Today, my therapist at my Partial Hospitalization program asked me if I can see my “soul,” the “Real Kerry” when I look in the mirror.
After cringing, perhaps too visibly, at the New Agey, It’s Three O’Clock. Do You Know Where Your Inner Child Is? (Remember those 1980’s commercials?) emphasis on the word soul, I replied, “What I see, when I look, if I look, is an assembly of parts. All of it wrong. Complete detachment. Honestly, I don’t even understand how my husband can take any pleasure in touching my body when I can’t even bear to look at it. I glance in the mirror and what is reflected back is only this loathsome thing. So a soul inhabiting that? Impossible.”
I should add that the full-length mirror in the bathroom is set directly against the cat litter box. That awful ammonia spray, those litter encrusted turds perhaps too directly analogous to my feelings for myself?
The Real Kerry? Is that the Kerry with her arms full of scars? Is that the Kerry ravaged by deliberate starvation, a bony wreck? Is that the Kerry vomiting into the toilet beside the mirror and the cat box? Is that the Kerry trying to pick the lock of the liquor cabinet with a barbecue skewer, a lock put there by her husband to keep her away from the vodka, the gin, the rum, the scotch, anything with any proof at all? Is that the Kerry zooming around on the jet fumes of mania or trying to decide whether the bottle of pills or the garden hose attached to the exhaust pipe or the noose slung around the closet rod or the car aimed at the telephone pole would be the most effective way to end the black despair?
Or is the Real Kerry the one who diligently drives herself forty-five minutes each way to the Partial program five days a week, hoping that she will finally get it, that something will finally stick? Is she the one who is optimistically packing her bags for a three week family trip to Greece, departing in a mere two and one half weeks? Is she the one who, against her dysfunctional better judgment, is actually completely honest with her psychiatrist, ratting herself out for each slip, each dangerous thought? Is she the wife and mother who tentatively imagines herself, dares to project herself into the future alongside her family?
I don’t know. All I know is that I hate mirrors. Have always hated them. Even as a little kid. I would look in them and pick myself apart, zeroing in on the flaws, on the parts of me that were not right, that weren’t perfect, that were ugly, too skinny, too flat, too blemished, too much Kerry and not enough…Better. More Acceptable. More Beautiful. More Lovable. Enough. All I could see against that cold, reflective surface was Never Enough. No surprise that even now, my husband can find me in front of the mirror over the bathroom sink, not transfixed by my own beauty, but picking apart my face, picking and picking and picking until I bleed. Reality check: I am almost 39 years old. I do not have almost-pre-menopausal acne. I am seeking out the tiniest bump, the miniscule blemish, the almost imperceptible imperfection and picking at it, magnifying it, making damn sure that I am as ugly as I feel.
But then, yesterday. I walked into the bathroom to my daughter perched on the sink, her face pressed close to the mirror, her mouth open in a wide grimace.
“Momma,” she said, “How do I get my teeth as white as yours? My teeth aren’t white enough.”
“Oh my god, Sophia,” I said. “Your teeth are completely white!” And it was the truth. They are white. Not blinding white, not bleach-product white, but natural white, the white of a kid who has good dental hygiene, who hasn’t smoked cartons of cigarettes, or guzzled gallons of coffee or wine.
“No, Momma. They’re not white like yours.”
Fuck, I thought. This is how it starts. The picking, then the picking apart. Teeth then stomach then thighs then ass then breasts then then then then…
“Oh sweetheart, that’s crazy.” I leaned down, and smiled beside her. Smile beside smile. “See? Same same.” Then I turned her away from the mirror and planted a kiss on her lips. “You are perfect and perfectly beautiful and crazy to think anything different.”
Which may mean, by force of logic, that Momma may be crazy, too.