I don’t set a lot of rules for myself. Not because I don’t need them, necessarily. The jury — on which my wife, my boss, every teacher I ever had and occasionally the neighbors’ kids take turns serving as forepersons, apparently — is still out on precisely how much “structure” in life would benefit me most.
The thing is, I’m probably not actually going to follow a bunch of rules. Or even remember them, at least until the lights are already flashing in my rearview or the sink has been fully dissassembled. So why have them in the first place?
However. One rule I do have — and mostly follow — is this:
“Never look in the mirror before noon.”
This is not a rule for everyone. This is just a rule for me. Because I’m not pretty in the morning, and nobody should have to deal with that before lunch.
(For the record, I’m not especially pretty in the afternoon, either. I’m just easier to deal with after a nice sandwich and maybe some caffeine.)
Luckily, I can bathe, dress and prepare myself for the day without particular reflection on my reflection. I know where all the parts are in the shower. My clothes — unlike some of the weirdo workout garb my wife wears, with breathable linings and strappy doodads and whatnot — are fairly self explanatory. And I only rarely get toothpaste in my ear or nose or down my underpants when I’m not watching what my self is doing.
So most mornings, I don’t look in the mirror. Because no good can come of that.
This morning, I looked in the mirror. Because I’m a doof.
And when I looked, I saw something. Something odd.
No, odder than usual. Smartass.
I saw that when I opened my mouth a little bit — as one slackenly does first thing in the morning, as one stares zombie-like into the mirror — my lips on the left side stayed together, just at the corner. Not on the right; just the left. And just a little bit. Nothing anyone else would even notice, unless of course they closely studied me staring zombie-like and slack-mouthed over a long period of time for reference.
(Which means they’d either have to put a camera behind the bathroom mirror I usually avoid looking at — which nobody wants — or they’d have to be there every time one of those sexy Fiat commercials comes on TV.
Probably no one wants that, either. So sayeth the jury.)
“Oh, your philosophy might change or you might take up activism or painting or Rastaveganhempanism.”
The problem with this lip thing is not what it is. What it is is nothing, a trifle. Probably a result of sleeping cheek-deep on a pillow all night, or slight dehydration from the unrelenting hellish heat all weekend.
(As an aside — seriously, will it ever be cool again? Boston is not a ninety-degree city. I know the Texans and the Brazilians and the sweaty naked hippies at Burning Man are laughing at us: “Oh, ninety degrees! Water’s still a liquid, asshole. Walk it off.”
But it’s a relative thing. You can gird your loins for subzero temps and fourteen feet of snow, or for sunshine that’ll bubble your roof and — evidently — melt your freaking lips together. But not both. I object! This whole latitude is out of order!)
The problem is, it’s a change. A physical, bodily change. A thing that wasn’t there before on my person, and now it is, and that is not a good thing. Not by any stretch.
Oh, sure, it was fine at one point. As a kid, things changed all the time. There’s shit growing over here, and getting bigger over there. Shit falls out, shit grows in, shit sprouts out of nowhere and mysteriously turns into other shit — it’s like Mister freaking Potato Head in a sideshow funhouse. Every goddamned day it’s something new — but it’s natural. There’s a process, and you’re moving toward something. You’re turning into the “you” that you’re going to become.
In those days, I looked in the mirror. Every day. My image was like one of those advent calendars you see in December, only it was year-round and instead of opening the little window each day to see a Christmas tree or a bunch of carolers, it was wisdom teeth or neck pimples or knuckle hair.
Which would make for a really lousy calendar, frankly. Christmas or otherwise.
Then you hit a certain plateau age, and you’ve got ten, maybe twenty years of that “you” you’re turned into. You’re more or less the same, every day. Oh, your philosophy might change or you might take up activism or painting or Rastaveganhempanism. But unless you develop a nasty habit of falling down stairs or having plastic surgery, you look like you.
These are the “golden” mirror years, when it’s actually a tool, rather than some window into the horror flick shitshow of the aging process. It’s in this magical time when you use the mirror for the things it should be used for — finding spinach in your teeth. Adjusting your contact lenses. Secretly checking out that cutie at the next table.
And then your plateau begins to crumble, as mine has. Your mirror self begins to change again, and there’s no wonder left. You’re not a young person any more, squirming in your adolescent cocoon to grow wings or boobs or a manly-but-subdued thatch of chest hair.
Oh, no. You wish you were a caterpillar.
Now you’re careening away from “you” into… well, one of your parents, first. Then a grandparent, maybe, or some Wilford Brimley or Estelle Getty body double. If you’re lucky. Because now the process is all higgledy-piggledy, as shit goes fully haywire on you. Those rosy cheeks? Unrosened, and sagging like a couple of coin purses strung over your nose. When something falls off now, it doesn’t grow back or get replaced. It just sits there, smugly mocking. And that “subdued” patch of chest hair? That spreads like kudzu to your back, and your ears, and parts unknown which spring into existence from time to terrifying time.
I take it back. Maybe you are a caterpillar.
I’m pretty sure I am. But my cocooning years are gone, and that’s why I don’t look in the mirror. At this stage, change is bad. Very bad. Any little bump or dent or mysterious tuft could be a nightmare. Years ago, I fretted over these things because it felt like they’d last forever. But of course, they didn’t; they got better.
And now, too, I know they won’t last. Because they’ll get worse. It’s what they do. Old people have goiters and wattles and hair growing everywhere. They’re like old lumpy werewolves, except some of them don’t have teeth any more and when the full moon goes down, they can’t change back to normal.
That’s the path ahead of me. I can’t do much to change it. I think I can mostly accept it. And maybe someday, find a graceful way to navigate it, weirdly stuck-together lips and all. But when I get home tonight, I’m smashing the bathroom mirror.
Because I sure as hell don’t need to look at it.Permalink | No Comments