The eyes that star back at me in the bathroom mirror are that of a stranger. I do not recognize this person. He might as well be a passerby glancing from a crowd wondering whom this man was walking down the street staring intently at the sidewalk. The eyes, the eyes that once looked upon everything with joy and anticipation of the next moment, day, week, or month now peers back without expression. What happened to this man? Where did these lines that spray out from the corners of his eyes come from. A tired look paints the bags describing to those with any sense of observation, this man has not slept well in a long time. The blue that people used to notice, used to comment upon are surrounded by snake like redness slithering in towards the defending iris. It is hard to gaze into these eyes, it is difficult to see that they seem unable to attain a joyous look or even recognize the moments that should force them to squint to life or raise an eyebrow. I need to look away; I need to not see the weathering that has taken its toll. He looks old, he looks worn out and scared.
The soft stubble has now filled through out his face. Unsure if the beard grows due to want or desire for a new look or if the feeling of utter disinterest in personal grooming has finally won the day. The laugh lines that once placed a parenthesis around his usually smiling and laughing mouth have succumbed to the lack of exercise receding back into the thinning face. Mouth pursed capturing the tongue that used to joke and speak around a family and loved ones, now rarely opening for sound. He used to sing, loudly, in his car, mouth the words to love songs in the mirror, quietly mutter the lyrics to the song playing on the radio in the shower. His lips cannot make the movements any longer. A sigh exhales from within, he bites his lip gently and returns to the emotionless form it has become accustomed to.
Hands reach up from the sides where they dangle. Fingers run gently up the sides of his cheeks. It is his face. As each digit moves from spot to spot with hope that there would be no feeling, just for a moment, a second, so that maybe the face would not be his. He pushes harder, smearing his lips from the right to the left and back again. Grabbing his ear lobes and tugging them down hard hoping he wouldn’t feel the pain, then running his hands up and over his cleanly shaven head. His cleanly shaven head. He once read a short story about a little boy who had so many thoughts in his head that he just wanted to get out so he shaved his head thinking the hair was keeping them in, was this why is took a razor to his scalp everyday? The simple explanation (insert Occam’s razor pun here) is that he is balding and it is better to just remove the hair proactively. That is the easiest to explain to others and to those who would just not get it but he did read this story when he was young, and while he can no longer remember the title of this story, it had an impact on him.
His mind has once again begun to wander, to another book. To one that describes the way a beautiful person hid his demons, his ugliness from others. A man that committed vile acts on his fellow human beings but never seemed to be suspected, because of how he looked. He hid his demons in an attic, hidden and covered; he hated seeing this photo as it externalized the grotesqueness that lived within him. I hope that this is not my picture; I hope that this is not my painting covered in an attic. Draped with linens to cover the hideous nature that has grown in this life. How could each reflection depict a man such as this? Who is he? Do we not get our own paintings that can just hide away for us to live under a veiled mask that we are okay? Does my painting actually depict a joyous and content man, one that believes in goodness, hope and love? Or is my painting the face that I stare at, without recognition, each morning? Will I be forced to wear my heartaches, hardships, and difficulties for the viewing public to witness? Having always been a “heart on the sleeve” type of guy it would make sense that I would wear the rest where it deemed fit. Maybe I spend so much energy and time displaying a falsely positive, relaxed attitude that my painting would actually show some crazed, anxiety-riddled mess of a man.
Am I observed as being vain for staring at my reflection for longer than another human being would? I am searching for familiarity in the face that keeps trying to look away from this gawker. I am searching for a semblance of passion, fight, fire, FUCK, anything that would get a reaction to generate to know that this reflection is still alive. Sometimes I just want to shout at that stranger looking back at me “IT ISN’T THAT BAD!” “COME ON YOU CANNOT CONTINUE TO LET THIS BEAT YOU UP!” Then maybe I would slap him, like in the movies or on TV. That slap that wakes the person up from the bullshit that they were spouting. The face screams poor me when there are thousands, hundreds of thousands who have gone through EXACTLY what this image standing before me has been through. If 50% (or more now) of marriages end in divorce, logic would tell this person that others have experienced exactly what you are/ have. What you loved her/ still love her? She doesn’t love you and there is nothing you can do about it. You don’t see your kids as much as you want? There are many people who don’t see their kids EVER. This man though, the one glaring at me now, just cannot hear that or he won’t listen. His painting grows darker.
Having spent the better part of the past two years wrapped up in my depression, anxiety, and worry I can see the impact it has done. To others, friend and my boys, to myself, and to possibly others that are around me enough like it did to former co-workers. I wear these ugly scars like they mean something, like I have been through a battle that I lost. The thing is I have been through a lot; I have been forced from my comfort zones, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming. I have done things and had things done to me that would make my painting change in ways I would not approve of. Mostly though I can see the stranger staring back at me begging for help and I don’t know how to help him. I want to reach out, I want to tell him “everything will work out” but I am too selfish to say those words to him. My painting grows with cowardly effects. I know what I have to do and when I start to do those things I tend to have a moment of feeling, well, good, but then I shrink back inside myself. My painting grows timid and reclusive. Maybe I just find comfort in solitude? My painting is splashed with lonesome colors.
A reflection isn’t always what it seems to be. Glass can warp and distort changing the way it is perceived by the human eye. Some mirrors make you look taller, some shorter, skinnier and fatter. Let’s not even get started on fun house mirrors and the mind fuck those can be. And a painting can have “artistic license” such as the picture of Napoleon riding the large white horse, he was actually sitting on a donkey during the sitting. Or the painter can make one thinner, or back when they were done, thicker as that was deemed to provide a sense of wealth. It can change the color or tone of your skin and it can fade over time. Maybe this is all I am experiencing, maybe this is why I don’t know the person looking back at me. It is simply something wrong with the glass.
In the end though, I hope I am not my Dorian Grey.