What Lies Beneath 

heathledgerjokerThere are nights when it feels like the world is caving in. There are days when every breath is oppressive rather than refreshing. There are times when it seems like time has already stopped.

I smile well. That’s not to say that I have a nice smile or that I’m particularly photogenic, but rather, I have an uncanny ability to appear as though everything is not just “okay,” but “great!” I have to, see, because perception is everything. And when it comes to painting the appearance of someone who isn’t struggling, I’m a fucking Rembrandt.

I have no regrets. I’ve said this a million times. Regret would imply that I would change the past, but the past is what led me to the life I have now, and, for the most part, I have a pretty splendid life (regardless of the details on which the public tends to dwell). However, just because I have no regrets does not mean I have no remorse. Oh, I have plenty of remorse.

What separates regret and remorse is one factor: Emotion. Regret is logistical, remorse is emotional. And honestly, regret is a lot easier to hide than remorse. Remorse hurts. Remorse fucking sucks.

Of all the weights I carry now as a result of my addiction, the remorse is the heaviest. Sometimes I don’t feel it as much when I’m able to occupy my conscientiousness with innocuous banalities, but every once in a while, there are triggers.

A Topeka news station recently did a story about teacher/student relationships, and I was one of the examples they used. Just when I’d hoped to fade into obscurity, I’m brought to the forefront once again. Granted, I am fully deserving of the public scrutiny and criticism for the horrible choice I made, but that does not make it any easier to handle on a daily basis, especially when I’m suddenly back on television.

There really is no way for me to prove to anyone that I’ve completely changed my entire life, because people don’t want to know that. Deep down, no one wants bad people to become good people. Because if bad people can become good, then the inverse must be true as well, and since most people consider themselves to be “good people,” then admitting a bad person can become good would be to subsequently admit their own capacity to become bad. So people refuse to believe anyone can change for the better and turn their lives around (except themselves, of course), and they remain comfortable in despising people who have made bad choices in life (ignoring their own, of course). There is comfort in identifying “good guys” and “bad guys” because most simple-minded people think in absolutes and lack the mental or emotional capacity to allow for “gray area” issues.

Thus, I’m a bad guy. I will always be a bad guy. No matter what I do, I will, for the rest of my life, be a horrible fucking bad guy. And there isn’t a single fucking thing I can do about it.

But since perception is everything, it is important to acknowledge that there are different flavors of “bad guys” in our culture’s context, some of which I could likely be identified with, contingent upon the individual identifier. For example, there is the “Lex Luthor” archetype: The smart calculated bad guy with personality and panache. There is the “Joker” archetype: The pure evil bad guy with a dark past and seemingly no conscience, period. There is the “Walter White” archetype: The terrible yet oddly sympathetic bad guy. There is the “Dexter” Archetype: The person who does terrible things, but you can’t help but like him. There’s the “Gabriel Shear” archetype (obscure reference, I know): The bad guy who does bad things, but you hate to admit that they need to be done. And still, there are even more.

People need bad guys in the world. They need bad guys to point at and label as bad so that they can separate those people from themselves, making themselves some semblance of “good” by default. So, I suppose, I’m stuck as one of the bad guys.

Sure, I can let my life be the example and be a good and faithful husband, but no one cares. I can let the records be the example and prove that I was not only free of disciplinary infractions during the entirety of my prison sentence (a significant rarity), but also have a 100% clean parole record, but no one cares about that either. I could even let my wife talk about how I am a completely different man now, but that still wouldn’t matter.

None of it would matter because as much as we all want to think that people can change, no one actually believes it. Everyone has been hurt by someone who they thought has changed, but hadn’t. And thus, we now believe no one can change.

And those are the bad guys – those are the villains.

It’s tough to smile, knowing that I’m the villain. I certainly don’t want to be and I definitely don’t try to be, but I am. I keep hoping that a bit of peace will come with this realization, but it never does. I still have this crazy delusion that somehow somewhere someone will understand that I’m not Keyser Soze. I’m not hiding anything except how much it typically hurts to be me. Maybe, some day, someone will understand that I am not my worst decision.

Because, seriously, what if everyone’s legacy was judged solely on their worst life choice? Would we then be a world full of villains?

I don’t know. No one knows.

I’ll just keep smiling.