Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Man In the Mirror

The alarm clock wakes me with its insistent beeping, flashing a rhythmic curse in glowing red numbers, nudging me to acknowledge the morning sun rising on the smog filled horizon. Like an outdated, rusty robot, I slap the top of the alarm to silence the shrill beast and then throw my bare feet over the side of the bed, causing a pendulum action that lifts me into a sitting position. Wobbling left and right for a precarious moment, I rub the remains of my dreams from my eyes, wishing again that I could stay in the dream for a while longer, jealous of a world different from my own. I’ve learned not to keep my eyes closed for too long for fear of lying back down and drifting into the oblivion I’ve come to prefer over my real existence, a reality I know I cannot keep.
With shaky knees I make my way into the bathroom and empty my ballooned bladder to the hum of the vent fan and the flicker of fluorescent bulbs trying to come to life. My hands move without thought to turn on the tarnished faucet at the sink. Water runs over my fingers now, a liquid not quite as clear as it should be. I splash some on my face despite its color and lift my face to the mirror in front of me.
It’s not my face looking back at me.
This face has water dripping from its chin and clinging to its eyebrows just as I do, but it’s not me. My name is Ben. I’m sixteen, with shoulder length, dark hair and a pimpled face. I’ve got to get ready for school before mom starts to scream at me. The man in the mirror appears to be about twenty five. He has short, dark hair parted on the side, and a bright, eager look on his face. An ivory shirt and maroon tie hangs on a hook behind him. That can’t be right. I’m going to wear my AC/DC shirt and blue jeans—the ones with the holes in the knees—to school today.
The man looking back at me has a shiny gold band circling the ring finger on his left hand. The gleam from the gold and in his eyes gives me the impression it hasn’t been there for long. I stare at the face in the mirror. The eyes—so familiar—stare back at me.

The alarm sounds again, blaring out a song from yesteryear, waking me from my slumber. I’m twenty-one now and on my own. The apartment is quiet and caverness, plain and void. My head pounds with the echoes of last night’s party. Too much beer and booze has put an asterisk on my day, forcing me to hurry to the bathroom and purge my stomach of the liquor poisoning my soul. When the heaves finally subside, I splash cold water on my face, stand naked before the mirror, and confront the stranger looking back.
He’s older now, perhaps late thirties. His hair has receded and is hauntingly thin. A ragged, five day beard covers his face like a shadowy veil, almost as dark as the circles under his eyes. The wedding ring is no longer there. All that is left is a pale imprint of what used to be. Looking at the reflection in the mirror, I notice empty beer bottles strewn about and the remains of poison, poison from a syringe.
I confront the face in the mirror again and scream, “Who are you?” There is no answer. “What do you want from me?”
The face in the mirror mimics the movement of my lips, mocking me. I stare deep into the eyes and see loneliness, hollow and empty. And then I see something that chills me to the bone; an obvious and unmistakable absence of hope.

I don’t remember how I got here, or where I’m at. I’m thirty now, but this is not my bathroom. I should be getting ready for work, my Honda warming up outside on this cold winter day. But that’s not what I see. The face in the mirror has changed again.
This man has to be at least sixty, or maybe he just looks that way. His thin, wiry hair, tied in a ponytail, is a ghostly shade of gray. Ragged and deep wrinkles mar his face. The teeth, some rotting or missing, others tobacco stained and a deep yellow, protrude from swollen gums. His arms are lined with needle marks like tracks from a demon hunting a lost soul.
Through the reflection in the mirror, I see the room behind me. The smell of booze, drugs, and sex sickens my nostrils. A large woman with too much makeup lies naked on the bed. Her snores rumble with every inhale and wheeze with every exhale. Neon lights flashing outside the window light up her pink eye liner like the eyes of a clown. The room is dark, drab, and musty from years of neglect. Three day old donuts litter the counters to become rat food when the evening light fades.
I don’t recognize this person in the mirror, but the eyes looking back recognize me. They are hateful and accusing, sad and pathetic. I try desperately to blink away the image in front of me, but only succeed in making my head spin and my mind waver. I look again and the man is crying. Deep waves of regret and misery wash down his face like a torrent of lost days. I want to console him, to embrace his agony, but I don’t know how. How can I comfort myself?
Depression and inexpressible loneliness overwhelms me, and now I weep with him, the tears bulging from my eyes and rolling down my cheeks. When I can bear it no longer, I turn out the light illuminating my madness, and leave the stranger to his own misery, and me to mine.

The alarm sounds and I fling the wretched thing across the room. I have come to despise the mechanical sound of ritual and order. I burrow down into the bed and cover my face with my pillow. The mirror in the bathroom calls to me, but I can’t bear the thought of what I might find.
You see, today is my fortieth birthday, and I’m afraid of the man in the mirror.