~This essay was first published in Emrys Journal, where it won the Linda Julian Nonfiction Award (2009).
“[M]irrors, which seemed magical in their properties, … were composed of only two primary materials: a plane of glass pressed up against a plane of silver … When a mirror was broken, the glass could be replaced. When a mirror grew old, it only had to be resilvered. It could go on and on. It could go on forever.” – “Mirrors,” Carol Shields.
Over the sink in the bathroom of my grandparents’ summer house was a smallish round mirror and directly opposite it, over the toilet, was a medicine cabinet with a mirrored door. These two mirrors reflected endless images of myself when I stood between them. I tried to see into infinity with these mirrors, but it got too blurry.
The small round mirror across from the medicine cabinet was wreathed in wooden roses. The face that looked back at me from this mirror was also round and rosy, framed at the top by a precise line of straight-cut bangs. My eyes were wide and dark, unshadowed by disappointment or compassion. My teeth were new and awkward, the two front ones serrated at the bottom like a bread knife, but I was too young to try to smile with my lips closed or laugh behind my hand. I never thought this face would change. I thought my childhood would go on forever.
Instead, I grew out my bangs and grew up.
Over the sink in the bathroom of the hotel room was a large flat mirror that spanned the length of the wall. Directly opposite it was the shower with its skimpy cloth curtain that somehow managed to block the shower’s spray. Everything in the room was cold and white – the tiles, the curtain, the walls, the lights.
The face that looked back at me from this mirror was round and blotchy, framed by a white towel wrapped around my wet hair. The skin below my eyes was puffy and dark, shadowed from tossing and turning on scratchy hotel sheets, and my shower had done little to revive me. My mouth was closed, tight at the corners, wondering that the day would bring.
That afternoon I would start my first day at college, four states away from the place I called home. I tried to spy the future in my reflection, but my eyes were too dark to see anything in them.
Over the four sinks in the bathroom of my dorm were four square mirrors bolted to the wall. Fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed from the ceiling and a steady drip came from the third shower stall. The face in the mirror was always turning away, on its way to something else; the mirror was too scratched to really see anything anyway.
Every morning I showered early and then twisted my hair into a braid that nearly reached my waist. By late October my damp braid froze on my way to my early-morning French class and when I returned to my room I unraveled its crispy kinks to let them dry. When my mom came to pick me up in December I told her that I had made straight A’s but that I felt like nothing existed below my brain stem. My body had become a cup to carry around my brain.