This post is part of the Mirror Series. If this is your first visit to the Mirror Series, please click here and follow the arrows at the top right of each post to read the series from the beginning. Thank you for reading!

They always told me the eyes are the windows to the soul, that scary, hidden part of me even I can’t see. When I look in the mirror, I see two white ovals, centered green. My mother’s eyes. Her father’s eyes.

If I haven’t slept or if my body clings to water, they sometimes tinge purple underneath, that unfortunate place where thin skin turns puffy. I’m beyond the age where creams and potions help. My eyes – they are what they are when I awake; they constrict and tear throughout the day. They’re stubborn in their quest to see the world.

Maybe their belligerence comes from the WAY they naturally see the world. When they don’t interact with a filter – glasses, contacts, the logical part of my brain – those gazers can misjudge others. They can expect too much. They catch a piece of a thing and complete a picture that’s unfair. Left unchecked, my eyes make mockeries of reality by imagining finished canvases from glimpses of things.

So, I look in the mirror, face myself eye-to-eye, and try to force my wayward soul to comply with my desire to understand, to accept, to be fair. It’s easy to talk to something I can’t see.

Until my soul winked at me.

In front of the bathroom mirror, it winked. Not one of those flirty, I-don’t-want-anyone-to-see winks. My mouth opened in a creepy grimace. My face elongated, contorted. One reddened eye bulged while the other disappeared in a furrow of rounded, putrid wrinkles. The details of the room behind me disappeared into an abyss. All I could see in the mirror was a monstrous creature, swaying to its own menacing beat, reaching toward me through the glass, threatening to pull me to its blackened side. A melange of decaying inherited features, bits I recalled from old photographs, they tried to suck me through that solo open eye.

I touched my face instead of screaming, just to prove what I was seeing wasn’t real. My vision is not dependable if uncorrected, I told myself. I don’t believe in monsters. That thing – it’s not really there, not who I am. I ran my hands over my countenance, even covered the winking eye, but the ghoul in the mirror did not follow me. My sight was held captive by a single, bloody eye as my fingernails frantically clawed my face. Salty wetness covered my lips, oozed into my mouth. Still, I couldn’t look away from my heaving soul.

It dragged me to the mirror with a violent tug, murmuring in a tongue I didn’t comprehend, yet I understood it meant to enslave me in the world beyond the glass. My feet wore indentions in the floor, grooves that scorched a path to the pulsating reflection of evil. I opened my mouth to scream, but my breath had been replaced by the freezing blast of rancid death, shrieking back at me. An icy, stinking gale blew hair into my eyes. Pain daggered through them as I blinked over the wispy strands. A blink was enough. When I looked again, I was only me.

But, my eyes were altered. Their ability to judge is untrustworthy, a lie. That horrifying visage of my soul, it’s imprinted there. With every blink, I see it, growling back at me.

This post is the first of a series that will run all week. Thanks for reading.

The box always lived in the top of a closet. Dusty. Tattered, with its top spines pressed flat such that the top always slid off and tumbled to the floor if she was careless. Standing on tiptoe, stretching on the ledge of a precarious chair, her bare toes curling along the front, she knew what she wanted. That faded cardboard container held the nose she wanted to see again.

It was HER nose. Somehow. 

People always told her she was pretty, but, when she looked in the mirror, she saw stringy hair, a bushy uni-brow, and a prominent, unfortunate nose. Too big for her face. Pointed. Forever scarred by a mishap when she was two. She chased a boy through the house, ran into a door, nose-first. She avoids the mirror. When she peeks, she feels like she’s starring in that sinus medicine commercial on television, the one where the inflamed nose grows into a person’s head. It becomes normal again when a healing mist is sprayed into a gaping nostril.

No over-the-counter concoction will help her rhino-issue. She knows it springs from ancient times – the mid-1800’s are a long time ago.

She rifles through the box to the yellowed photograph. A scowling man, clearly forced to stand against his will in trousers and vest, elegant topcoat lending grace to his picture-phobic expression. His head blooms from his outfit, all wispy hair and mustache that punctuates the ugliest face she has ever seen. She has nightmares about a mean-visaged man in period clothing, chasing her everywhere. In her dreams, he has a cane in one hand and a carved pipe with a naked lady on it in the other. He waves the cane in her direction, tries to touch her with its tip. When he blows pipe smoke, she knows her face will freeze in the hideous mask she sees him wearing.

He’s already polluted her face with his nose. The more she grows, the more it morphs into the one from the fragile photograph. Thomas Jefferson DeFriese.

If she has this man’s snout, will she also inherit his nasty disposition? The exaggerated frown that growls through the ages from every picture? Does a similar trait in the mirror indicate a kindred soul, a repeat performance of people who came before? A signature that indicates the right of that dead person’s spirit to inhabit the person they claimed with a certain smile, the same complexion, or a dastardly nose?

With trembling hands, she replaces the pictures. She tries to seal the nose into the box with tape, continuous ribbons that will keep him from whispering through the mist of her dreams.

Another glance in the mirror.

Is she destined to let him claim her, simply because he autographed her with his nose?

Post One in the writing experiment “Bored With My Bad Self.” Please click here to start the essay with its prelude.

Have you ever wandered into a group event, picked up a glass and a snack, and scanned the room for someone to talk to? Someone who gets you, who will be The Conversational Holy Grail? If you’re like me, you usually move from group to group to group and never feel like you really fit anywhere, especially if it’s a Secret Society of People Who Have Something in Common.

Take my marriage to MTM, the Architect Who Also Used to Be in Academia. Part of being a Card-Carrying Academic is giving lectures, watching lectures, and discussing the intricate possible meanings of those lectures. For HOURS and HOURS and HOURS and HOURS and HOURS. This can leave the non-architect in a bewildered stupor, grappling for anything worthy to contribute to the conversation over the course of an evening.

Especially when everyone knows you are Not One of Them as soon as you open your timid trap.

In the early days of my relationship with MTM, I tried to fit. Granted, I had no design training. I didn’t know the difference between Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright. In college, I did not stay awake for three or four consecutive years in Studio, fueling my frenzy of creativity with caffeine and Radiohead. I could not fathom their Experience, why it made them talk for hours about the Feeling of the Perfect Chair Against their Buttocks, the Extra Line That Doesn’t Need to Be There…That One…..Right There, the Assaultive and Possibly Brain-Damaging Qualities of Floral Print, and Worship at the Altar of Design Within Reach.

About the only thing that gave me any comfort at these interminable outings was the knowledge that every single one of these people would always have a pen. They might not let me touch it, or they might let me use it and hover in my personal space to make sure my ‘borrowing’ didn’t turn into ‘kidnapping their precious baby.’ Still, I knew I could take notes about the myriad incomprehensible words and phrases with the hopes of looking a few of them up when no one was around to see how much I didn’t know.

Yes, eventually I got over being intimidated by people I’ve grown to love. That fact doesn’t make me fit any better within these Secret Handshake Clubs.

Sometimes, the best way to communicate how we feel is by making the other person experience it first-hand. The tables were turned on my Architect Friend Alice several years ago. She accompanied me to a continuing education conference for Pencil-Headed Certified Public Accountants. We decided to take a wine tour of the Willamette Valley with the conference group. Alice averted her eyes as we loaded ourselves into the purple van decorated with garish painted grapes and settled in for the hour-long ride.

It was a raucous bunch. These people regaled us with stories of Shredding Parties, Little-Known Facts About the IRS, the Merit of Internal Revenue Code Section 4,325,698,235 (Z)(2,456,111)(aa)(450 to the 25th power), and Their Favorite Audits of All Time. Alice looked at me about ten minutes into the (even to me) insufferable trek. Shell-shocked horror etching her lovely, glasses-clad visage, she whispered, “Is THIS what you feel like in a room full of architects??????”

Yes.

It is.

It’s also how I feel in every conceivable convening of The Secret Society of the Uterus….