“As long as I can remember, I’ve assumed that my visage would frighten only the most sensitive children and no weaned puppies at all. My theory was that some local disturbance in the physical laws enabled me not to offend, since I’ve always considered myself singularly unattractive. I rarely give more than a passing thought to how I appear to others, and I’m always surprised when I’m complimented. Unfortunately compliments are too rare for me to be much good at accepting them, and I have no natural ability that way.”
I wrote that in 1979, and not much has changed since then, except I scare puppies now. I look about the same to me, although ever older, no matter what I do. I’m getting used to it.
I’ve always had a poor self-image, my appearance included. When I was an adolescent, I’d cover the big mirror in our living room with whatever was handy—my bathrobe, a sheet, whatever—just so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. It made perfect sense. Of course, a lot of things made sense to me then, and now I can see how much I could have used some major therapy. Oh, well.
I remember thinking briefly when I was 12 or so that I might be attractive to girls. I don’t know what gave me that idea, but it didn’t last long.
For several weeks last fall I dug out, sorted through and scanned old photographs, many of them of me. That’s when I began to think about how people had been perceiving me, how I looked to others. I know I can’t actually know such things—and neither can you—but so what?
The upshot is I was actually a good-looking guy. I’ve thought my spotty success with women was because of the suspension of the laws of physics I mentioned earlier—an optical warp or workaround surrounds me and enables me not to alarm those on whom I’ve cast an eye and keeps them from fleeing in horror or disgust or both—another goofy notion that made perfect sense at the time.
When I look at those old photographs I can almost remember what it was like being him, looking out of those eyes, knocking around in that head. It wasn’t so bad, though I can see now that I’ve always underestimated myself, my chances, my worth.
There’s one photograph of me with my feet on my desk at work. I was maybe 25. I thought of myself as underpaid in a dead-end job and about to get married mostly because all my buddies were doing it, and I thought it was time I did. I drank too much and smoked too much and had no plans whatsoever. That’s how I thought.
I looked, though, like a lean, powerful, assured young man, clear-eyed and—I have to admit—handsome. That’s how I looked. I just didn’t know it. God knows what I look like now.