“Watch your step.” The decrepit old man growls at me from behind the distressed wooden counter.
The liver-spotted, crepe-paper-thin skin that covers his skull glistens in the dingey-yellow streetlights that filter in through the front window of the store. Tufts of yellow-gray hair poke out from behind and within his ears and he scowls so severely that there are deep creases that run from the sides of his nose to below his mouth.
As if on cue, I step into the store, tripping over the threshold in the process. I apologize, slipping down a cluttered aisle to get away from his glare.
The small, dimly lit shop is crowded with all manner of antiques; old wooden shelves divide the space into narrow aisles and hidden corners. The familiar smell of dust and moth balls lingers amidst the items.
I turn the price tag over on a small crystal decanter and gasp at the price, dropping the tag and causing a commotion in the process.
“You break it, you buy it!” The curmudgeon yells from his perch on the raggedy stool.
“I have no business here.” I think to myself.
Between the unfriendly shop employee and the prices, I am beginning to doubt I'll find anything to please my mother for her birthday. After all, I’ve already had 28 years to make her happy and I'm still failing at it miserably.
But I knew she had a fondness for antiques, so I saved up a bit to afford something special for her.
I meander through antique chairs, ornate wooden dressers, and vintage radios before something glistens in the far corner of the store, catching my eye. With a quick peek around to ensure the shopkeeper isn't watching, I wind my way through couches and settees, squeezing myself into the hidden corner to find an antique mirror hanging on the wall, partially covered by a piece of burlap.
I reach up on my tiptoes as I attempt to carefully remove the fabric for a better look.
“Don’t touch that!” The shopkeep hollers from behind me, scaring the ever-living poop out of me.
As I am precariously perched on the tips of my toes, I jump – losing my balance, crashing into the mirror, and knocking it to the floor with a loud shattering sound.
“Dammit, young lady! I warned you – you break it, you buy it!” He curses, deeply hunching over as he hobbles past me to inspect the mirror.
The gilded, ornate frame appears to be miraculously undamaged, but the glass has a jagged break running diagonally from corner to corner.
I sigh. “Sir, I’m so sorry but I don’t have much money. It was a mistake-“
“You went nosing where you shouldn’t have gone nosing and damaged store property in the process. Either you buy it, or I’ll call the police. Which will it be, young lady?” He growls with a snarl.
I sigh, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. “How much is it?”
He snatches the tag off the mirror and holds it out for me to see.
Without stepping forward, I lean toward his gnarled fingers to view the price for myself.
“Four hundred and twenty-five dollars?!” I shriek.
“But, I only have $400-“ I whimper pitfully.
“That’ll do.” He gives me a curt nod, picks up the heavy mirror with a grunt and haggardly carries it to the front of the store.
“But, that’s all the money I have and I still have to buy a gift for my mom.” I whine as I follow him to the counter.
He places the gilded frame on the countertop before slowly crawling back up onto the stool – seemingly ignoring me.
“Sir, is there any way we can work this out? Maybe I could do a payment plan?” I offer as he pokes bony, arthritic fingers at the antique cash register keys, popping open the drawer with a loud chime.
“Congratulations. You just bought your mom a broken antique mirror. I’m sure she’ll love it.” He answers dryly, holding out his hand for payment.
I sigh long and slow as I accept there is no way I am getting out of paying for the broken mirror, and begrudgingly take my hard-earned cash out of my wallet, handing it over to the cantankerous old man. “Here you go.”
It isn’t until I arrive home with my expensive and broken purchase that I am able to really look at it for the first time. I place it on my small kitchen counter, admiring the elegant gold-lacquered carvings of demons and cherubs that surround the broken glass.
I lift the piece, wanting to look into the mirror to get a better sense of how badly the image is distorted.
“Crap,” I mutter as I see my hideous reflection for the first time – thanks to the jagged marring across the mirror, I can very clearly see duplicate images of myself. “Ugh, two Mirandas are so much worse than one,” I mumble to myself angrily, noticing the hairs that have come loose from my ponytail, the messy black eyeliner that smudges my baggy eyes, and my horrible underbite.
“I think I’d be happier if the mirror had completely shattered.” I continue, dissatisfied with my reflection.
A fracturing sound can be heard as another small crack splinters outward from the original. “Darn, what did I do now?” I think to myself, racing to gingerly place it back down on the counter. “First, I drop the damn thing and now, I’m cracking it even worse. How much can I freaking screw up in one day?” I grumble as the new fracture deepens.
I look around my apartment for a place to hang it until I can afford to fix the glass and resell it. My eye spots a vacant nail in the entryway, so I delicately carry the mirror over and hang it where it will be out of the way.
The next morning, as I ready for my therapy appointment, I peek into the broken mirror on my way out the door. “Darn!” I curse as my blurry vision makes me realize I’ve forgotten to put my contacts in. “Flipping idiot! You’re going to be late!” I berate myself as I run to the bathroom. I slip my contacts into my basic brown eyes and dare one more look into the mirror before heading out. “What…?” I think out loud as I notice the newest crack now jots all the way to the other side of the frame, splitting the mirror into three parts.
“Hi Dr. Lloyd.” I greet the therapist as I take my place on the couch, ready for our session to start.
“How are you doing today, Miranda?” she asks, positioning her notepad so that her long, elegant fingers can jot details with ease.
“Horrible.” I begin, regaling her with the tale of my ordeal with the mirror and subsequent depression.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re being very compassionate with yourself.” She advises, pushing her glasses up so they sit on her forehead. “We spoke last week about the power of positive thinking. Have you been working on reframing your thoughts?”
I drop my head in embarrassment.
“It doesn’t sound like it.” She continues. She gently places her pen down, squaring her shoulders and drawing her posture up. “Why don’t you look into that mirror and say ‘It is human to make mistakes. I forgive myself for being gloriously human.’”
I can't prevent my face from betraying exactly what I think of that idea.
She smiles warmly. “I know it sounds farfetched, but give it a try. Just repeat that phrase until it starts to feel real to you. Let’s start there and see what happens, shall we?” My therapist requests.
I am obviously skeptical it will work. Yes, I know I’m human and I know humans make mistakes, but, is talking to my reflection really going to make me feel better?
Later that night, as I walk into the apartment, my eyes instantly go to the newest, oldest addition to my décor. I huff, setting my purse down on the counter as I approach the mirror, straighten my poor posture, square my saggy shoulders, and lift my pointy chin.
“I look ridiculous.” I think to myself as I spot my reflection and roll my eyes.
I take a moment to smooth my hair, rub away the smudged eyeliner from beneath my eyes, and right my clothes. Then, I take one more big breath before repeating what Dr. Lloyd has recommended: "It is human to make mistakes, and I forgive myself for being gloriously human.”
I feel nothing.
Correction? I feel stupid for breaking the mirror and stupider for talking to it.
Another deep breath.
“It is human to make mistakes, and I forgive myself for being human.” I say again.
Until it becomes a chant.
Eventually, I begin repeating the words so effortlessly that I find myself lost in other thoughts.
I think over the mistakes of others I’ve long forgiven and wonder what would make me believe they are worthy of forgiveness while I am not.
And - about five minutes into the exercise - something…shifts.
A spark alights within me and through some miracle, I begin to believe that I am forgivable.
What is more miraculous?
The second crack in the mirror has disappeared, the spot where it first appeared now so flawlessly smooth that I wonder if it was even there at all.
A week later, I find myself back in Dr. Lloyd’s office, feeling completely resolved about my mishap in the antique store.
“That’s excellent!” She cheers, “So, let’s take this a step further.”
She provides me with a list of positive affirmations and challenges me to say the list to my reflection once every morning.
With my new belief in positive thinking, I take the list and rush home after work to practice.
The first and second nights are uneventful, but on the third night, things change for the worse. I had a terrible day at work, I got a ticket for speeding on the way home, and I couldn’t be in a worse mood.
“I am beautiful. I am intelligent. I am special.”
“This is crap!” I shout in frustration, banging my fist against the wall as the mirror shatters into five parts.
And...I know it sounds crazy…but a thought occurs to me…
“I am ugly.” I say, and a new crack splinters my reflection.
“I am stupid and ordinary.” I say, and two more fractures develop.
“Holy sh-“ I mouth to myself as I start to realize what is happening.
“I am smart.” I say, but there is no change. I shake my head, my brows furrowing as I try to decipher what is going on.
“I am gorgeous.”
I wait, but there is no change in the mirror.
“I have a good heart.” I say and, before my eyes, the smallest crack in the glass…heals. There’s no other way to describe it; just as the crack had sprouted from another one and worked its way outward, the mirror now appears to reverse the process.
“I have to believe what I say for it to affect the mirror.” I speak as the realization hits.
I carefully pluck the large, ornate mirror from the wall and carry it to the couch, where I sit down with it resting on my lap and investigate its shattered reflection while thinking long and hard.
What are the positives about me?
Are there any more positives about me?
“I am strong?” I ask hesitantly.
When nothing happens, I steal my resolve and try again, stating it more confidently. “I am strong.”
Another small segment reconnects with its neighbor as the cracks continue to heal.
Two weeks later, I arrive at the restaurant five minutes late for my mother’s birthday dinner.
“You’re tardy, Miranda.” She accuses.
“I’m sorry, Mom, but I have something to make up for it.” I smile, unphased by her criticism for the first time as I place the wrapped mirror on top of the table.
“What is it?” She asks, her nose scrunched up with distaste.
“It’s your birthday gift. Open it!” I beam.
She picks at the wrapping paper, slowly revealing the gilded baroque frame and the smooth, unmarred surface of the mirror.
“Oh, goodness, Miranda – this thing is hideous. What am I supposed to do with this? And oh dear, I look horrible!” She fusses over her appearance as a small crack appears in the glass.
“You look beautiful, Mom.” I say as I wrap an arm around her shoulders and kiss her cheek. “And trust me, I think you’ll grow to love this mirror.”
“But, it’s cracked!” She accuses, pointing at the fresh flaw with her pointed nail.
“I know but, don’t worry – we can fix that.”