Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

F
or fifteen minutes I stare into the backward world of the mirror. The numbers on my alarm clock alert me that I have spent too much time in front of the looking glass, but today, for once, I see more than just my familiar reflection staring back at me. This vertical pool of glass appears to be a portal into a different place in time.
The mechanics are simple enough. With my naked eye I can almost see the trillions of streaming photons bounce off of the smooth glass. I lean in closer and feel the warm light waves slide through liquid sand, hit the reflective silver layer painted on the back of the mirror, and shoot back at me in every direction at once; only a few million of these make it into my eyes where they are perceived and acknowledged. The rest zoom away to some place I will never know.
My brown irises tighten around their pupils as the light penetrates the protective cornea. They bend and flip through my lenses and hit the retina in the far cavern in the back of my eyes where the little rod cells detect the intensity of the sunlight from the window behind my vanity and the cone cells tell me that my lacy bra is indeed purple. Together those rods and cones meet with their cell friend ganglion, and they pass along a secret message through each synapse in a game of telephone till it reaches the occipital lobe of my brain. And finally, after I have already moved and the atoms and molecules have changed from their original position, the telephoned message is decoded and a lovely, time displaced, image is produced; and there is my reflection staring back at me.
But is this a portal into the future, the present or the past? Because, at the present moment I am eye-to-glass with the mirror, searching to see my physical body in the immediate now. I look to the right and my reflection looks to its left. It does exactly what I do at seemingly the same rate creating an illusion of synchronicity; but by the time my brain registers what my eyes see, enough milliseconds have passed to where dozens of cells may have divided into two or randomly died, altering my physical appearance before I can really see it as it is. So I am always looking at a delayed version of myself.
The looking glass is indeed a portal to the past! How did I forget that mirrors are optical illusions? It goes to show that there are no accurate visual representations of yourself. Even now, the image I see is of me in the past. I take a few steps back from the full length looking glass and examine myself. With attentive hands I grope at the thickness of my thighs and pull on the skin beneath my chin…Is this the right amount? Is this healthy? I wonder. Does what I see correspond to how it really looks?
With smooth skin almost touching the glass, I inspect the size of my pores and brush away a fallen eye lash from my cheek. The tips of my pointer fingers trace my eye brows and circle down beneath my eyes where there are puffy, purple loops. I should fix that. With skin toned concealer? I examine the array of colors. The bags are not dark enough for me to want to paint over them. No, concealer is too much... what then? I read once in a magazine that pressing small ice cubes to the swollen region beneath your eyes will minimize the puffiness. That will probably work. Bingo…that’s what I’ll do. But next time I will just make sure to go to bed at a decent hour so that my circadian rhythms are in sync and those pesky puffs don‘t appear again.
I stand back and slowly pull through the long curly tresses of my pumpkin hair with a tortuous shell comb. The wavering evening light sets every strand on fire. It looks rather nice today, I wonder if he will admire the way it falls over my eyes. I think he likes that…but then again…I never can tell. With a scrutinizing eye, I inspect my appearance again.
What will he notice? Will he pay attention the circles under my eyes and be able to tell that I haven’t been sleeping well, or will his man-gaze go directly to my curves to calculate how my body has changed since I last saw him?
This thought sends me twirling in circles to look at the shapeliness of my butt. I run my hands over my breasts, cup them and then pull them together. Well, I muse, the man’s occipital lobe is larger than a woman’s, so he is more sensitive to sight. He sees so much more than I do when I look at myself in the mirror. It is so different. I wonder if he has X-ray vision too? I grab for a blouse from my closet and cover up my cleavage.
This is so annoying. The tightness of the blouse restricts the full extension of my arms. I feel like I am wrapped in a delicately hand-crafted straitjacket. It is sexy and will modestly flaunt the shape of my body, but is too difficult to do anything practical in. Grunting, I strip it off and rummage through my closet, scooting aside a satin black dress for a sweater.
Dressed down, I face the mirror again. I may not look as stunning as I did a minute before, but, I think he will appreciate my comfort. Right? This new image looks confident and secure in her own skin. I lick my dry lips, pinch my cheeks for a touch of color, and then move away.
As I slide in the lock to my home on my way out, I ponder how much a mirror effects who you are as a person. How the expressions you make to yourself in the looking glass may never been seen by another human being. And how different he must look in the light of his self reflection. I take my notebook from my bag and jot this down:

“I want to see you
The way you see yourself
When you look into the looking glass.”

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