I can hide behind many things. People. Books. Even my own reflection. But when black tears stream down my face and wash away the foundation, I can’t hide. Hollow eyes stare bleakly through the glass as all my weight relies on the cheaply made countertop. The walls close in on me so I bow my head and enter into darkness. However darkness is worse than the bleak white infiltrating this small potty and shower room. I lift my head and open my eyes to a young blonde with puffy red eyes. The deep blue I used to see in them has been reduced to dull gray. Her hair is a bit frizzy and cascades down the sides of her face. I think if she wiped her eyes and smoothed her hair, she would be quite pretty. However it’s her eyes that intrigue me. They hold a hint of familiarity, like a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen for a number of years.
I have spent the last 22 years hearing stories about what a charmer I was and how my mom could never get out of the grocery store without a stranger stopping her. “You have such a beautiful baby girl,” they’d say. These stories are all fun to hear, but my favorite ones are about the mirror.
I couldn’t crawl quite yet, so maybe I was around six months. I was the chubbiest little thing around our small town of Rapid City, South Dakota. Huge rolls of fat took over my stubby arms and legs; my hair was sparsely blonde so my mom taped bows to my head signifying I was a girl – as if my alluring blue eyes and long eyelashes didn’t give that away already. I lived in the solitary world of being the firstborn during those early months. Maybe this is why I became so fascinated with the tall mirror that sat in the dining room. Or maybe I was looking for a playmate and found one in myself. Regardless, my parents found my early infatuation with the looking glass comical yet adorable.
This is the way I think it worked. I would start off in the living room, maybe the kitchen or office, playing contentedly with my toys. When I saw a flash of light come from the dining room I felt the urge to explore. I made up for not being able to crawl by scooting on my little bottom into the dining room. What I found there was beyond my infantile imagination. I didn’t know what it was, but it captured my attention during our first moments together. After finding this happy place I began to visit more often, leaving my favorite toys behind – the attached suns that went in circles, the rainbow rattles, and the chew toys for my aching gums.
I still find it hard to believe that I could be happy sitting and staring, maybe laughing, then sitting and staring again. This would go on for over an hour, maybe even two. However my parents claim this to be true whenever I ask them. I wish I could go back to that young mind and ask why I was so enthralled by my own appearance. Since I can’t do that, I can only conjecture. I must have liked what I saw in those early months. I imagine there was a deep fascination with watching this other person smile, laugh and move in the exact motion and time that I did. The art of scrap booking has made it possible for me to understand the features of my babyhood. Every time I am drawn to the eyes. They hold the most intimate details of stories told and untold. Knowing who I am now, knowing what draws me in, I imagine a dazzling reflection of one set of eyes I would one day know to be mine. In these moments, I was new to the woes of the world. I was innocent.
Warm water rushes from the eroded faucet into my open palms. I close my eyes and wash away the tears and mascara. My face is dripping wet as I reach for the blue hand towel. I mop up and glance at my reflection as I set the towel on the wet countertop. I almost forgot she was here. Relief breathes out through my pores because I’m not completely lost anymore. The girl I used to be is still inside somewhere. I just have to hang on to that vague yet unwavering familiarity I have with this girl looking back at me. Somehow, she knows more than she’s telling. Her eyes are no longer bleak or hollow and her cheeks have some color. This is the girl who feels remorse. This is the girl I need to see more of.
It’s funny how reflection can play the meanest tricks. For instance, I make it a habit to avoid the mirror on my way to the shower in the morning. After my eyes are a little more alert, it’s okay to glance at the reflection. Image follows me around everywhere I go. It’s in the black computer screen, a store window, a passing car, my spoon with breakfast, my living room, my hallway, my bathroom. I can’t help but glance whenever I get the chance. But it’s not until the end of the day that I am able to see who I truly am. Underneath the eyeliner, mascara and blush is a person I don’t often allow myself to see.
I have high expectations of how I should live my life; God only knows why I make them so high since I rarely seem to reach them. When I make my first mistake, my first slip-up, I lower the bar. But I still can’t get to it. So I lower the bar again. Before I know it, the bar is at eye level. All I need to do is reach out and grab it and I’ll be on my way back up to redemption. But I can’t. Mistake after mistake has blurred my vision so it’s very dark. I don’t even know the bar is in front of me anymore. I have no faith of reaching it.
I lean in unstably for a better look. So does she. We stare at each other for a while, both engrossed in our own reflection and learning the details of whom we are and who we will be. Over time that reflection changes, and both of us grow. We get bigger, we can walk and talk, we can stand and run. Hair grows long as baby fat disappears. Boyfriends come and go while best friends never leave. Puberty sets in teaching us the ways of beauty. Without realizing it, these are two young women. They grew up closer than sisters. But something happened during the loss of innocence. We parted ways. The girl I saw in the mirror was no longer the girl from my childhood. Images from Hollywood infiltrated her safe world and taught her to be one with suffering. Thus, I have been shaped by a broken mirage of the world. Wholeness is not possible in this place.
It’s a long road to recovery and I’m picking up the pieces as I go. Some are easy to find and some are well hidden. Sadly, some pieces may never be found. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, it’s rare to close it again without losing some of the self as well. So now we finally come together in a moment of truth. The façade of who I pretended to be has been wiped clean and I’m ready to begin again.
Bright blue eyes stare into mine now. Her eyelashes are still full and very long; there is no need to add embellishments on what is already beautiful. A hint of a smile touches her lips and I feel that same touch on my own face. Her cheeks have gained all its color back and she’s standing tall like a mountain. Her golden hair is neat against her face and flows lazily past her shoulders. The reflection is clear and I know exactly who I’m looking at. She is the child who used to love to watch herself in the mirror as she walked by. She is the teenager that did everything possible to change her appearance and become someone she wasn’t. She’s the young woman who walked around wearing a mask every day until ripe guilt forced that mask to fall. She is the young woman who is broken because of the selfish person she somehow became. She is the young woman gazing into her own reflection. She is me. I am her. We are the same at last.