I once owned a mirror that unfolded into a triptych framed in lights. They called it a make-up mirror. I put it on a small vanity table and called it my altar. First thing every morning I switched it on before leaving for work. It was the only time of day I was still. For two minutes I was not a teacher, mother, wife, daughter. Lists and complications dropped away and I became a canvas, silently ready for the blessing of line and color.
My daughter was three then, and one morning at 3 a.m. I found her standing on the bathroom counter, lipstick smeared on her mouth, her doll’s eyes surrounded by dark rings. She bore a strong resemblance to Bette Davis as Baby Jane, the child star grown old who desperately tries to recapture her earlier face. She had watched and learned. Every bit of color, every line, was in the vicinity of its intended purpose.
Gradually my interest in making myself up left me. Instead of sitting at the mirror I started standing at the bathroom sink. I sold the mirror at a garage sale. Then I got a car with a lighted mirror behind the visor and I began putting on a little under-eye concealer at stop signs. That was it. And it was just about the only time I looked at myself in the mirror.
The drawers in the bathroom began to fill with my daughter’s cosmetics as she launched into her teenage and college years. She could take an hour to make up her face, depending on the look she wanted to create. Whatever she decided, glitter followed. When she’s around for a while I begin to notice little sparkles in odd places, like on my own cheeks or nose.
My mother is in her late seventies and her face is a landscape, etched with the valleys and peaks of sorrows and joys. This bothers her. She wants that youthful elasticity back. So at her request, we attended a “skin care seminar” together. A very large and enlarging mirror showed me my own etched crevasses. I honestly hadn’t noticed them at the stop lights. My mother and I took a picture of our faces in brightest sunlight and we’re hoping for news as we faithfully apply the products day and night. That’s the official plan.
As I put on the eye cream now, I think of my mother doing the same thing someplace halfway across the country, and it is a ritual that pleases me. I see more than before in my own face, the darkness and light of the days of my life. And that pleases me, too. But the deeper I look the more I see. If I stare long enough my eyes merge and I’m a Cyclops. Or I have three eyes, just like sculptures of Pavarti or Shanti. A magnifying mirror makes me into Ganesh, the elephant God with wrinkles and sags and tunnels running down his face and trunk. Even that pleases me.
Then I return and see the dark lines of aging, the crow’s feet and I care again, enough to rub in the eye cream and love the play of light on the planes of these cheekbones and the crinkles at the outer edge of my eyes. If I peek into the glass at a certain angle I can see the girl, the woman, the mother, the daughter disappear. And only the eyes remain, their golden irises unchanged through it all, loving this eternal me. A spot of glitter alongside my nose twinkles back at me, and I switch off the light.