This reception is so suffocating, I think to myself as I walk in for what must be my fifteenth visit to the optometrist this month.
"Fifteen too little, my dear," I rehear mother snigger in her senile English accent as I left in a state this morning.
I loathe this place. Having not slept more than two hours in the last three days, my physical, let alone my mental state, is in no way prepared for this. The white stained walls and speckled tile floors; always so clean and pristine make my teeth ache. The monotony of endless medical posters bulging with instructions on how to safely look after your eyes; always begged the question: "I wonder if anyone ever read these other than me?" I used to sit as a child reading every inch of every poster to be sure I covered everything. Why else did they place those posters on the wall if you weren't meant to read them? I find them intrusive today. After seeing the same posters for the last two weeks I'm surprised I can stomach the sight of them. I keep my head down and begin moving slowly.
My anxiety joins the parade as I move from the nauseating front entrance to sit in the lefthand corner of the waiting area, away from the front, so as not to catch any reflection that may invade my optics. I have to have control over my surroundings and I've managed to successfully avoid all reflective surfaces on my way here. Leaving the car because after I had every mirror removed from it, it proved too difficult to park and navigate. The bus and the 1km walk from the stop were just as hard to navigate but my old coffee-stained college hoodie and "slowing things down", as Dr. Laing put it, has proved to be useful to my eyes. But torture for my patience.
What patience? The voices within sarcastically sneer.
My anxiety always seemed to deaden itself once I had taken the prescribed meds but I often found a substituted solace when I fiddled with my holster. Somehow the danger of what it housed was an antidote to the secluded danger within. I looked down to make doubly sure my Colt was secure. Scars of the past signage themselves on my knuckles; meshed between the futility of the ring that I still covet. It's been almost three weeks since my last stint and the wounds have healed over the already on their predecessors. I slip my hands beneath the cokeyed-sleeves to be sure no one sees them. I've hated talking about them as I have run out of lies to tell others about what caused such horrific scarring.
"Dog attack, gardening accident, and the blender mishap," are top of the list. But that list left along with my sanity a long time ago.
The same repetitive playlist of 90s Pop music interrupts my security check, and I am taken aback by the receptionist's low, offkey humming. Hasn't she heard this same playlist over and over again, and yet still can't get it right? I decide to ignore her blatant treason and look to the corner I have made my home the last fourteen trips. My brow caves in as I assess the scene. A squatter occupies it. I always sit there, but today an elderly intruder has taken my spot.
Doesn't he know that this is my seat? I think to myself in disgust as I feel my already fragile eyes sear through the "House and Home" magazine and into his soul. I walk slowly towards the enemy inside my camp but my expected entrance is stifled by the trainers I have on today. They don't make a sound. I decide to intimidate my opponent through sheer presence. Sitting with one leg over the other his Casio watch beeps. He takes a quick look and turns the page barely noticing me standing before him. Feeling like I've won this encounter I'm about to walk away when he lets out a grotesque cough he curdles in his mouth; that I can only presume he then swallows. I pause and follow my thoughts into a rage, thinking of the best way to fold the magazine to bludgeon him with it.
Wouldn't that be fun? The voices taunt.
I snap out of it, sweat beading, breathing intake, and outtake increasing, I'm borderline claustrophobic but somehow manage to pull myself together. I count the seat numbers (in my head of course) as I make my way through the aisled chairs, and make doubly sure I am parallel with the receptionist, who's busy chewing away behind the counter; looking down at the bookings file. There are only two of us here, what could she possibly be looking at that keeps her so occupied? Her brunette hair is tied up in the same bun, glasses resting just below eyesight, a formal jacket coat, a navy one this time and a white buttoned collar-shirt are so cliché I could swear the doctor bought her at a "Receptionist-'R'-Us" sale. I place a napkin down on the seat before I sit.
"Better be careful of those places, you never what you'll catch.", the sound of mother's infinite wisdom irritatingly impacts my every decision.
The fluctuating smell of this place is the next intruder of my senses but not the most unpleasant one. I welcome in the calming essence of what must be a non-burning-incense of almond buttermilk. The nostalgia satisfies my nostrils. It used to be her favorite and it would always bring back memories of her. Looking back at me as she brushed her long brunette hair. The room lit in the natural warm glow I'd loved so much. She would always catch me standing in the doorway; staring at her through the reflection in the mirror. Her smile was always radiant and expectant. Like there was no one else in the world she would rather look at. The feeling was and will always be, mutual. I break from the daydream clutching my left hand; turning the empty ring on my finger. As if it would somehow magically bring her back. I feel the all too familiar sensation of tears begins to well up in my lower eyelids but they never breathe air. I wipe them away and I push my thumb and index finger into my eyes to squeeze what is left back in.
She's never coming back, they reinstate.
Sigh. I notice that there's a certain temperature change from the previous visits. The window is open more than usual allowing an unwelcome chill to enter but thankfully I'm wearing my hoodie and favorite blue jeans. Hopefully, the doctor doesn't realize I had these on yesterday. I look and see the dreariness of the weather outside grow bleaker. I think of the irony as I can reflect without being able to look at a reflection. This quandary in my flesh brings a dry smile to my unkempt face. But it isn't enough to quell whatever forces may be at work through my eyes. I'm so spent. I rock my head back and feel it hit the wall behind me.
"I've heard that the eyes are the gateway to the soul."
"I don't believe in souls.", the doctor responded blankly as he pulsed a lightsaber-like torch into my eyes.
He doesn't believe in souls?
"You seem to be experiencing a severe case of Esioptrophobia," said Dr. Laing the previous day.
"Doc, this may surprise you but I speak English.", with sarcasm dripping from my face.
He doesn't get it but simply continues robotically:
"Esioptrophobia. Well, I think you have a combination of this and something else that I believe possibly a clinical psychologist may only be able to locate. It is a rare phobia of exactly what you're currently experiencing where seeing your reflection is causing these intense reactions. Although I have never seen reactions quite like yours," he says holding his hand to his chin in bemusement. The doctor looks down at his checkboard full of charted data and removes his glasses before he asks:
"Mr. Davids, when did you say that this problem started?"
Pulling into the driveway from a torturous day lecturing; I felt the full effects of several all-nighters. Must have been why it didn't register with me that the mirrors in the front of the house had all been broken as I walked in.
"You never notice anything," Gina would always say in the last months. She was right. I never did. I was constantly consumed with my work. It was all I could do to keep the noise in my head at bay.
The sweet smell of incensed almond buttermilk fills the 17th-century wooden house with a welcome fragrance. Gina loved mirrors ever since she was a little girl. She was obsessed with them. I once dropped one of her creations as I was helping her move it and the shards shattered into a million pieces. "That's seven years bad luck," she consoled herself staring at the floor. Tears sobbing down her face, she repeated the phrase over my pleas of forgiveness: "It all makes sense now."
We got plugged into a local church. She got connected with ladies there who could help. A part-time craft that Pastor Bryce said, "Could be a catharsis to help her get through the loss." Pastor Bryce never pushed any religious ordeals on us. He never pushed what we didn't give. It felt genuine like there was something bigger than what had happened in our lives. Like there was something at the end of the darkest tunnel. A light. A piece of hope.
Gina used to tell me in moments she was in a daydream staring into her mirrors, "Eyes are the gateway to the soul and when you look in the mirror you can see your soul". I often wondered if I stared long enough if I'd see something. I could never stomach the sight of myself.
With every mirror she made I could feel a bit of her soul disappear. She got sucked into another world and never came back. She would get caught in a daze of words and I'd find her talking to the mirrors as if she was talking to another person. Sometimes the conversations would go well, other times they would end in fits of rage with her throwing her fists into them.
I frustratingly called out for Gina but there was no response. I then made my way past her room like I did for the past seven years, and still the feeling of regret had never left. It would be like a ghostly wind waiting for me to come past; just to engulf my lifeless body. Always waiting for me at my weakest moments.
You failed, the words would echo into my conscious.
The room is still unoccupied as it has always been and will always be. I stare through the doorway wondering if God would ever forgive me? I make my way up to our bedroom, wondering why all the lights are off? My eyes adjust to the darkness and I see trails of shards on the floor. I picked up some pieces from the carpet; calling out for Gina. I began to feel the chill that something was off.
I feel an unwanted breeze at my back and see the window across the hallway is open. The wind is pushing in a deathly breeze and the clouds are closing in. I go to close it and now I'm calling out to Gina with more concern than usual. Where was she? She never left this window open. Frantically I make my way towards our bedroom; whispering to myself a prayer as I notice the shard pile increases leading towards our doorway.
I walked in to see her lying on our bed with the shards engraved into her wrists and the life trickling out of her.
I fall to my knees shearing them as I land on the broken pieces. Rage overcomes me and I throw my fists into a full blow of punches into every mirror in our room. Hot tears gush out from my eyes I am ripping into everything. I find every piece broken and I am a reflection of them, lying on my bed as try to plead her back to life. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The one she always sat at. I see flashes of her still there. Sweet and lovely. The pain is all I can bear before the realization I have failed again.
Suddenly the image of myself reflecting in the mirror flashes into a grotesque being before me grimacing. His every move reflects mine as he whispers to me:
I launch in a rage at that mirror till the flesh off my knuckles tore to the bones.
"Excuse me. Mr. Davids. The doctor will be with you in just a minute," she smiles between the lie she just awoke me with. Even her mannerisms are cliché. That was the same minute just 2 minutes ago when I arrived at this morgue of an optometrist. I've grown so used to her charlatan ways and no doubt that my already meager patience is going to be tested today. Just like the previous fourteen.
I take out my pocket Bible and try to read over Ephesians chapter 6 again. Pastor Bryce recommended the book as the best way to battle against "The principalities of evil". He's been so good to me. The check-ups every day, the fellowship, and the scripture messages he sends would always leave me feeling encouraged. But I just can't seem to finish this chapter. Every time I begin reading I get these searing migraines and then my eyes. My eyes just can't take it.
"Better go and get them checked then lovey?", mother has always been so painfully helpful.
"Mr. Davids, the doctor will see you now.", the receptionist says in a somewhat distracted tone.
Finally. I get up from my head buried in my Bible and feel my phone vibrating. I feel a genuine smile for the first time.
It's Pastor Bryce. He can wait, the voices say in exasperation.
I put the call down and look up to see what was distracting the receptionist. I roll my eyes of course she has one. She's holding her pocket make-up mirror to her face and doing her touch-ups. I feel my heartbeat slow. Casually she swings in her chair 180 degrees and before I could close my eyes I catch a glimpse of myself in her mirror.