Reflections in a Two-Way Mirror
As the holiday season ends, I take stock of my position. I review what life has handed me and how I have responded to it. In 2013, the first year of my singlehood, I was sad but strong, thriving and hopeful. In 2014, I was grieving and angry. I lost my mother. I lost most of my filters, too. I was emotionally raw.
Last November and December, my mother was still alive. We celebrated her birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, taking photos of her, the food, friends and family at mom’s big table festooned with vegetarian and carnivore dishes carefully planned to please every dietary restriction. We posted them on Facebook like millions of other people that indulge in a turkey brag or use the holiday as a good reason to post updated photos of family. Mom was dying, but nobody knew it yet. By then, the lung cancer that would kill her had been metastasizing for many months. But she wouldn’t fall ill until early January. On November 15th of this year, on what would have been her 82nd birthday, I posted a photo of her on Facebook that had been taken exactly one year earlier. Oblivious to her impending fate, she was smiling her pursed-lips smile, the one people tell me I inherited from her. Seeing it made everyone more than a little misty. It made me feel strange. I haven’t been able to display any photos of her in the house since she died, nor have I done so with my father, who has been dead for six years now. I just can’t do it yet. December isn’t a good month to form new habits anyway. Best to lie low through the holidays and slide quietly into January.
But that isn’t going to happen either. I’m moving out of my mother’s house on December 31st. I hadn’t planned it that way, I’d much rather have moved in the spring or fall. But an apartment came available in a low-income senior community and I have to take it when it’s available. Fortunately, I have friends and family that will help me move, so I’m not feeling the stress. Not yet, anyway.
I have also been a landlord to a single young female renter in the duplex apartment above me. At the end of November, when I found out I was moving, I gave her until January 1st to move out. She started moving out hurriedly late in the night on December 13th and I have a feeling she’s going to stiff me for the $500 she still owes me. But I’m not stewing over it, nor do I plan to confront her in the hallway while her boy-toys push her couch down the stairs and out the front door. My MS and I had a talk about that. “Pick your battles” is the slogan I have in needlepoint hanging over my desk. My MS suggested I take a good long look at it. Yes, it’s funny how that changes the tone of my thoughts. For 500 dollars I would be free of her, free of the door-slamming and loud voices every night between midnight and 3 a.m., free of her low-life male friends pounding on the front door and, occasionally, on my bedroom windows to get her attention because she doesn’t have a phone. Five hundred dollars seems a small price to pay for two weeks’ worth of peace and quiet.
These trifles will all melt away very, very soon and become a memory quickly forgotten. For I have twice seen the apartment that awaits me come December 31st, and I’m so pumped up with ideas for how to make that space my own that I stay awake until four or five in the morning just fantasizing about it. It’s good to feel the adrenaline pumping again, reveling in hypomaniacal late-night epiphanies. This old girl has still got some fire in the belly like she had in the old days. Multitudes of phantom voices in my head are welcoming me back to the fold and I couldn’t be more pleased. I used to want to silence those voices, but lately I’ve embellished on the “live-and-let-live” approach for the sake of lowering my stress. The voices are my companions; they observe me scrupulously and without malice or prejudice. I know them well enough to feel confident of their ethos, that they wish me well and won’t ill-advise me on matters of safety and nourishment. The more, the merrier, is what I say.
Another multitude of phantom voices that nourish and make us feel safe can be found in MS support communities. When the pulse of life pushes us into an unscripted and unfamiliar scene, we have at our disposal not a crystal ball with which to foresee the outcome, but a two-way mirror in which we can gaze at our own reflections on one side, and on the other side peer at see-through glass, looking beyond the barrier at a three-sided room that resembles a stage with actors, props, and one’s own self playing a major role. Liken it to a drama where the same story is being told in first person on one side and in third person on the other. A support community, like trick glass, will provide many perspectives if it is functioning at its highest potential.
I shall be using this trick glass often during the coming year, a year of tremendous openings-up, freedom and independence so abundant that I’ll probably want to run and hide from the glaring brightness that emanates from living a more multiple-choice kind of existence. I’ll wince at the beam I see in the mirror that seems to come from behind me (as everything would appear if I look at a mirror). But I’ll adjust to the brilliance over time. It’s just that I’ve been in the dark for so long.
If one is a rookie at using trick glass, the frustration and inconvenience of having to run back and forth between the two sides lies in not being able to see the mirror image and the third person image at the same time.
But I know a trick that can make it a little easier. If you stand on the mirror side of two-way glass and turn off the lights, in the dark you can see through the mirrored glass and observe that other three-sided room and anyone that occupies it. You and that other person might be revealed to be looking at each other. It could be unsettling if you weren’t already pretty worn down by living with a disease and hadn't already lost your virginity several times chasing an MS treatment, or a dream, or a lover, or a career. Spying a disembodied stranger’s face in a darkened mirror just isn’t the kind of thing that could make you scream in fear anymore.
In fact, such strangeness isn’t terrifying now because your world-weariness has allowed you to develop compassion towards others. We all gather on this site to gaze at each other through the glass. Newbies think they’ve come here to ask for help and validation from older, wiser patients as they anxiously look at themselves in the mirror, convinced they are alone in that room with that solitary figure in the glass looking back at them. But soon the room darkens and their reflections meld with the stranger’s face on the other side. Yours. Mine.
Let’s all stay connected through the holidays and beyond. Now that you know how to use the trick glass, none of you need ever think you are alone. Hope you had a wonderful holiday, everyone.
How well do people around you understand MS?