The first time I looked down at myself in a mirror I was snorting cocaine, and the view wasn’t bad. Sure I was gazing up my own nostrils, with a coiled $20 bill distended from one, but my skin was still prevailing against gravity, so the perspective was odd but the face wasn’t. I was twenty years old.
The next eight years saw changes. I graduated from college, married Mark, and we bought our first (fixer-upper) house. Then we had Aggie and started the fixing up. Actually, we stripped the black-and-white vinyl tile out of the entryway when we first moved in, and we power-sanded and Varathaned the entryway floor and the one in our bedroom. Then I got pregnant. We didn’t plan that but it felt like we should go with it. And of course I never regretted her. But she sure brought changes. It hadn’t seemed so serious, getting married or buying real estate. Nothing felt permanent; there were always other options; if need be I could take some consequences and change my choice. As moved as I was when Aggie was born, as awed as I became when I watched her discover the world, it wasn’t till she was about a year and a half that I realized I’d been trapped. It no longer mattered how open I was about my past or how earnestly I argued my ideas; someone could actually get at me and hurt me, through her.
About then she was old enough for us to start on the bathroom. We spackled and sanded and painted and curtained and ornamented and personalized the space from yellowy beige to sparkling blue and white, and though we had to live with it disordered for nearly three months while we worked on it around our day jobs and Aggie, we were very pleased with it at last.
Before we were done we bought an unfinished wooden medicine chest to hang above the sink. It had a mirror on its door and four shelves inside, and we painted it white. We also set it, mirror-up, on the bed in the spare room while we prepared the bathroom walls. For the better part of a week I had to go to that room in the morning and lean over the mirror in order to see my face or hair.
Well that was my first aging shock. Two years before my thirtieth birthday (when according to my cousin a woman’s upper arm will begin to sag over her elbow, no matter who she is), I leaned over and saw my hanging face in that mirror, and at first I leapt back in horror at the sight.
My cheeks … bagging around my mouth and nose, foretelling the lines that twenty more years would etch. My eyelids … pouching intimations of incipient drag. The pluckable fuzz above my nose that would be exchanged, too soon, for gnarly long brow hairs cobwebbing above my eyes.
I felt so trapped and unattractive I had a mean affair.
His name was Francisco, and my husband brought us together. We’d reached the window replacement portion of our fixing up and we decided not to try to do that ourselves. Cisco was a glazier; he was the tradesman Mark found. Since I was in charge of wall decor it was appropriate for me to follow Cisco around the rooms with rotten windows, priming and painting behind him.
He wasn’t at all my type. He was short and powerfully built, barrel-like, and it turned out that his penis was neither pretty nor impressive. Mark was tall, not-fat, and comparatively well hung. We’d had an active creative sex life back when we weren’t tired all the time. Lately it seemed we were just partners in parenting and pals at pastimes. We never had the energy for flattery; we never had the time for exploratory kisses.
Cisco wasn’t circumcised. His organ looked like a cow’s teat when it was flaccid, and erect it didn’t amount to much either. At first I briefly wondered if I’d even be able to feel it