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Why I Avoid Mirrors -- creative nonfiction by Tristan Chessler


I have never had a good grip on socializing. That is not to say that I do not enjoy being around people, I do, it simply terrifies me. I am always trying to find the perfect thing to say, resulting in a tremendous amount of time spent inside my head. When talking with someone, even a friend, I carefully break down each word they say, gathering material for my response. It is a rigid and exhausting process that generates calculated replies. And each time I restart I say it will be different, that I will be different. I will lend a piece of myself and my personality to this one person to have a conversation. And every time I am left standing there, staring into this person’s unfocused eyes as I try so desperately to interest them. My hands sit in my pockets, my fingers tapping my upper thigh to wake me up, to start fucking talking. It is no use, they walk away, and I breathe a sigh of relief knowing the whole thing is over.


 

“Why are you so quiet?”


 

I hate this one kid. It is not necessarily his personality that I so strongly dislike, more so the patheticness of his appearance. He walks with a slight slouch, his gaze fixed somewhere far ahead. He has these scrawny legs that look as though they can barely bear his weight. And his fingers pick fights with each other, clawing at the skin surrounding his nails until they bleed. But what deters me the most is his face. His eyes are dark and sad, and his skin is populated by a distracting amount of acne. These glowing, miniature stop signs that are blaring at me to halt. And when he speaks it is almost robotic, as if every sentence has been meticulously thought out and revised. Talking to him is mundane and predictable. Looking at him is dispiriting. Luckily I only ever have to see him in the mirror.


 

“I think she likes me, like likes me.”

“She must prefer personality over looks then.”


 

I think I was 8 or 9 when this happened, without many insecurities or self-concerning thoughts. My best friend and I were in the cafeteria, my fingers tracing patterns on the laminate table in an effort of distraction. My stomach reverberated as I stared at my worn-out LL Bean lunch box. I opened it. I saw the lunch my dad had carefully prepared that morning. It was nothing extravagant, a grape-flavored juice box, jelly sandwich, chips, and 4 Oreos. But at 11:30 in the morning, this and recess had been my most anticipated moments of the school day. I tore the straw away from the juice box, slamming it against the table to remove it from the plastic sleeve. As I sipped on it, the sweetness traveled rapidly throughout my little body, and I moved on to the jelly sandwich.

“Stop! You cannot eat that, you will get too fat to play on the monkey bars.”

Over the course of that school year, both my choice of a best friend and my weight changed drastically.


 

“Hey, how are you?”

“I am good, I am good.”


 

I open Snapchat way too often. When I go on my phone I swipe left, being greeted by a spiritless white ghost plastered in front of an obnoxious yellow background. Still, I click on it. I see my face, often at a less-than-appealing angle, prompting me to swipe right. Though the next sight is not much prettier, with there being an embarrassingly low number of “Snaps” or chats waiting for me. I swipe right again. Now I see a 2-D map with scattered patches of color, each indicating a large number of users in one area. I can see all of my “Friends,” with their “Bitmojis” smiling disturbingly at me. These lifeless cartoon avatars of the people I know hold value, especially when they are congregated in one spot on the map. While my “Bitmoji" stands solitary, the others’ are gathered together in a large group, easily making me aware of my loneliness. Of how they are out there, with each other, while I am here by myself. I spent 1 hour and 8 minutes on Snapchat last week, not talking but stalking.


 

Crack! Pop! Crack! Cracking my fingers is not a bad habit, it is a ritual. In times of crisis, it is a necessary tool for self-preservation. I break a piece of myself to prevent a total collapse.


 

“You look really tired today.”

“Thanks?”


 

I am sorry if you ever have to meet me. We will get off on the wrong foot, tripping and falling, unable to recover. Your unexpected arrival will leave me with no time to process or think. I will be skittish and afraid, retreating to a state of bitterness. My fear of how you will perceive me will leave me anxious, fidgeting uncontrollably.

“Hey.” You will say, smiling.

I will panic. I will feel vulnerable as you trespass the gates to my mind, to who I am as a person. And that alone is a risk that I am simply not willing to take, which is why this encounter will be awkward and brief. It will be uncomfortable as if there is some putrid smell hanging in the air waiting to be addressed. Luckily you will not be sticking around too long, I will push you away. Flicking you with the tip of my finger as if you are some grotesque and menacing bug, because that is what you are.



 

Tristan Chessler is a high school student living in Massachusetts. When not trying to live up to his own expectations, he can be found in his room, listening to music, or walking along the cool coastal shores of Maine.

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