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My reflection is better-looking than me. Not only that, but I’m also pretty sure his bathroom is bigger than mine. These things vex me to no end.
One day I mentioned them to a science-nerd friend of mine while we were having lunch. That was a mistake, as the comment sent my friend on a mission to educate me, and he began to issue, between his disgusting forkfuls of alfalfa sprouts dripping with some odd vinaigrette, an oral dissertation on light waves, photons, reflection, refraction, asymmetrical facial features, and blah, blah, blah.
I pretended to listen, wondering how he became such a pathetic fool, lost in the library of old physics textbooks in his head, trying to convince me that it was all a trick of my mind’s malleable interpretations, shaped and shifted not just by the reflections of light waves, but even by my own psychology. While I loudly slurped my coffee, and he tried to stab a crouton with his fork, his lecture ventured into the metaphysical, and how my subconscious mind might choose from several different options to present to my conscious mind when looking at my reflection, and “what does this mean about ‘The Self?'”
Finally, I tuned him out completely and decided to Google the question on my phone, which led me to this article. Sure enough, it appears I was right to dismiss my friend’s tiresome palaver. I didn’t read the whole, probably very boring, article, of course. But the headline and the first few sentences covered enough of the basics.
There is a mirror universe.
This sparked a theory to explain my reflection problem. I now hypothesized that this troubling phenomenon was more than just an unfortunate illusion. It was, rather, a glimpse into a real mirror universe, and in that universe, the mirror-me is, in fact, handsomer and probably more successful. Not by a lot, but by just enough to cause me to go insane.
But how to prove it? I pondered that question all the way home, and all the way to the bathroom upstairs.
Now, I had noticed, long ago, when looking at a photograph of myself, that my nose, toward the tip, veers off to the right. Or was it to the left? I wasn’t quite sure because my reflection doesn’t seem to have this problem, and while I remembered seeing photographs that made the problem clear, I no longer had them. I checked my driver’s license. Not clear enough. I took a selfie, but the phone’s camera app, sensing I was taking a selfie and assuming I would be posting it to some social media site, and further assuming I would want to only show some digitally improved version of my image, produced what was obviously a picture of Nicolas Cage in his role as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona.
This was frustrating, to be sure, but in a burst of inspiration, I turned the phone toward my reflection in the bathroom mirror and snapped another picture. This time, the phone returned a picture of Nicolas Cage in Face/Off (1997). Was that better? What was the app trying to say? It was all so inconclusive.
And so it was this conundrum which led to my wife, two hours later, walking in on me in the bathroom, finding me with a plumb-bob tied around the tip of my nose, and just about to snap a chalk line down my chin. “Oh my God,” she said, “What are you doing? Is this some kind of weird sex thing?”
“No, honey, God, no!” I said, throwing off the plumb bob. “I was just… I mean, you can see I’ve got my clothes on! I was just…” but she suddenly seemed distracted, and I saw her glance at my reflection. She immediately blushed, and stammered, saying with a little wave of her hand, “Oh, hi. I didn’t know you were here. Hi.”
“What the…?” I gasped. My wife sheepishly fled the room. Was she flirting with my reflection? There could be no other explanation. I followed her down the hall. “How long has this been going on?” I yelled.
“I don’t want to talk about it!” she said, slamming the bedroom door.
I felt a hot flush come over me. My heart raced, and white light flashed at the periphery of my vision. The Terrible Truth – at once so impossible and yet so undeniable – overwhelmed me. Visions of myself over the years, looking at pictures and thinking something just wasn’t quite right, memories of my wife making excuses to come into the bathroom when I was brushing my teeth, and her insistence on a large decorative mirror on the wall across from where I usually sit at dinner, crashed into my mind like a runaway boulder.
I raged back down the hallway, heading for that dastardly bathroom mirror. For just a fraction of a second, I contemplated going to the garage to get a hammer. But some part of my mind (it’s funny when I think about it now), knew my anger would subside by the time I made it all the way to the garage and back upstairs, and the mirror might survive. I had to find something closer.
On the bathroom counter was my wife’s make-up mirror – a heavy concave thing about the size of a salad plate, on a little metal stand and sitting in a sturdy metal frame. It was perfect. I grabbed it by the stand and, as I raised it above my head, I saw in the curve of the make-up mirror an enlarged reflection of my right eye, not narrowed in anger, but open wide in fear. “Yes,” I shouted, “you know what’s coming, don’t you!?”
I slammed the make-up mirror into the wall mirror, mirror on mirror, and cracked them both. Again and again I struck, until the wall mirror was fractured into shards, most still on the wall, some laying on the countertop, some on the floor.
When I’d had enough I stepped back and beheld the bathroom. There were now hundreds of mirrors all over the room, lying about in shiny pieces of chaotic geometry. And there he was, my jerk reflection, appearing and disappearing in all of them as I stumbled around. Untouched, straight-nosed, and now with a little infuriating smirk. I backed into the hallway, and sank down, exhausted.
Later, I found myself in the back of the police cruiser, heading for my 72-hour mental health evaluation at the hospital. I felt as if I was coming out of a dream and I heard myself say, “Is this my fault?” Through the back seat window, I saw that we were pulling away from an A&W drive-thru.
The officer in the passenger side seat, who I gathered was a rookie riding along with the veteran driver, turned and said through the clear plastic partition, mouth already full of hotdog, “Could be!”
“Might be your wife’s fault,” said the veteran, glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. “She’s the one who called us, but she might need an evaluation herself. When we left your house, I swear, she was holding a picture of you up to one of those little purse mirrors, and was talking to it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That makes sense.”
“Does it?” said the veteran.
“Dammit!” the rookie cop said. “Got mustard on my shirt. They always put too much on it.”
“These seats are hard.” I said.
“Sometimes they get wet,” said the veteran, “so… you know.”
The rookie flipped the sun visor down and looked at his shirt in the little mirror. “Oh,” he said, picking at the mustard stain with his finger, “it’s not too bad.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” I said.
I sat up as high as I could to try to see myself in the rear-view mirror, wondering if my reflection had more comfortable seats to enjoy.
The entrance to the hospital was mostly glass, and I ducked my face under my elbow as the two cops walked me in. I sat in the waiting room, pretending to listen to the rookie telling me all about an ex-girlfriend of his who could never pass a mirror without stopping and checking herself out, and how one time it made them late for the previews at the movie theater, which was really his favorite part of going to the movies. With every pause in his speech, rather than taking a breath like a normal human being, he took another bite of the King Sized Snicker’s bar he’d gotten from the lobby vending machine. I watched a long string of caramel fall onto his shirt as he pulled the candy bar away from his face.
“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll confess to whatever you want me to confess to, if you’ll just leave me alone for a little while.”
“Ha!” he said, slapping me on the shoulder, “You got it, my man. No confession necessary. This is the pubic service side of the job! You know, gettin’ the loonies checked out. Not the crime-fighting part.”
Shortly after that, the veteran cop approached and said they could take me to my room, which, he reassured me, had been stripped of any mirrors or reflective surfaces. “Probably a good idea,” I said.
The next afternoon, I was brought to an office down the hall from my hospital room, the office of a Dr. Lancelot Filburn, a portly fellow with unkempt hair and a burly grey mustache. I noticed he had a floor length mirror in his office, covered with a sheet. “I guess you’ve heard why I’m here,” I said.
“I have, yes, but don’t worry about that, ” he said, “I mean, I have to know what’s going on in order to help you, right? But, of course, I’d like to hear it first-hand, as well.” The doctor retrieved a clementine orange from a bowl on the coffee table, and began peeling it with his fingers. He gestured to the bowl, but I waived off the offer. “So, why don’t you tell me,” he continued, “in your own words, why you are here.”
I told him the whole story, to which he listened intently, twirling the temple tips of his glasses in his mouth and furrowing his brow.
“So you’re telling me,” he said, looking up, “that you believe your bathroom mirror is a window into some other dimension?”
“Well, it’s something like that. Maybe it’s all mirrors, not just mine.” I said.
“And, despite human beings using mirrors for centuries, millennia maybe, you are the first guy to have noticed this?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I said, “maybe I’m just the first to say something. Maybe it’s not all mirrors at all times. Maybe I’m the only one whose reflection is fake. I have no idea. I’m only telling you what I’ve seen.”
“Well, let’s consider this a moment,” he said. “If you and your reflection are two different people, how is it that you always just happen to be in the mirror at the same time? Wearing the same clothes, doing the same things. Doesn’t it seem like you control him? I mean, you don’t ever feel like he’s making you, oh I don’t know, raise your arm or something, do you?”
“No,” I said, “I mean, I think I’m in charge, but it’s just… in certain moments, maybe I’m not. I can’t explain it. It might be something like those nano-particles you hear about, ones that do weird unexpected things when they’re pushed through some kind of accelerator – like existing in two places at once, you know? Some kind of particle quantum physics thing. I have a friend who was telling me all about that recently.”
“Mmm hmmm,” he said. “Tell me…what do you think about yourself? Are you a good person?”
“Oh, Lord,” I said, rolling my eyes, “Yes, yes, yes, I’m great. Or I’m terrible. I’m just seeing things. I’m just projecting my psyche into the mirror…blah, blah, blah. I’m way past all that, doc.”
The doctor just looked at me, and ate a wedge of his clementine.
“Tell you what,” he said, still chewing. “Why don’t you show me? Let’s look in this mirror over here, and you just show me what you see. Can you handle that without…you know…?” The doctor made an exaggerated angry face and mimicked a hammering motion with his arm.
“Yes. I’ll be fine.” I said. “That’s all out of my system.”
We stepped over to the floor length mirror and the doctor dramatically whipped off the sheet. My reflection glared at me with a subtle sneer.
The doctor looked at my reflection, then looked at me, then back to my reflection, then back to me. “Huh,” he said, “You know what, the lighting in here is a little off with these industrial bulbs. Let me open the blinds.” Natural light flooded the room and the doctor took another look. “Well…I mean, it’s subtle, but I have to admit, there does seem to be some kind of distinction. I can see where you might get the idea, but you have to realize you’re seeing a backwards image. Your right is his left, and vice versa. So, if there are any asymmetries in your face, your reflection won’t look quite right.”
“But there would still be asymmetries in the reflection,” I said, “just going the other way, right? But look at him, he’s perfectly symmetrical.”
The doctor stood just behind my left shoulder, looking over it into the mirror. In a flash, my reflection raised an eyebrow and gave me the finger with his left hand. The doctor gasped, “Wha…? Did you do that? I didn’t see you move! The reflection just… just…”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said. “You see what an a-hole this guy is? And my wife has the hots for him! God, this is such a kick in the jewels.”
The doctor’s face took on a concerned look, and his eyes lost focus. He wandered back to his chair and sat down hard, forgetting he had put the clementine in his back pocket. He retrieved the smashed remains of the mini-orange, plopped them down on the coffee table, and then sat back with his fingers to his forehead. He was silent for a few minutes, long enough for me to wonder if I should go get someone. But, then he stood back up and walked over to the mirror. He peered into it, staring at his own reflection, making faces to ensure the reflection was doing the same. “I need you to take my picture,” he said. “I want to hold it up and compare.”
“Well, depending on what kind of camera app you have…” I said, but he was already handing me his phone. I took the picture and handed it back to him. He looked at it for a moment, then held it back out to me with a confused look on his face.
“David Crosby.” I said.
“Do I look like him?” he asked.
“Well, the app uses some kind of algorithm, so I guess, mathematically….” I said with a shrug. “It thinks I’m Nicolas Cage.”
“Huh,” he said. Doctor Filburn continued looking carefully at his reflection in the mirror. He jumped quickly out of the frame, and then suddenly jumped back in front of the mirror, trying to catch his reflection off guard. He tried that three times. It didn’t work. “Mine is very quick,” he said. “Are his eyebrows thinner than mine? What do you think?”
“I think, maybe, you don’t have the same problem I have. Could be that your reflection is just a reflection.” I said. “I mean, we’re here to talk about me and my problems, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I’m not convinced. I wonder if my reflection is up to something.” He put a hand to his chin. “I need time,” he said, then went to the phone on the desk, and picked up the receiver. “Brenda,” he said, “clear my schedule for today. And maybe tomorrow…..No… becau…you don’t need to worry abou….Because maybe I need a mental health day this time! OKAY!? Don’t I get one of those every now and then!??” The doctor slammed the receiver down and looked at me. “I’m releasing you,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t know what to tell you about how to deal with this. I can’t help you.”
“Well, thanks.” I said. “For the release, I mean.” The doctor sat back down in his chair, still looking at the floor with unfocused eyes. “So that’s it, then?” I asked him. “Do you have any suggestions as to how I should handle this when I get home? I’m going to have to use the mirrors.”
The doctor got up and started walking with me toward the door. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, waving his hand. “Think of it this way. Maybe your reflection still thinks he’s seeing his reflection. So, he looks in the mirror, all these years, and sees someone uglier, with a twisted face, and never smiling…”
“…In a tiny little bathroom. And he’s gradually come to hate himself. That must be awful, right? Maybe you should just pity him.” I gave him a doubtful look. “Or, maybe,” he continued, “you’re the reflection, and he’s the real person. I did think it was odd that you didn’t want a clementine.”
“Now that’s absurd,” I said. “I eat. And anyway, you were eating a clementine, and you’re clearly not a reflection. So, how could I be a reflection if we’re on the same side of the mirror?”
The doctor just looked at me with a forced grin, and gestured toward the door. “Nano-particles?” he said. “Look,” he continued, “the fact that we’re speculating on whether one of us is just a reflection rather than a real person….it’s not a good sign for either of us.” He stared at me for a few uncomfortable seconds. “Goodbye,” he finally said, then opened the door and ushered me out.
Back at home I figured I would have to clean up the mess, but found that my wife had already swept up the mirror pieces, and thrown them all out. This surprised me, but since the incident was her fault to a large extent, I figured her conscience must have gotten to her.
I told her I took the clean-up as an apology and that I appreciated it. “I was just trying to walk in the bathroom without cutting my feet,” she said.
A few hours later, as I was sitting at the desk in my home office, writing on a sheet of paper with a marker, she was more conciliatory. She came in and stood behind me, told me she’d missed me, and that I would really just have to get used to the mirror problem. She said it was probably all just in my head any, and that she never really considered by reflection to be a separate person, and on and on.
Though I suspected her real problem was that she had gotten caught and was embarrassed, I decided it would be easier just to humor her. “Yes,” I said periodically throughout her speech, not even looking up from the desk. “You’re right,” I said, “I’m sure it’s just in my head. I’ll work on it.”
“Really?” she said.
“Yes, really,” I said, turning around to look at her, careful to hide the paper I’d been writing on. “The doctor at the hospital really…helped,” I said.
“Oh, that’s good to hear,” she said with a sigh of relief. “I really think we can put this behind us. You know, at some point.”
I smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I think this is over.” I said.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she said. “Well, I’ve got to go pick up a click-list. Maybe we can talk more over dinner?
“Of course.” I said. And with that, she headed out to the car.
Once I heard the car pull away, I snatched up the paper and headed to the guest bathroom, where there was still an intact mirror. Standing at the sink, I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw, and looked into the mirror. My reflection’s eyes narrowed when he saw me. After a few tense seconds, I held up the paper, on which I had written, “What kind of interest rate did you get on your mortgage?”