The Looking Glass

I sat against the hallway wall, arms crossed on my knees, watching my mom rip the bathroom mirror off the wall, pulling it so hard the wire attaching it to the wall snapped in half. She stood the mirror on the floor next to me. The looking glass faced the wall. I attempted to avoid her gaze. “Look at me. This stays here until I say so. Understand?” I nodded, sniffling. I hadn’t believed her when she threatened to take it down. Clearly, she wasn’t messing around.

She passed me the box of tissues from the bathroom counter, then stormed down the hall to her room, abandoning me to sit beside the mirror. I peeled myself off the ground and walked into the bathroom, pulling the door behind me. Without the mirror, the wall was exposed. She hadn’t bothered to wipe off the fifteen years of dust collected behind the mirror frame. The room felt small. I heard footsteps. “What are you doing in there? Hurry up!” she said.

“Why do you care? The mirror’s gone, are you gonna take the door off next?”

“Honey, this is for your own good. You know I didn’t want to do this.”

I stood up, grabbed onto the edges of the sink, as I usually did, and stared at the wall, where the mirror should have been. Even though there was no reason for me to cry—I couldn’t critique my appearance as I’d done multiple times a day for months—tears streamed down my face. She was wrong. I could imagine all the flaws I usually saw in the mirror. I felt claustrophobic in here now, without the mirror, but I forced myself to stay longer, to prove to my mother that she wasn’t helping.

The mirror stayed down the whole summer. When she wasn’t home, I thought about turning it around, or putting it back up to see if she noticed. I was scared to touch it, though, worried what she would do next. I burned my ears and neck daily as I tried to straighten my hair without a mirror, applied mascara in the camera of my phone.

I was used to being surrounded by mirrors. In the bathroom, on the back of mother’s door. Those were gone. And I wasn’t dancing that summer (her idea), so I didn’t see the dance studio mirror.

Deep down, it felt good not to have to stare at myself for hours each day. Without the bathroom mirror, I didn’t stop to overanalyze my thighs or notice that my face had gotten rounder. No dance meant I didn’t have to see my body clad in a leotard and tights.

At first I snuck critical glances at my reflection—mirrors in public bathrooms, my reflection in storefront windows. Eventually, though, something began to shift. It became routine not to see my reflection; when I caught sight of it at school or outside, my gaze didn’t linger.

In August I was sitting on the couch watching Netflix when I heard footsteps, then banging down the hall. My mother shouted, “It’s going back up” as she opened, then a moment later closed, the bathroom door. I waited for her to walk back down the hall to her room before I cautiously climbed off the couch and opened the door to the bathroom. I put my hands on the sink, as I’d done so many times before, and stared at myself in the mirror. This time I held my own gaze, didn’t let my eyes drift to analyze the rest of my body, reminded myself it was a mirror.

And Don’t Miss

The first, second, and third prize–winning works from the Third Annual “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:

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