The Man in the MirrorI don't look into mirrors much. I'm the type who gazes into windows and sees what's on the other side rather than my own reflection. I never maneuver myself to show up on closed-circuit TV at the bank or on the lenses of a friend's reflective sunglasses. I'm generally not very interested in myself and have only a fleeting acquaintance with primping.
When I do look in the mirror, the person who looks back is - more often than not - a distant relative I haven't seen in years. I recognize the outline of a face and vaguely remember he's on the well-padded side. Of course, I don't remember the clothes. Who does? I find myself not looking at the Poobah, but some celebrity impostor with an uncanny resemblance to me.
I notice the beard first. It's turned from dark brown, to salt and pepper, to Santa Claus white. I have to look excruciatingly close to see the few remaining dark hairs holding their ground below my nose. Then, I notice the hair up top. It's gone through a change of sartorial seasons and is now firmly entrenched in late autumn. The grey hairs, like the fall leaves, mix in among the brown as winter draws near. My hair drops like leaves, leaving wide swathes of my head as bare as the cold October ground.
Gravity's work is evident too. There's a chin I never used to have and my ear lobes gently sag like the swing doors on an old barn. The barn seems to have fared well though. Not too much weathered skin and the color is still as true as the day it was built.
Finally, I take stock of the whole spread. I'm much lumpier than I remember. Apparently gravity has been at work on the rest of my body too. My love handles are big enough to impress even the most jaded, grasping lover. Maybe some day they'll come in handy when I slip at the edge of a cliff and a savior grabs them just before I hurtle off the edge.
I also notice the scars, payment for a lifetime of hard living.
There's the delicate, light one along my hairline, scene of 13 stitches at the age of five when a playmate accidentally hit me with a toy wagon. Hidden beneath my beard are the three stitches I got when I fell, chin first, on some ice at 12. I broke a tooth and got a permanent cleft in my chin from that one. The ice scar is just below a small puncture received as a toddler when I fell and jammed my only tooth through the skin of my lip.
Over on the left arm, there's the place where a doctor surgically removed a cyst when I was 16. It was gross and had ganglia, but was otherwise harmless. On my right foot is a tiny scar acquired in Germany during a drunken Fasching party. Someone threw a knife at a door and it bounced off and twanged into my foot, nicking one of the large veins in the process. Ever-resourceful, my friends poured vodka on it and patched me up with a chunk of sheet and some duct tape. By the next morning, the cut filled my boot with blood and I limped everywhere I went.
But the biggest scars are on my right leg and chest, the results of a heart bypass a five years ago. The biggest goes from just below my neck to just above my belly button. It is a large and angry red scar that looks like a zipper. Below it, in my soft expanse of belly, are the three incisions that held tubes carrying the post-op poisons out of my body and into a box on the floor. The three incisions on my right thigh - where they harvested the veins for the bypass - are perhaps the most intriguing. When they itch, I sometimes scratch them only to find the skin is numb. It's a very odd feeling to scratch and not sense the pressure on your skin. I understand amputees experience something similar with aches from a leg that has walked off without them.
When the inventory is through, I look back at the mirror and feel reacquainted with the distant relative in the mirror. I'm good for another few weeks of not looking at myself and good for the rest of a lifetime at wishing I looked different. I certainly don't have a pretty boy body or a matinee idol's face, but what I have are serviceable. I've learned to be comfortable and to wear my sags and scars with a little gentle pride. I could have the fat sucked, the scars lightened, and the belly tucked, but then I wouldn't be me.
And if I wasn't me, I wouldn't recognize the guy in the mirror at all.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, August 24, 2006