The Face in The Mirror
By Lisa Lowe Stauffer
After a shower, I wipe an oval clear on the foggy mirror and lean across the sink to see my face. Pulling down my right eye, I pop in a contact lens. Always right, then left, ever since I was 12. That was the year I was finally freed from the Coke-bottle eye glasses, and it was the first year I noticed heads turning when I walked by. I look at old photos and see a slim girl with silky, waist-length hair and big brown eyes, nearly twin to my now-teenage daughter.
I sigh, then wipe away the faint fog my breath leaves on the mirror. Heads snap in double-takes now when my daughter walks by. This same daughter who looked at me last night over dinner and said, “Mom, you need to pluck your eyebrows.”
I reach up to smooth the errant brows. I used to pluck them, but that was before the babies were born. Somehow, year after year passed without me ever noticing those eyebrows. I’d found my old tweezers in the first aid kit, where I’d left them years ago after pulling out a splinter from a toddler’s chubby hand.
I peer into the mirror as closely as middle-aged eyesight will allow. I locate a tiny hair and pull. I’d forgotten how much it hurts. I drop the tweezers and rub the foggy mirror again. Who is this woman looking back at me? Her short hair shines grey at the temples, despite Miss Clairol’s efforts. And this dry skin—when did it arrive?
Somehow, while my eyebrows were growing wild and my babies were growing tall, my face was growing wrinkles. These wrinkles, like odd family mementos, are so alien and yet so familiar.
My grandmother’s crease stretches horizontally across the bridge of my nose. She never gave up her vanity—showing off her legs, painting her nails, powdering her nose. Even at 93 she had a “boyfriend” in the nursing home. Did she despise this horizontal wrinkle as I do?
My father’s wrinkles are appearing, as well. At 83, his dear face is all wrinkles. The permanently surprised pleats in my forehead are his, as are the temporary etchings that wreathe my eyes and mouth when I smile.
My mother looks back at me, too. Her cheekbones and thinning lips return her to life in my face. My daughter wears those cheekbones under the smooth skin of a 14-year-old.
It’s been years since I turned any heads. I tell myself, “It’s not how you look, it’s what you do.”
My reflection stares back at me, skeptical.
“Character. Inner beauty,” I say.
A voice deep inside answers, “Liar.”
From Lisa Lowe Stauffer: This essay has marked passages in my life. I wrote it originally as part of an online writing class, fiddled with it for a couple of years, then sent it to Literary Mama at a friend’s urging. The day my father died, I was online with Literary Mama ironing out formatting difficulties so it could be posted on the website. It was a small bright note in a sad week. And this essay kicked off my re-entry into the world of publication. Since then, I’ve written several dozen travel stories for newspapers, a fat handful of stories and poetry for children’s magazines, feature articles and newsletters for a hospital, and several as-yet-unpublished picture books and novels for children. My 14-year-old daughter is now 24, a screenwriter living in faraway California. Her brother is 20, at the midpoint of his college career. I no longer hate the horizontal wrinkle across the bridge of my nose: it’s not as noticeable among all its companion wrinkles. But it’s still a shock to look into the mirror and see my ancestors. I try not to look any more than I have to. The eyebrows remain au natural.
This article was originally published on Literary Mama.
From Jennifer Margulis: I used to be the creative nonfiction editor at Literary Mama: A Magazine for the Maternally Inclined. This is one of the first pieces I published. It has stayed with me over the years. My youngest is only four, but many of my friends are already grandparents. I see gray starting at my temples and resist the urge to cover it up. It’s such a powerful piece that I asked Lisa for permission to republish it here.