A story about 'doubles'.
Who do I see in the mirror today?
By Devin Loree
I am two people: a reflection and a man looking at a reflection. Which is the more real? I am the man looking into the mirror because I am aware of my own perception, yet I am also the man that I see in the mirror, looking at its other with a familiar stare. Nietzsche once said that a man who looks into the abyss will find that it is starring back at him. I think that I have found this to be true on far too many occasions, but such polemics on Nietzsche are not our reasons for being here today. A curious, and rather extraordinary incident occurred approximately one month ago that caught my interest most intensely. An affair, of sorts, that was of the most complex variety, between two, no!, I dare say, four people, that ended not quite happily, but rather embarrassingly for two of the members. This is all very confusing, however, as there were only two whole persons involved, yet four people! Such notions will become clear, I assure you.
The incident which follows is most peculiar. It occurred among individuals who, for the most part, did not know each other very well. This has, of course, changed. Many of us are now very good friends and see each other quite frequently. We laugh together; we drink together; we eat together, but most importantly we are together. This was not the case on this particular evening. What follows is a story of misinformed intentions, and of people, who, for the most part, forgot for a single moment that each of us, that everything, is multifarious and many, and that if we let some side, or another, outweigh the others, we make rash and terrible decisions. Perhaps not terrible, as that is quite a condemning word, but perhaps regretful.
It is not that I propose any new or insightful points of difference from previous great minds who have tackled this question with fervour and precision, no, no, not that at all. I would not dream, even in such a pure state’s most lofty and inspirational moments, of bettering such extravagant genius! I will, however, relate to you what I witnessed so that you can judge for yourself what is to become of such problems.
Dostoevsky called it The Double; Oscar Wilde felt it fit to represent such notions in the form of a painting; Freud, as we know, spent much time on the subject; and I am sure that anyone with any education at all is familiar with R.L Stevenson’s story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I can still remember waking up early on Saturday mornings -- my little, plumb red cheeks draining of their colour from passionate and intense dreams the night before -- and rubbing my large, starry-faced eyes and switching on the television to watch Sylvester and Tweety prancing and twittering about whilst re-enacting Stevenson’s classic tale on the Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show. Even a child can understand such dichotomous gestures: mother and father, youth and age, and so on. Doubles; twos: one thing, a subject, an ego, which has an implied opposite, the other, the opposed, the one starring back from the other side. It is quite a simple idea, really. We of learned disposition are quite familiar with it.
The Ego and the Id; the dark and the light; the happy and the sad. We are two people, like two sides of a coin (to use a much overused simile), and those intelligent and aware enough to comprehend such notions understand that, whatever the stark contrasts that may arise when each individual opposes itself in struggle and conflict, two sides of a coin form a single entity. Or is it as simple as that? Sometimes I ponder such questions, late into the evening as tears of frustration stream down the side of my face like rain drops seem to dawdle and dance down a pane of glass. This is all very personal, you see, and you will understand, with empathy, I ever do hope, how difficult it can be to transcribe such feelings; yet I am, for this small moment only, yours. All of this was on my mind when I went to her house one Saturday evening. On this evening, while checking my appearance in the mirror before I left, I decided to bring with me my reflection.
After a short walk we arrived at her door and knocked. We were with a friend and his reflection. The door opened and the hostess and her reflection greeted us. The air was brisk, but not cold, yet I could feel the warmth of souls meeting, which made me feel comfortable. I smiled at the hostess and gave her a sympathetic look. At the time, I had not yet met her, but felt that I understood her somehow. My companion smiled at her too, but with much different intensions. He, I believe now, did not understand her. There were four others who had all brought with them their reflections too. Fourteen altogether were standing and sitting around the house, and everything seemed to be in order. Drinks were served. Food was put out, and everyone seemed to be getting along quite amicably. Nobody seemed at all perturbed that their other was present. No one seemed to notice, except for me. I kept this to myself, of course, and merely observed how each of the members of the party, and their doubles, interacted.
There were two in particular that enticed my skills of observation, if only because their opposites seemed to lust for each other while they themselves seemed to hate each other. Allow me to describe the members of this tragic affair in more detail.
One, a female -- our lovely hostess -- had long, golden blond hair, a chiselled, European jaw and pursed, gently proportioned lips. Her eyes, blue as a midday sky, were radiant and full of life and laughter. She was slim, well dressed in the most recent fashion, and confident. She seemed experienced and seemed to know what she wanted. This was attractive, and she knew it, which made her even more attractive. She had a softness to her stare, most notably when she found something either amusing or moving. This belied a history of notable experience. The suppleness of her breasts were tactfully exposed, and her hips had a seductive, yet classy curve. Her ivory teeth shone with brilliance when she smiled, and her laughter was infectious, like an especially clever drum beat is to the foot. She was cultured, intelligent, outspoken and effervescent. She was a delightful hostess, as one would expect, and was quite particular about the company she kept. It was obvious that she was passionate about the things which she loved and about the things which she despised. This is not abnormal behaviour in such people, yet it should be noted nonetheless.
Our male suitor -- my companion in arms for the evening -- had short, brown hair, brown, dull eyes and a crooked tooth on the right side of his jaw. He was short, stocky and dawned the baseball cap of some random MLB team. He was quite amicable, especially after a few glasses of wine, but suffered from a lack of education. He was not stupid nor dull-witted, as they say in novels, but lacked the prerequisite knowledge and know-how to be a formidable participant in an intelligent conversation. He also knew this and lacked confidence around people of superior education. Despite this, he was happy, charming and a fun person to be around. He wore a tee-shirt and long, white and brown shorts. He was a bit older than myself, but less mature. He had an innocence to his smile, and was a bit innocuous, though still my friend nonetheless.
As the diligent reader has no doubt by now observed, there could not have been two people more opposed to each other than our two characters were. One cultured, the other bordering on philistinism; one confident and moving, the other frightened and dull. It is a wonder to all who have witnessed this relationship that it managed to come to fruition in the first place, but such is the course which lust runs.
Each, of course, had their reflection by their side. They were licentious beasts, a fact augmented by the intake of alcohol. The same man and the same woman, but opposite somehow: libidinous and carnal and crude and unfaithful; they followed each other about the room all evening, wanting, desiring, touching. They did not talk much; they did not get to know each other as they should have. They became their reflections, and allowed their doubles to make decisions which should have been made by themselves. In this transformation they became something not quite human, yet not quite animal. However, I am of course getting ahead of myself.
The night began uneventfully. The guest of honour had not yet arrived: a good friend of mine from Europe whose birthday it was, and whose presence was the reason for our being together. The conversation was light, though sprightly and gay enough to keep our attention. Time passed, alcohol was imbibed, and eventually the ambience began to take on a most piquant charm. Soon, the guest of honour appeared; hugs were given all around, more drinks were pored, and we all settled into our positions in the living room.
The goal of the evening was to play a game of charades. Charades is, of course, a game where the players pantomime a predetermined word or phrase that team-members try to guess from the actions of the actor. The player has to act, pretend, or play a role while the others try to penetrate the hole left by silence. It is a delightful game in open-minded company, and our company provided such an instance. We were lively when we began, and the drink did much to propel the laughter and obscenity of our actions and gestures. We and our reflections would enter the stage, receive our notation, and begin the silent journey down the road of language to either victory or defeat. But really, the idea of victory or defeat mattered not at this point in the evening. It was the warmth of our souls which kindled friendship and love that was our goal. It was being together that mattered most.
I was up first. It was guys against girls, as it would always be thereafter. We had separated into teams and ventured to different parts of the flat. Each team would come up with thirty ideas and write them down on thirty little pieces of paper that would be thrown into a hat or a jar of some sort for the opposing team to choose from. Some of our ideas included: “Richard Nixon”, “Democrat”, “Dodgeball”, and “Lust”, among other things we thought either clever or crude. We were pleased with our choices, laughing and jeering like pubescent school boys. The girls returned and we exchanged a few quick quips. The atmosphere was electric. If someone had chanced upon us, they would, scout’s honour, have found their hair standing on end. The girls too were pleased with their choices, and so, without further delay, I rose from my seat, placed by goblet of wine next to it, and chose my fate.
Disillusioned, I smiled meekly. I did not know what to do. I was stunned. Fairy? What could I do with that? Should I draw with my finger the outline of fairy wings, and pretend that I was flying? Should I indicate that I am a tiny creature, squeezing together tightly my finger and thumb? Images of A Midsummer Night’s Dream flashed through my mind, and then soon after Willow and its two dull-witted, drunken fairies. Associations raced through me as I, like a spear fisherman in the middle of a salmon run, tried to stab the most plump and palpable idea. Dexterity failed me, and my other faired no better as we paced to and fro. The girls called me over so that I could show them what I had chosen. They laughed excitedly, and urged me on. It is made so clear to us when we can act but not speak how crucial and isolating it is to separate ourselves from the other side. Communication failed me, but I knew that there had to be some way to bridge the gap and rediscover the other side by some new route.
I jumped around a bit. I heard laughter, but persisted. I outlined the shape of fairy wings with my index finger, squeezed my arms in tight so that my hands were positioned perpendicular to my forearms, and fluttered about the best I could. Then, I indicated with my thumb and finger that I, pointing at myself, rubbing myself all over and gesturing toward my wholeness, was indeed small and not large at all. I then proceeded to pretend I was sprinkling fairy dust on some of the other players, and continued to flutter about in the most gay manner possible.
“Bird of prey!” someone shouted, and I shook my head in dejection. Other equally ridiculous guesses were made and I eventually motioned for them to stop. I stopped too, looked up at the roof at a forty five degree angle and put my fists on my hips. Three seconds elapsed.
My mind leapt! I gave an excited gasp and pointed at the person who had said it and then waved my arms once. I pointed to myself and he again said the name.
I nodded at him and then, with my finger and thumb, produced a space of about three inches between and pointed at it.
“Tinkerbelle?” he questioned.
I nodded and then again motioned to myself.
“Fairy!” he shouted. I leapt into the air and screamed. He got up and we embraced. The girls laughed and we laughed. All of us, at once, together, had shared in something miraculous. We had leapt over a canyon to look at ourselves from the other side. “Poor fools,” we had said to our past selves, “if only they knew what the view was like from this side. Now we know both.”
It was after this that I first noticed them. It was after this that I first saw him -- my companion in arms for the evening -- and her -- our lovely hostess -- lock eyes and smile longingly. I believe that I was the only one who noticed it. I was not sure, however, if what I saw was their reflection or they themselves. At this point in the evening, the two had become indistinguishable. It was approaching midnight, and we were preparing to cross a threshold.
I despised them, but my reflection sympathized. What were they thinking? Was she thinking that she was lonely and that he was kind of cute and that being penetrated by him might feel good for a little bit? Was he thinking that he was horny and that she was cute and that penetrating her would feel good for a little bit? I could not tell if these feelings were genuine or not. I was torn. There was a divide I could not gap. Many feelings tormented me and I rebelled against all of them; two sides of myself struggled to find symmetry.
The night, however, barring any mental breakdowns or drunken musings, continued. We played charades for hours. Everyone took their turn as a player on the stage, some to more success than others. We were all jubilant, however. The evening was a big hit, and everyone was having a blast.
At one point, it was her turn. She stood up erratically and chose her fate.
There was silence for a moment as she picked her slip of paper and glanced at it, but this was shattered by her shrieking, infectious laughter as she gave him a quick, clandestine wink. The atmosphere shifted momentarily. I felt like I was in an 80’s porno movie, with corny, mawkish music playing gently in the background. Her face went red with embarrassment, like an especially ripe apple. She pretended to be a snake, then Eve, then pantomimed biting into an apple, and then chasing after and humping another. The girls were clever, and realized early on how vulgar we were in our selections. It was not difficult for them, these clever girls, to figure it out.
“Lust!” the birthday girl shouted.
It was as simple as that, and they cheered. I shivered. It really was as easy as that, wasn’t it? Lust: so much easier than love. If ‘Love’ has been written on that tiny slip of paper, how would have she acted out that? I pondered this for a bit as the game went on in front of me. Eventually I took my drink and went into the washroom to wash my face. I splashed water onto it and looked into the mirror.
There he was. Me. There I was, or was it me? I didn’t know. Which was love and which was lust? Which was man and which woman? Which happiness and which sadness? Which me and which him? Who was this other that existed in a world that was mine but not, in a reality that I wanted to believe in, but refused to acknowledge? He scratched his head and looked at me quizzically.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said, “you do know that he is taking her, right? Get on that. You could have anyone you wanted. Don‘t be stupid about these things. You‘re looking good tonight.”
“But what’s the point? There isn’t anything meaningful in it,” I responded and then shrugged.
“Meaningful? Why do you have to attach meaning to having your dick sucked! You know you want it. No, wait,” and here he gave a maniacal laugh, “you know I want it. Why won’t you give it to me?”
“Because you frighten me.”
“Why should I frighten you? I am you!”
I looked down, turned on the tap, both the hot and the cold water, and splashed my face again.
“You’re going to regret this. You do know that, right? You know that I am not a fiction, right? You know that I am not some fairy, some Tinkerbelle flying around in some alternate world with her Peter Pan. You know that I am real, right? You know that I am you.”
“You’re not me,” I said, wiping my face with the nearest towel, “you’re just some sick deviation.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves here. If she was interested in you, you’d be doing the same thing as him,” and here he smiled, victorious.
Had he got me on this point? I could not, with conviction nor certainty, tell him that he was wrong. I slapped myself in the face twice and left the bathroom. I was stuck on his point. It had not happened often, but when what he described had occurred, I was like him. I had indulged, and even had convinced myself that it was meaningful and that I had indeed cared. But then there were those moments when I really had cared, and had quelled lust and him, and loved instead of lusted, hugged instead of kissed, embraced instead of fucked. It was all a matter of waking up in the morning and deciding who it was that I saw in the mirror that day.
Instead of turning left and returning to the living room, I turned right and entered the kitchen. This was a mistake. There they were, embracing, touching, about to kiss. I stopped and almost dropped my drink. Two others, just like them, were standing adjacent, mixing drinks, not talking and not looking at each other. No one noticed me. I turned around and walked out of the kitchen, back to the living room. I returned feeling like a twelve year old boy who discovers his father sleeping with someone other than his mother. I felt ashamed.
The game of charades continued without us. Everyone was still having fun, but I felt my life being drained from me. I was tired and drunk. I could not stop myself from reflecting on what I had just seen. Before long, the four of them returned, red faced and embarrassed. Everyone could see what had happened. I was not alone in my observations any longer, but no one said anything. Everyone accepted it and even ignored it.
“Who wants to go out for a smoke,” she questioned. I nodded at her and then informed the party that I was tired and had a busy day to attend to tomorrow and must part ways. They all understood, and I said my goodbyes. I hugged those who I could hug and shook hands with those who I couldn’t. I asked my companion in arms for the evening if he was to leave with me, but he said no. I nodded and made my way outside with her, our lovely hostess: alone.
I lit her smoke and then one of my own. We exchanged some pleasantries and ensured each other that we would meet again. In this I was confident. I liked her, and could envision a wonderful relationship developing in the future. We hugged after we finished, and I departed.
As the reader has by no doubt guessed, this relationship did not last. Three weeks, at best, and it was over. What does this say about those involved? Does it say that they were deviant creatures, beings disposed entirely to the pursuit of pleasure? No, I do not think it does. I believe that it is human to explore such paths, and I cannot hold it against them for venturing down such roads. In this I am confounded. I see in this relationship a piece of myself. In fact, I see in this relationship a piece of all of us, opposed and confused. Did they decide, that day, when the woke up in the morning, who it was that they saw in the mirror, or was that choice made for them? I do not know.
I walked home alone, smoking cigarettes as if I were famished German soldier eating rations. It was not a long walk, but it felt like an eternity. Soon I arrived, however, and stripped my clothes and wrapped myself up in a quilt. It was cold, but I soon discovered that I became hot quickly from the quilt, and the remainder of the evening oscillated in this manner. Eventually, I fell asleep and dreamt of fairies and far off worlds where they, gathered together in fairy communes, drinking wine and playing charades and falling asleep at the end of the night, drunk and tired, dream of humans and human society, instead of the other way around.