When I look into a mirror, I don’t look at myself. I look at my lips. Red is the color of power and I am a slave to making sure they stay universally desirable.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t love the rest of myself. I try to ignore that mauve has made a home for itself below my eyes. Blue veins with green and violet branches cover my eyelids and hands in tangled, necessary system. Taupe pockmarks from scratching bug bites when I was a child season my ankles and wrists. Amber down sprouts in velvet crops beneath my spine and navel. Gunmetal shadows fill the absence of flesh around my collarbones and cheeks. A thin canvas of sallow skin pulls my colors together.
When I look into a mirror, I don’t always appreciate what I see. I’m learning to love my colors and celebrate the painting that has and has yet to come. Pinks and reds and nudes aren’t the only shades to admire. Our bodies are rainbows, fleetingly beautiful and priceless.
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
My mind is a crate full of bees. At peace, they hum quietly while they work. Coming and going as they please, every thought is recognized and stored away in an easy manner. I go about my day without resistance, until the hive is disturbed. A passing comment, a bad attitude, a funny look, a feeling of incompetence. I don’t have any control over these happenings, so why should they bother me? Immediately, thoughts slam around violently, aching to escape. Scenarios flash before my eyes. I’m forced to live out every outcome, over and over again. Unable to move, I remain fixated on the problem I’ve just created in my mind. Withdrawn from the outside world, I seem merely drowsy, like a bee on a hot summer’s day.
Every day, hundreds of nameless faces pass by mine. Double takes are rare as we go about our day. Every day, I form little attachments to the faces I have begun to notice. The fair girl with glowing red hair sits diagonally to me in biology. Her fiery mane is always pulled up tightly into a pony tail, even though it must fall gorgeously onto her shoulders. The Environmental Science major with the Roman nose tends to be late to 10 a.m. algebra, but usually shows up early to our 9 a.m. science lab. He’ll answer question after question correctly, but won’t write a single word down. Flippantly doodling, on the other hand, is his forte.
These faces don’t have names in my mind, but their constant presence in the background of my life has earned them identifiers. Their life has become important to me. To feel alone in a growing world already full of seven billion people is egotistical at best. You are not alone and if you ever feel that way, remember this. Every movie has extras and every portrait has a landscape.
Every morning, my roommate and I roll out of bed forty minutes before our first class. Foundation is blended, cheeks are blushed, and eyelashes are curled. We take turns looking for a suitable outfit in the closet where we can barely fit our massive combined wardrobe. She nestles bobby pins patiently in her hair; curly hair requires a forgiving hand. I spritz perfume along my neck while absentmindedly pawing through my collection of earrings. We’re often asked “Why do you look so cute today?” Why? We do it for ourselves. Spending time with myself every morning while I get ready is my personal form of meditation. I’m readying myself for the challenges of the day that lies before me. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or what I’m doing. I’m gonna look good and look good doing it.
If I were an artist, the idea of a creating a self portrait wouldn’t be so daunting. I’ve had a long love affair with my particular set of features. Vanity courses through my veins. But I’m not an artist. I’m a writer. A tangible portrayal would be simple. My hypothetically dextrous hand would be kinder while duplicating the peaks and valleys of my dearly self-obsessed image. This representation would be lovely due to the fact that it’s purely physical. It wouldn’t have any of the truth my inner monologue would whisper sheepishly from a written page.
I’ve always written for an audience. Even now, I’m writing for an unknown, solitary figure sitting comfortably in the back of my mind. The constant need for approval and the unending desire to please will always accompany the letters that fall onto the page in front of me. I still haven’t decided where it stems from, and I almost don’t want to know. That’s a darkness I can’t handle.
I have yearned for the ability to write freely and with abandon. I want to be the author of words that make goosebumps rise on your forearms. I want to be the author that makes you say, “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way”. I want to be great. I want to inspire greatness. But how can I do that with such a critical inner judge? I can’t rise to the top if I’m unwilling to take the first step.