Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.
I used to hear your mother read the story to you. Every night for a year you’d curl up on your bed and eagerly wait for your mom to get snuggled up beside you. She’d start the story, the same as she always did, with a soft tone, as if asking the mirror herself who was the fairest of them all and afraid of its answer.
I listened intently, picturing the day you’d come up and ask me this very question. I imagined you’d be older than your five-year-old self, with big fawn eyes and an innocent smile on your face. You’d see it as a game, a fairy tale you were playing out from memories of your young childhood.
You never did. Day after day, year after year, you passed me without uttering the words I so longed to hear, to see that beautiful smile and light in your eyes. It never came. Instead, I watched the light fade from your eyes, saw the smile dip further and further into a frown. Sadness was wrapped around you like a blanket, always.
Now, I watch as you lay across your bed, tears streaming down your face. They land upon the covers, leaving evidence of your pain. I fear what has happened. You’ve been through so much. But this morning when you left, your spirits were high, higher then they’d been in months. I could see the light in your eyes again. My edges may be smudged but my surface is clean enough. I know I saw a spark, a new hope lighting within you.
What could have happened?
I thought for sure you were past most of the pain. It was hard, but I’ve watched you slowly piece yourself back together. Watched as the tears stopped and life became normal once again. You’d even started taking an interest in the clothes you wore. The evidence was all over the floor.
What happened to change all of that? Oh, how I despise being confined to these walls, only seeing what you will allow me to see. The pain. I miss the girl who used to smile at me, the one who saw herself and was content with what she saw. A light knock comes at the door, making you jump from the bed. You quickly wipe at your face as you run to the dresser to smear some foundation on your red cheeks. The red splotches are covered, your pain masked, though your eyes remain wet from tears.
“Come in.” Your raspy voice is barely audible. Clearing your throat, you try again. “Come in.”
In enters my favorite person, Mason. He’s always there for you, always reassuring you that life will work out in ways we don’t expect but that it does work out. You never listen, or at least, you never let the words sink into your core.
“Hey,” he says, his smile kind as he pushes his hands deep into his pockets. His smile brightens my reflection, or at least makes me feel brighter. His eyes always watch you with care, but you never see it. Instead, you turn away from him – always – and make your way over the pile of clothes lying on the floor to sit in the chair before me.
“Good. It’s just you.” You plop down in the ratty old chair, whose cushion is torn and the wood old. It creaks from your weight as you crumble in on yourself. You keep your gaze on the floor, missing the way Mason jerks from your brushing off his presence. “I thought it was my mom.”
Tears start to build in your eyes again, the foundation not thick enough to hide the fresh reddening skin that is starting to show. Turning your back to Mason, you look at me. My soul shatters for you as you scrunch up your face when you see your reflection.
“What happened today? One minute you were fine, the next you were running away from campus as if the zombie apocalypse was about to start.” He sits down and halfheartedly chuckles. “I don’t think I’ve seen you move that fast since we were kids and that dog was trying to eat your ice cream.” He’s smiling, but I can see the concern etched in his face. His hands tight at his sides, wanting to embrace you.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” You continue looking at me, the tears breaking over the rim to run down your cheek, falling until they land on your leg and soak into your jeans.
“Come on Maddie, talk to me.” Mason looks at me to see your face, the concern etched in his expression.
I want to understand this moment. To know why you won’t look at him, to see the care in his eyes, to confide your pain to him. Instead, you try hiding it away so that I will be the only one to see your pain in the end.
“It’s embarrassing,” you confess.
“Okay,” Mason drawls, “and the time you tripped to land on your butt in a pile of dog crap wasn’t embarrassing. Oh, I got it. How about the time you peed all over this very bed―”
“Okay, okay. I get it. I can tell you anything.” You wipe the tears from your face. “It’s just…” you pause, taking a deep breath, before looking back up at me. Anger flushes through your eyes when you see your reflection. You hit me hard, cracking my reflective glass. I don’t know what you saw to make you so angry, to hit me with such a force you distort your image; cracking me so now everything is split in two. Your fist leaving a smudge upon my surface.
“I’m so stupid.” Another tear slips down your cheek. “I had my hopes up this morning about everything: college, prom, graduation. Thinking about how awesome this summer was going to be. It felt great to feel that sense of normalcy again; to let go of the pain and coming to terms with my injuries. To finally accept what is so I can have some peace.” You look at yourself once again, this time a crack down the middle of your face. It aligns with the scars that mar your right cheek to your neck. Glancing down, you run your fingers over the scars on your arm.
I know it doesn’t happen, but I feel as if another crack breaks my surface as I watch your pain resurface. The last few months have been awful for you. It all started the night Maggie and her mother ran off the road, hitting a tree. Maggie was thrown through the windshield. I’d wandered for days what had happened when no one came home. Then, Maggie showed up with Mason in tow. She cried in his arms as she told him every detail of the accident, the accident that left her mangled with scars.
Two weeks later, more bad news came when Maggie’s mother came to explain her father had left. They’d been facing some hardships, many of which I’d heard while Maggie was away. The accident had been his last straw, he’d said. He blamed her for what had happened, for ruining their daughter’s future. His selfish behavior continued as he ignored Maggie’s calls and cries, only to call back when he knew she was sleeping to say he was sorry.
“What changed?” Mason whispers, his concern making his voice break.
Why can’t you see it? I wonder. See his care and love for you the way I do?
I listen intently as you tell Mason about your day. How the counselor explained why you’d been denied the scholarships you’d applied for. Your humiliation at lunch when you’d approached Holden for the first time in weeks. He’d asked you to prom before the accident, but you hadn’t seen him since he visited you at the hospital. The humiliation only grew when a girl named Lexie walked up, dissing your scars and informing you she was going to prom with Holden.
I see the moment Mason’s resolve snaps and a happy warmth feels me. He gathers you in his arms, something I would never be able to do, and comforts you in his embrace. My reflective glass shows your pain and his love, although all you see is the pain. I watch him hold you all night, allowing your tears to soak his shirt.
Over the next week, your sadness still lingers but there’s a new light in your eyes. Your phone lighting up followed by a smile breaking across your face. You sit on your bed, huddled in the comfort of your blankets, laughing through the nights at whatever you see on the screen. The sadness starts to ebb away and is replaced with tears of laughter. Your smile finally reaching your eyes again.
Spring flowers outside the window reflect beautifully through my glass, doubling their beauty for you to see. Their beauty matching yours as you prance around in the beautiful dress that shimmers in the light. Its fabric hugs your curves, while its silver color brings out your blue eyes.
You sit in front of me, ready to critique your beauty. Pausing, you take a moment to run your finger over my scar. The scar you left when your anger was raw.
“I’m sorry,” you say, but there is no need to apologize; for my scar is my own. My reflecting glass still doing its job, showing the world what is before them even if they’re unwilling to see it.
Running your hand gently over your hair, you try finding flaws to fix. There’s nothing to fix. You’re beautiful just the way you are. You always have been. Since you were little, I’ve watched your beauty transform you from a little squabble of a baby to the woman sitting before me now. It’s a priceless memory I get to keep within me forever.
A quiet knock comes at your door and you smile.
“Come in, mom.” The door creeps open but the person you see on my glass is not the one you expected. “What are you doing here already?”
Mason smiles, his eyes bright as he takes in the sight of you. “I couldn’t wait any longer.” He looks at you with wonder and amazement. “You look beautiful.”
Your face reddens at his remark, but you reach up to touch your face. Mason steps forward then and grabs your hand. He pulls you from your seat and runs his thumb over your cheek.
“Beautiful,” he whispers. My reflecting glass shows the world your love. Your reflection now how it should be, happy with understanding. I bring to life the images that are seen but yet unseen at times. Your trusty mirror always here listening, then telling you the truth whether you see it or not. No matter how smudged or clean, cracked or smooth I am, the interpretation of your reflection is how you interpret it. Even if it’s not how I see it.