Smoke and Mirrors

January 17, 2013
Smoke and Mirrors
I promise, I’m trying to help you. Would you please just tell me how you’re feeling?
I told you, I feel broken.
That doesn’t tell me anything. Are you broken like a battery that needs to be recharged? Like a puzzle with a missing piece? Like a video frozen on one frame that refuses to move on?
I see what you’re doing, but this isn’t something you can fix by smacking some sense into the monitor or finding some energy. I’m broken like pottery, shattered into pieces and irreparable. Entropy and all that.
But you can repair pottery. The Japanese actually have a process called Kintsugi that elevates it to an art form. They use melted gold to repair the cracks in pottery. It’s beautiful. It also makes the pieces stronger and more valuable.
Well how would I know when I’m all better? I’m not just going to wake up one day and feel just fine, like everything is the way it’s supposed to be, like it used to be.
I would say you’ll feel better when you feel happy.
Happy? I’ve seen what chasing happiness can do. My sister is a heavy smoker; she can hit three packs a day given enough free time from her job. It hurts me, it hurts her friends, but it makes her happy. She works at a sleazy strip club downtown. She treats her body like s*** to become a stick figure and would be just under ninety pounds if it wasn’t for the three pounds of make-up she wears. But she says feels pretty. She feels happy.
If you patch yourself up with smoke and mirrors, the bonds holding you together will be just as fragile and breakable as they are. But you don’t need me to tell you that. You said you used to be ok, that you were happy the way things used to be…how did things use to be?
I loved coming into work. I loved walking into the bakery, into the smell of bread crust and fruit syrups. Kneading the dough was relaxing; decorating the cakes was exciting. Every morning I helped bake for a crowd of people and every Friday my sister was part of the crowd. It was the only weekday she didn’t have any morning classes. She was studying psychology, but she must not have been studying very hard if she didn’t see the sociopath in Jeff right away.
He owns the bakery. I didn’t see him very often, but the workers that had to deal with him said he had a short temper and a scowl that looked like an invisible claw pulling back on his lips. He pushes people with him when he walks and curses like a sailor.
He doesn’t seem like the type of guy to own a bakery.
He isn’t, he inherited it from his mother. A saint, apparently. I guess that’s how it works sometimes: sweet, over-permissive parents raise bratty children and no one ever teaches them differently because they’re just kids, and before you know it they’re adults, and we don’t call them brats anymore, we call them assholes. My sister had been coming in for months before they met. I should have mentioned him to her before, because telling her how cruel he was after he had given her a free fruit tart and talked to her about school, leaning on crossed arms and a fake smile, she just thought I was bad-mouthing him out of jealousy. He has a thing for redheads apparently, and for younger women. Sonya was one of the youngest girls in her class because she graduated high school early. She skipped a few grades and applied to college as a junior. She helped rent the apartment she shared with me the day she turned eighteen, but no one ever accused her of moving too fast. Maybe that’s why she didn’t listen when we told her she wasn’t ready to move in with Jeff after two months of dating. As fast as possible was the normal pace for her and no one ever told her otherwise.
I think I was right earlier, when I said you were broken like a puzzle missing a piece.
That can’t be, a puzzle missing a piece is still beautiful, even with a small missing spot. I don’t understand that metaphor at all really. Why do we let a small stain ruin a lovely dress? Is a book not worth reading because we hate one of the characters? I’m not afraid of flaws.
I would love to keep talking with you about this, but you’ve only got a few minutes left and I have another patient I need to see soon. Let me just ask you…do you feel like we’ve made progress? That you’re getting better?
I…I think so. And I think I’ve figured it out.
Figured what out?
I’m broken like a mirror. I look at myself, and my life, and I see all these cracks and flaws in it, like Sonya, and having to work for the man that turned her into a monster. Even if I pour melted gold over the cracks, it just makes it even harder to see myself and gives more focus to the scars and broken pieces. I don’t want to glorify them. I just have to stop looking at the cracks and be happy that I’m beautiful despite them.
I used to be a smoker, you know. I was completely addicted. Maybe not up to three packs a day, but I loved letting out tobacco clouds into the cold night sky, and I felt like a movie star blowing smoke out of my car. I was always hoping someone would take my picture; I was glorifying a crack in my life exactly the way you’re describing. I decided to start easing off the cigarettes because it had become too large a part of my personality, and I could see their effects on me getting more pronounced every day in the mirror. My skin was getting terrible and my lips were like dried figs. I think your sister will have a similar realization.
That’s sweet, but I don’t believe that. She’s the video that refuses to move past a single frozen screen, and nothing we do seems to help. Maybe one day Jeff will hit her a little too hard and the screen will unfreeze, but in the meantime, I have my own life to worry about. Like I said, I’m not afraid of flaws, and maybe the most important one to accept to keep me sane in times like this is my vanity.

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