A curious thing, the mirror.
An arm’s length away
We gaze upon the reflection
And the moment our face is revealed to us
The mind ceases to realize
That a fragile pane of glass married to a thin film of glazed silver is all it is.
That face renders any physical properties the mirror possesses immaterial.
We are transported into fascination with ourself.
The projection of our image… look at that flaw.
Look at that wrinkle.
My favorite scar.
The tobacco stained tooth.
The twinkle in the eye.
My hair looks good today!
Feeling my best
pierced ear healing weirdly
can I make that eyebrow go up
The myriad expressions that have greeted me how many thousands of times before?
The majestic miracle that is a mirror.
Our most honest best friend that never lies to us
We spend our lives looking at ourselves.
This projection of our lived experience that has greeted every morning that we brush our teeth and ready our day and suffers the day’s sins with us again as the evening closes.
Knows all our secrets.
Has seen us cry and laugh and grieve and rejoice the firings the hirings the first days the last days the practiced speeches the imagined accepted Oscar the hair brush used as microphone the mirror has given us so much to understand ourselves that we forget…
That this is a vulnerable, fragile, delicate pane of glass married to a thin film of glazed silver is all it is.
I have looked my best and worst in front of this mirror.
It has seen me naked.
It has seen me in every article of clothing I own.
It has seen me soaking wet from the unexpected storm cell that dumped an olympic swimming pool worth of water on that new shirt I saved up so long for…
When you’re young you look at that mirror trying to imagine what your life is going to be like. All the things you’ve yet to experience. All the paths laid out for you that your elders and all the adults in your life have told you where you’re headed and what you’re going to do. The schools. The graduations. The colleges. The jobs and careers. You imagine the varsity jacket you saw all the cool kids wearing. The tuxedo of your first prom. Trying to hide the pimples. Those first whiskers coming in.
That mirror witnessed every team sports outfit from Little League to AYSO to flag football to whatever would inevitably come next.
That mirror that I watched every baby tooth wiggle looser and looser until the bloody tissue revealed a new gap in my smile.
That mirror foresaw me wearing a cap and gown some day making my family proud.
That mirror saw the stitches over my eye. Both times. The mirror where I pried apart my eyelids and poked my eyeballs to get the lenses off… or where the lens had folded in half and tried to plant itself in my brain and the next half hour of my life would be spent wondering what object was least dangerous to stick in my eyehole and retrieve that bastardmotherfuckerpieceofshit!@#%@#!%#$$&.
This mirror that tells me what my life is.
This mirror where I’d lean into it and stare deep into my own eyeballs and watch my pupils dilate when I clicked the lights on and off at the age of 6.
I know who I am in this mirror.
I imagine all of us, as we first become self aware, have an idea of where our lives are headed based on the expectations of our environment and the conditions we are raised in.
In my case, the expectations were to go to school. Get excellent grades.
Then go to college. Get excellent grades.
Then get an excellent career. Make excellent money.
Then get married and have an excellent family and do the whole thing again for the next excellent generation.
I remember when I moved to California one of my first days in the new school the teacher asked which of us were going to go to college. I was one of the few kids that put my hand up. Which surprised me. Didn’t everyone’s parents constantly talk about college like mine did at dinner time? This was instilled in us at a very young age.
And so… the path was set.
And as I would button up my shirts and get dressed for school or church… I would see this reflection of myself. The short hair cut trimmed neatly and christianly above the ears. The tucked in button up/polo shirt. I knew what I was and where I was going. What was expected of me. What was expected of every kid in my demographic and neighborhood and school and youth group room.
The messages were consistent and in unison. Never really deviating.
Nobody ever tells you what happens if things go wrong….
There never is a Plan B in SuburbiaLand™.
There is no falling out of favor. There is no concept of what if the worst happens?
Nobody ever thinks like this.
Everybody in these neighborhoods also grew up in these neighborhoods and had the same expectations put on them and it worked for them, right?
Nobody ever tells you…
Things could go wrong.
Nobody ever prepares you for what happens
If suddenly there’s a crack in the mirror.
And the thing about a mirror…
is even though it’s this magical portal to your life story…
pane of glass.
married to a thin film of glazed silver.
is all it is.
And once it’s cracked…
ever tried to uncrack a mirror?
Suddenly that perfect image of ourself has changed.
And it’s never a positive thing when this happens.
I had always thought of the school as the “bad kid school”.
We’d drive past it in the mornings if I had a doctor’s appointment, which were becoming very frequent now that I was a suicide survivor and newbie mental health patient with the wrong diagnosis and needed to get my blood checked every week to see how the lithium levels were. And as we’d drive past the bad kid school I’d see them all congregated in their black clothing and edgy haircuts and spikes and black lipstick and they were all smoking cigarettes just off campus. And before I started smoking cigarettes I was terrified of people who smoked cigarettes.
These are clearly bad kids.
And parked next to the curb where they all congregate is a police car and the cop is standing there writing tickets to all the bad kids because they’ve done bad things and made bad life choices and deserve punishment.
And over the years before my mental health problems began it never occurred to me that I might ever have to attend such a school.
But then I had
a suicide attempt. two suicide attempts.
a hospitalization. two hospitalizations.
And I dunno what your multiple suicide and hospitalization experience was like… but mine kinda sucked and pretty much destroyed my ability to go to school.
And after about a month of homeschooling not working, my religious parent really needed me to not be in the house all day long– kinda ruining her “me time”– and so we met with the school counselor and everybody pretended that if I went to
the bad kid school the continuation high school that maybe I could catch up since now I was so far behind in my school work I was at risk of flunking out which is just about the worst thing that could ever happen in SuburbiaLand™ and I only had to go for half the day and could work at my own pace and before I knew it one cold– remember it was cold that first day– a cold February day in 1994… right around the precise time the Aloha Oy episodes were airing worldwide I was climbing out of my religious parent’s van and stepping onto the campus of the bad kid school continuation school for the first time.
And I pulled out a cigarette, lit it up, and joined the
bad kids crowd.
In fairness to my story, the mirror had been cracked on the first attempt.
The second attempt had partly spiderwebbed the vulnerable glass of the mirror.
Like your cellphone screen you dropped six months ago and are 18 months away from replacing.
You ever tried to look at your reflection in a well-cracked mirror?
That clean image of your life story becomes bro