The Mirror

Tim Wagner

 

It's 2 a.m. and I can't sleep. This has become a regular occurrence and there is no remedy for my problem. Light music does not help; it only distracts me. The musician's ethereal acoustic guitar sound does me no justice. Counting sheep only worked when I was young. Even the pharmacist behind the counter knows that my weekend trips are a waste of time. The strong wind outside my window only intensifies my dilemma. It does not soothe me. The rustling of the leaves is reminiscent of something from my past. I am not sure what it is. As I try to remember, I realize that I must get out of my bedroom immediately.

 

It has now occurred to me that a loose eyelash is stuck in the corner of my right eye. This has been a reoccurring problem ever since grade school. I never received many compliments about my exterior, but people have always noticed my eyelashes. They are very thick. In fact, some people in high school use to call me "Forrest." I am beginning to think that this was a backhanded compliment. In any case, these eyelashes are a curse. Every day an eyelash leaves the group and causes me to wink involuntarily. It looks like a nervous tic to a stranger. I can only end this discomfort by locating the lone hair in the bathroom mirror.

 

As I enter the bathroom and turn on the switch, I have to wait for several seconds. My eyes are sensitive to the brightness. As my eyes begin to adjust, I can see blurry images of my razor, soap dispenser, Kleenex, toothbrush, and sink. Everything seems to be where it should be. There is nothing out of the ordinary. When I look straight ahead, I realize that I am not alone. Someone is looking right back at me. He is giving me direct eye contact and never shies away. I don't like being stared at; it makes me feel uncomfortable. It has my entire life, but I should not feel awkward. I am looking at myself. I have seen myself captured in time capsules by the art of photography, but I never really paid any attention to myself in real time when I am all by myself. I look the same, but I sense something different about my appearance. I don't like the way he is looking at me. We clasp hands together in perfect sync. We turn our heads to the left and the
right at the same time. We also smile at the same time. I try my best to convey a benign smile,
but the stranger in the reflection only shows a sinister grin. It is a very cold look and it makes me
want to exit the room, but I cannot look away.

 

I slowly walk closer to that other person in the mirror. That face seems so familiar, yet so
different. My nose is now touching the glass. As I look deep into those eyes, I feel a chill. I stand
there for several minutes, waiting for the other person to flinch, but his patience is unrivaled.

 

There is nothing in the world that makes you feel more real than staring at yourself in a
mirror. For that one instance, you feel that you are in control of your destiny. At first, you will
recognize yourself, but after a few minutes, you become lost and will no longer remember who
or where you are. You become a stranger to your own eyes.

 

I can now vaguely make out the countenance of a different face in the reflection. He is
much older. I have never seen him before, but he looks familiar. He is a part of me. Those eyes
are showing a blank expression and the skin is ashen. When I begin to look below the neck, I see
the beginning of a white collar and a dark suit. I know that I would never try on anything so
shoddy. I can now feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

 

I cannot stand this any longer. I don't know if I am hallucinating or observing some strange apparition. I quickly rub some water onto my face in the hope that my insomnia and pills have gotten the best of me again. I must pull myself together, but I feel the urge to gaze into the mirror one more time.

 

When I look into the mirror this time, I see something different. As the water runs down the glass, and I look beyond my receding hairline and grizzled whiskers, I see that familiar young boy with no hopes or dreams attending the party.


The party was just getting started at the apartment complex when dusk made the unwilling transition into night. College students were drinking each other under the table, and the thick smoke weakened everyone's depth perception as though a fog had spontaneously formed through the open window. The room was dark and the only source of illumination came at random every time a car passed the building. High beams would be very useful to the young men who were trying to guide their female partner in a loosely collaborated montage of sexual urges in the two dark bedrooms. The living room was congested as twenty people danced, yelled, and fought on top of the beer-stained carpet. The techno music blasted in the background. Then, the doorbell rang five times in three seconds flat. That was his ring.

 

As the blonde haired host opened the door, the chubby, ponytailed hero walked in the door. "Hey people, I'm ready to get this party some energy. I was able to steal 30 bottles from my uncle's store." The partygoers instantly yelled and cheered as they worshipped their beer messiah. The hero continued his rant and said, "I can't believe my uncle trusts me to lock up his place at closing time. He still isn't aware of my night life."


The partygoers laughed as the host and the hero began passing out cans of beers out of the big red bag. It seemed that Santa and his elf were bringing Christmas into this apartment a little early during this autumn night. Everyone takes a beer except that one person in the corner.


The young boy is clearly the outlier in the room. He is the loner at every party where he never belongs. He sits in the far corner of the room and seems to be at a different place, although every time a can of beer fell out of the hero's bag he would be reminded of this dark, incoherent atmosphere. The short, dark-haired boy must have scanned through that one-month-old People Magazine three times by now. The edges of the magazine contained permanent tense marks and were stained from his wet palms. He has no sense of intuition and does not recognize the conventional amenities that are a part of the rules of friendly gatherings. I must now look away; I have seen enough.


Staring into a mirror can be dangerous for certain people. You can't walk through a mirror like the one Alice did, and enter into a whimsical world full of adventure and excitement. This particular mirror shows old memories and other things that I would never understand. I certainly would not share this information with anybody because no one would believe me. If I told tales of how I stare into the mirror, people would cast me off as an absorbed narcissist. I do not think this harrowing experience will help me sleep, but at least I forgot about that damn eyelash.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790