Life in the Mirror by Jake Bilardi

There once was a boy. He was young and happy and growing strong. On his first day of school, he climbed on his stool on the floor in his bathroom that he shared with his three siblings, and he looked into the mirror. He scanned himself, and he thought about how his classes would be. He thought about his classmates and his teachers and the subjects he’d study. He beamed with excitement. 

Then he heard his parents call from downstairs. They had already made his lunch and packed his backpack, and now they were waiting for him to come down so his mom could drive him to the same, small private school he’d been attending for as long as he could remember. The boy hopped off his little stool and hurried down the steps to the front door where his family stood. He put on his little superhero backpack and collected his metal lunchbox from his father, giving the tall, bearded man a hug in return. His mother finished drinking her cup of coffee and opened the door, holding it for everyone—counting all five heads in order as they passed—and finally closing the door behind them. 

One year later, the boy again prepared for his first day of the school year. Entering the bathroom that he now only shared with two siblings, he kicked away the stool and stood in front of the mirror. He smiled: his hair was a little long, and he’d gained a little weight, but he wasn’t bad looking. He thought about his new school; it was much bigger and less strict than his old one, or so his parents told him. He thought about the new people he’d meet there, especially the girls, and wondered if they’d like him. 

 He heard his mom call from downstairs. She reminded him that his school bus would arrive soon and that she had already made his lunch and placed it on the ground near the door. The boy hurried to brush his teeth, then descended the stairs. He picked up his sack lunch and put on his old superhero backpack, which now carried books too big and too heavy for it. Before walking out the door, he looked back to his mother sitting on her couch in the living room and blew her a kiss. When he looked at her, though, he wondered why she stayed at home so much more than she used to and why she took so much medicine. He had asked his dad about it, and he said she wasn’t sick. He thought about it but couldn’t think of an answer, and as he turned away from her, he let his curiosity fade. Finally, he opened the door and started walking to the bus stop where his two sisters were waiting for him. 

Two years passed. This time the boy was already late for his first day of school. Nevertheless, he trotted to the bathroom of his one-story house that he lived in with his mom and his sister. He gazed into the mirror that he had outgrown, making no expression. He thought his hair was too long, and he gained too much weight, and the circles under his eyes were too dark. 

His sister called to him from the kitchen and told him to hurry up and make his own lunch and start walking because he’d already missed the bus. The boy drifted from the bathroom into the living room, toward his mother who slept on the couch. He kissed her on the cheek, and he whispered that he loved her, and he cleared the bottles from the side table, finishing off the ones that weren’t empty. He decided that he wasn’t excited about school this year; he’d grown tired of going to class and doing homework and trying to make friends. He just wanted to stay home and watch TV and drink with his mom, like during the summer. Knowing full well that he hadn’t made himself lunch, the boy let out a dramatic sigh, turning toward the door and beginning the long walk to school. 

Four years later, the boy was at home, alone. He grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a few bars of Xanax, and despite having nowhere to be, walked to the bathroom mirror and inspected himself. He hated his stupid face, and he hated his new glasses, and he hated the hundred pounds he had gained. He tore off the cheap black suit he had rented, and he ripped the ponytail right out of his long, greasy hair. Taking a handful of pills and dropping them in the bottle, the boy raised a toast to his mom, reciting the words he’d barely choked out just thirty minutes prior. The boy drank, and he drank, and he drank some more: he finished what he could, more than half the handle, and sat on the ground in front of the sink. 

He thought about his life; he thought about his dad, who he hadn’t seen in too long; he thought about his three siblings, who he’d stopped speaking to; and finally, he thought about his mother, who he’d stayed with, and he’d loved more than anyone. He thought about how they were all gone, and he wept. He didn’t have anyone anymore, just burned bridges and an urn full of ashes.

The boy took another pull from the bottle, then another. It wasn’t working fast enough. He sat there, and he cried, and he drank, and he hated himself. He waited for what felt like an eternity, until finally, the mixture started to creep into his bloodstream. His body kept growing lighter. He was fading away. He closed his eyes, drifting off toward that deep, comfortable unconsciousness that numbs pain and jumbles thoughts. 

In his sleep, the boy dreamed of mirrors—they appeared all around him, but he could no longer remember what they were for. He looked into one of them, curiously scanning it, but it showed him nothing at all, just a black, empty void. The boy gazed into it for a long time, taking it in, seemingly entranced by it, and—for the first time in years—he actually smiled. He tried to think through the haze, questioning why he was smiling. In the end, after many mental detours and a lot of effort, he decided that he was just happy, finally.

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