A man felt that he was approaching the halfway point of his life. Or maybe it had already snuck past. Whichever way, beginnings had grown more difficult. That was the main thing he noticed. Because of his evident age, people assumed that he had all the society he needed. A career plan must be unfolding, not to be disrupted. New connections were therefore business-like. Professional handshakes rather than lingering looks. Knowledge on both sides rather than clever oddity. His unwillingness to settle for less than a fulfilling existence now just left him unsettled, and with few options. He was supposed to have built something lasting already.
One middle of the night, on his way back to bed after waking for a glass of water, the man opened the lid of his laptop to check his email. He found a single unopened message, titled simply ‘Photo’. His friend had been rummaging through files on an old hard drive and come across a black and white photo of the man, taken when he was in his early twenties. It was a headshot that had been used for publicity in a theatre program once upon a time. Because of the black turtleneck, greased hair, dark contrast, and dark room in which the man was sitting, the young, smiling face glowed. The image took up almost the entire screen. The man stared into the lively eyes of this former version of himself. Taut skin, barely blemished. Hair. Absolute conviction that destiny would kindly open door after door.
The man closed the laptop and walked up the stairs to bed. The arms of the ceiling fan rotated ceaselessly above him. He followed a single blade with his eyes until he felt them strain somewhere in the back. Then he blinked quickly to reset his vision and tried again. And again. After maybe a dozen attempts, his eyes suddenly stopped tracking, leaving the blades to cut repeatedly through his fixed, limp gaze. He couldn’t feel like this. Not now. He had a rare job interview the next day. He needed his rest. And his spirit. But what once had been, and what now wasn’t, kept him awake. When he finally fell asleep it was just before first light.
His eyes fluttered open not long after. The fan was still spinning above him, but it seemed faster in the daylight. He sat up and stared at the floor with that sickly feeling in the back of his jaw. A stirring emptiness in his stomach. Another day without energy. Without enthusiasm. He stood up and felt the emptiness shift around his belly. He showered and dressed, and made his way to the kitchen to force some food into that uncomfortable space at his center. He chewed and swallowed mouthfuls of cereal. Inertia blanketed him. He wondered how he would get through this day without a nap. He thought about his young self in the photo, and a time when sleep seemed less relevant. The man stopped chewing.
Several minutes of stillness later and he put down his spoon and pushed the bowl away. He stood, walked into the next room, and opened his laptop. The smiling face had lost none of its hopeful shine overnight and was still happily taking up the whole screen. The man printed the photo and retrieved the copy. He rummaged through drawers until he found some string, the ends of which he affixed with tape to points along the vertical edges of the portrait. Then he punched the smallest holes possible in his former self’s eyes and pulled the page over his face like a visor. He made small adjustments as he bounced off walls on his way to the bathroom. In the mirror, the young man looked back at the man looking back at himself. He smiled, which he was already doing. Then the man shouldered his bag, grabbed his car keys, and headed out the door to his interview.