Thursday, May 22, 2008

Conversations with Mirrors

There was no towel, besides the one I wrapped myself in, to wipe the steam off the coldness of glass before me. I used my hand confidently, creating a streak of reflection, beads of water forming in its wake on the cold hard surface of the bathroom mirror. I stared at myself. The steam permeated all possibility of sight except for right there in that streak; took one of those baths you know you take when the time suits you that are just hot as hell, but not uncomfortable; a jetstream surrounds you as you close your eyes, and when its all over, you walk back into the cold grey world. The day inevitably came when I had had enough of the life I had made for myself these past eight months and acknowledged that I didn’t decide to pack my car after almost a year of careful planning to work in retail in a land where I had very few true, honest friends who cared and saw how depressed I was; I did not plan heartache, I did not plan bouts of alcoholic sadness, and I certainly did not plan on sitting alone in dark rooms so very much. Bastard liars get paid tons of money to write books that tell you making it all better is in your power, but more times than not, its really really not. Self-image, self-worth, self-esteem; these are extremely fragile little gems. And their frailty mostly manifests at times when you feel you need them the most to keep you sane and to keep you relevant in worlds and relationships that have forced you out. Even when surrounded by people you’ve loved and cared for or even by that one person you thought did, you can feel so very alone. Are you cool enough? Interesting enough? Funny enough? Such dangerous questions you know you ask yourself. Or at least I did. Every night, for months. And every night, I negotiated and deliberated with myself and renewed a temporary sense of self-awareness that I knew would wane the next day. Or at least until the next session the next night before I fall into uneasy sleep. And the day came that I had had enough and I quit my job. That was all I had and I let it go. I said as I looked into my reflection so disapprovingly the last time I told myself I would, with coldness and confidence: no more pep talks in the mirror.

The bags were going to fall, the one on my shoulder, the one on my other shoulder, the three in my hand and the one on the last finger in the other hand, the rest, dedicated to directing the key into the keyhole that led into my home. I’ve been having problems with this lock for quite some time, and I knew today was not going to be an exception, I inserted the key, lacking the wisdom to lay the bags on the ground before doing so. The strain on my hand as I jostled the key in its hole so very painfully as the bag handle twisted my fingers into a grinding pretzel became too great. The key turned much too much and much too strong and snapped cleanly in the doorknob. I stood there, in complete sympathy for myself as the rain mercilessly continued to bathe the trees and the ground and me in its indiscriminate cold. I looked at the doorknob. I looked at the bags. I sat down and felt sorry for myself, next to the mud puddle that formed just beyond the stone walk that evaded the rain and was adequate for sitting. I began to plan the next few moments, began problem solving, but was so exhausted I decided to sit and breathe instead. I looked down, and there I was again, looking up at myself from the mud puddle. My features were blurred in shadow and silt but I knew it was me. Even in unseen features I could make out the bags beneath my eyes, and the tears that were always ready to form behind them. It was just one of those bad days. The worst of the worst when you feel you’ve lost all sense of self in one fell swoop and you don’t know when bottom has been hit, or if it is even possible. Its one of those “sometimes” you stumble on when the limitations arise that remind you of the things you can’t be or the things you can’t do. And then your key breaks. And your doors won’t open anymore. And your body is hurting and you’re left out in the rain. And all you can do is sit and breathe and wait until the next sane moment might provide some peace. Just maybe.

Warm bursts of water popped and subsided at the surface of the hottub, deeply contrasting the peace of the bitter night air and the coldness of the starless sky that blanketed the grey earth beneath it. I had only set the jetstream for mere minutes of glory in the hottub; a half-hour before that I had bought a six-pack of celebratory beer and yet a half-hour before that I had quit my job after eight excrutiating months of listless, unproductive labor. I sat with a full head of thoughts and a heavy heart in that small pool and expected the next thing in my life to suddenly make its revelation. Nothing came. I call people. And no one came. They were all either working through their own worlds of torment, or enjoying slumber. I always enjoy the end of things. I always found that a terminal state was a constant reminder of the next thing, which is at once encouraging as well as saddening. It’s a time of ultimatums, goodbyes, hello’s, and longing for what was once, and a wonderment or fear of what will be. It’s dynamic. And these thoughts raced in my head with no definition at such a defining moment, until the bubbles stop, my time had run out and jets that fed into the pool faded and ceased, leaving me still, with a warm beer in my hand, alone and anxious in a quiet pool, quiet again as the sky above. And then I found it: clarity. I saw myself in that water again, a reflection that manifested from a light above the pool I did not notice illuminated the space, and a longing for identity. The water was still now, I saw my face and at the same time I saw the bottom of the pool. I could see my feet as they wavered at the bottom, I could see the color of the tile beneath them, and I could see the lines in my hands. Familiar places and familiar faces flooded my head this time; not regrets, not secrets, and not heartache. I felt myself asking the question, whatever happened to the “growing up” part of growing up? And the answer was in moments like this. I called my friend that night and I cried. And he made me feel better, like everything wasn’t falling apart.

I’ve written about my rearview mirror before. It’s one of those metaphors you use when you are nostalgic and you feel like writing about your car, but I couldn’t help using it here. The day after I left work the last time, I took one of my epic drives around Houston (one of many I take when feeling alone in the world manifests as actually being alone, only comfortably so as I take in new sights). I kept looking into the rearview mirror, at cars that weren’t there, at friends who weren’t in the backseat. But instead of being sad about this, I decided to reminisce and smile about remembering friends being in the backseat, passed out from a good night of being together, friends who were carpooling with you to go to a class you all didn’t want to go to, or on the way to the liquor store or bottle shop, I remember my parents being there when I was learning how to drive, or even my dog on one of our joyrides as he gleefully stuck his head out the window to take in every possible smell the central Pennsylvanian country side had to offer. I am now on my way back to Houston from State College, and here on the plane, though there are no rearview mirrors to help the metaphor along, I can still look back. Fresh in my mind are my feelings of being left out of new conversations between old friends, of being out of place with new ones, and the idea that life went on in my absence, and I’m finally okay with that. It’s what’s right about all this, because it makes going back to my life in Houston necessary and important.

St. Anne’s reminds me of some of the smaller cathedrals of Rome. Though deeply nested in the likes of the Montrose area of the inner loop, I feel like the outside world is banned from within these walls, sacred and silent and true. Every whisper is heard, every thought rings with clarity. I trudged in humbled and contented just being inside these walls, thankful for the job I was just given, and thankful for the hand that turned the page to a new chapter in my life. I ran my finger across the surface of the holy water well at the entrance to the first set of pews, the damp marble lip cool to the touch. And as the water rippled to stillness once again, I caught a glimpse of myself in it. Another unexpected mirror in another unexpected place. This time, as the illuminated space provided more of an image, I was able to make out a smile, one in celebration of this new phase of growing up, one of a hopeful stint at peace, one of a renewed faith and hope, and one for the repair of the love in relationships I singlehandedly let be broken for so long.

Renewed relationships with those I love It was one of those “good days” I kept hearing about and was reassured would eventually come. But unlike most, I preferred to proceed with cautious optimism and cherished this time of repair, not blinding bliss. And in forging ahead, I continued my search at comiccon for purpose; though my time there was also quite lonely, I found that doing what I needed to do to give myself purpose was a great mode to be in to displace the loneliness that is inevitable.

The human condition makes no concessions for heavy or broken hearts or promises, is absolutely merciless towards those who let themselves fall behind in relationships and self-knowledge and is absolutely intolerable to the acknowledgement of having done wrong to another, especially the ones you love. But have faith. Find yourself. Maybe in others. Maybe in your own reflection. Life’s answers can’t be found in the barrage of fortune cookies or hallmark cards. Its not always about never giving up. Have the decency and self-worth to look into those mirrors, and realize some things are not worth fighting for. Read the lines on your face and let them tell you how old these pains and truths are making you and move on from them. And inversely, find the things that bring you back to where you used to be, to the unconditional happiness summer vacation brought you to the surge of energy from the first kiss shared with someone you care for. And maybe then, at least, can this shitstorm subside long enough for us to prepare ourselves for the next one.