and I could only imagine what being a part of those cool kids must have felt like. That all changed when my prodigious reflection blankly stared back in the elevator mirror. I was a little over five feet and almost 200 pounds; my winter jacket literally made me look like a genetically modified blueberry. I mean, how could I not enjoy that extra slice of pizza when trying to beat the hardest mission on GTA Vice City? After a half hour of plodding around with my family (I didn’t really have any friends at the time), we decided to go to my favorite place in the world, the second floor food court. The once flashy yellow beams enticing haggard shoppers became secondary to the Sbarro past the rows of up and coming film posters. “What would you like to order?” The cashier politely asked. I could feel my hedonism come out, and once again, I let my urges win. “Large spaghetti, two chicken thighs, and a loaf of garlic bread please,” I happily responded. To me, that tower of savory heaven was the highlight of my week. But just as any other temporary high goes, mine was about plummet faster than King da Ka.
I waddled through the busy court, and thankfully, there was a fairly nice table for us to sit, but little did I know that I was about to be the Ripley’s Believe it or Not phenomena for the night. As I laid down the ketchup red tray, I felt an icicle puncture me from the corner of my eye. As I turn, I spot the young couple scrutinizing my tray, and of course, directing their gaze at the perpetrator. It was that moment that resonated with me, but also altered how I viewed my relationships with others. That heaven on a tray warped into a black hole, and inside it, the judge’s gaze. My appetite was lost and I was barely able to have a scrap, all the while the couple still whispering to themselves about their observations. My mother, being the cheerful person she is tried to convince me it was all in my head, “Don’t worry about it, they’re just shocked by your appetite! Stop being so paranoid—“ I knew what I saw, and I made it a point to avoid any mirror that would delineate the hard truth of what was going through that couple’s mind.
Suddenly, everything that I would normally appreciate turned into a necessary chore in order to finally leave that place. That Hershey’s store with the cotton candy ice cream became the source of further introspection. “Come on, have some ice cream,” my family members tried to convince me as they happily demolished their banana nut sundaes. The saddest part is that I would have been right there with them, but changes are inevitable. I was in disbelief when I realized how much my weight got in the way of everything. I was the fat kid in my school, the person people felt put off by, and the last resort in every team in gym class. I slowly felt my world change from childish innocence to awkward blandness and isolation. The next day, I decided to finally use that Planet Fitness membership card I placed in some random crevice by my bedside. I haven’t stopped since.
Within two years, I saw myself transform to a person I didn’t even know anymore. In my teenage mind, I saw that weight scale as the ticket to having a chance at being “normal.” Working out became my perpetual part time job and every meal was carefully portioned out, as fear of returning to my old skin would start to surface. Yet, despite losing weight, you realize the judge is multi faceted in the way he appears in your life. My weight melded into my sexual preference, which melded into my fashion sense, which melded into anything else that falls under what deems you as the other. “Hey what’s with that ringtone? Why are you wearing those shoes? Why don’t you have a girlfriend? WHY—” It never stopped.
I imagined it to be different by going to college away from it all, going across the country to a place no one knew my name, or better yet, driving aimlessly down the coast. There comes a point where you feel like those settlers on the Oregon Trail. Uncertainty becomes your best friend and every time you run into potential danger, you run. It feels liberating for a time, almost like gorging on that plate of pasta from Sbarro. Although it’s been over decade, that gaze was ingrained in my psyche long after my blueberry body shrunk and I was able to leave the confines of my hometown. I’d love to think that your past is your past and it certainly doesn’t impact future occurrences, and to a certain element, it’s true. Even with this knowledge, the human mind has its ways to reel its tentacles and steer you in one direction over the other. I still have trouble fully connecting with others or revealing who I am to this day. I fear that judge will surface at random points and remind me of my old shell, the freak show. Then I decide to look around. To my left, there’s a fighting couple that’s clearly on its last legs. Behind the less than stellar counter set up is a server breaking the rules by texting her best friend or partner while a disgruntled old woman attempts to get her attention. My friend called me the other day explaining his codependency and refuses to stop seeing this girl that’s cheating on him with his boss. I see all these people around me, and honestly, it gives me hope. We all carry that judge—we’re all guilty.