The Mirror of Other People’s Eyes

I sat by the edge of a lagoon, gazing into the clear blue water. My own face stared back at me. I looked calm, relaxed. I leaned back and breathed deeply. It felt good to be here.

The water in front of me stirred, and a woman broke through to the surface.  She had long hair, woven with seashells. She smiled at me, and her eyes were vibrant. A million different colors danced through her irises. She was stunning.

I should have been scared, or at least surprised. But somehow I wasn’t.  Somehow, I had known that she would be here. “Hello.” I greeted her, kicking my legs back and forth lazily in the water.

Her smile spread. “Hello.” She answered back. “I’m happy to see you here, waiting for me.”

“Well.” I admitted. “I wasn’t really waiting for you. I was really only here to enjoy the nice day, the sunshine and the breeze.”

“Oh?” The woman dove under the water, revealing a long glimmering tail. So apparently she wasn’t a woman. She was a mermaid. Again, for some reason, I didn’t really feel surprised. After a few moments she came back to the surface, this time clutching an object in her hand. She lifted it our towards me. I stared at it.

It was an ornate mirror, decorated with luminous purple and blue swirls. At the very top was the carved figurine of a mermaid, gazing at a single pearl in her outstretched hand. It was beautiful, and looked priceless. Even though it had just been underwater, the surface appeared dry, not a single drop of water resting on the surface. I looked at it suspiciously. “Why are you giving me this?” I asked. “I have plenty of mirrors in my house already.”

She shook her head and grinned. “Not like this one.” She held it out farther. “Take it. It’s my gift to you. When you gaze into its depths, you’ll have the answer to all your questions.”

Though my instincts told me not to, I reached for the mirror and took it. I was curious. Lately, I was filled with questions, and I was always on the search for answers– wherever I could find them. What would this mirror show me?

The mirror was surprisingly light. It felt delicate and airy in my hand, like the foam from the sea. I glanced back at the mermaid and she motioned towards the mirror. “Look into it.” I lowered my eyes to the mirror’s surface. My face looked back at me. I looked tired, from not sleeping enough. My hair was messy. Hmm. I frowned. Nothing interesting so far.

My face began to change. It happened all of a sudden, as though someone had flipped a switch. The girl in the mirror was no longer tired. She was glowing, her skin flawless, her hair shiny. Instead of a t-shirt she was wearing a shimmery yellow evening gown. I nearly dropped the mirror and the mermaid laughed. “You see it, don’t you?”

I nodded, not wanting to take my eyes from the image. “Yes.” The glamorous girl was there for a few more seconds, and then she changed. Now there I was again, this time wearing a sleek ponytail. I looked efficient, powerful. The image smiled and I saw that this version of me didn’t look at all tired. This version of me was probably never tired. She had too much energy.

Suddenly, the powerful girl changed. Withered. And there was an exhausted looking girl before me. And it changed again. The girl in the mirror now looked cruel, her eyes narrowed and menacing. Another image, this one worse. This time the reflection was no longer recognizable. A witch, malicious. I shrunk from the image.

The reflections began to change more quickly. Gaining speed. All me, all variations of me. Some lovely and sweet, some powerful, some glamorous, some evil, some exhausted, some cruel, some generous, some just normal. On and on and on until they were nothing but flashing colors, like the mermaid’s strange eyes. I dropped the mirror on the ground and looked back at the mermaid, horrified.

“What is that thing?” I whispered. “I hate it! Get it away from me.”

For the first time since I’d met her, the mermaid looked surprised. She took the mirror from the spot where I’d thrown it, her hand shaking. “But Winter, I thought this was what you wanted.”

“What I wanted?” I laughed. “Are you serious? That thing is a nightmare. It’s a horror movie. Please, destroy it. I never want to see it again.”

The mermaid shook her head. “But you will see it again.” She opened her hands and let the mirror sink below the surface of the water. I watched it disappear, relieved. “You see it every day. You think about it, every day. What you saw in that mirror, it consumes you. I just thought I was making it easier for you.”

“What are you talking about?  I’ve never seen that mirror before.”

“But yes you have!” She protested. “Not that mirror, but the one that exists in your mind. When you gaze into that mirror you see the way other people see you. Not yourself. That’s why it changes, because there are so many different people and so many different perceptions of you. You spend your life wondering and worrying how other people see you, you think about them every time you do anything, say anything, write anything. Especially write anything. Now, the wondering is gone. You’ll know for sure. It’s the mirror of other people’s eyes.”

I shook my head, the meaning of what she was saying sinking down on me. I thought about my life, the life I spend worrying constantly about other people’s perceptions of me. The images on that mirror, some glamorous, ridiculous. Some evil. I shuddered at those. None reality. None really me. I  would go crazy, staring into that twisted mirror. Did I really spend my whole day obsessing about other people’s thoughts?

I looked down at the water, not knowing what to say in response. My reflection stared back. It was me. Just me. Me through my eyes. This was the only reflection of myself I wanted to see. It was in fact, right now, the only one that mattered to me. How I saw myself.

I stared at that water for a long time. At some point, the mermaid left. I felt sorry for her, sad that she’d been disappointed.  But I didn’t want her gift. When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, I stood up. I smiled at the girl in the water, and was happy to see that she smiled back. “Thank you.” I whispered. Then I turned and headed for home.

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