“One more, Honey.” Kathy Morton held the square, flat box with the pink wrapping and big white bow out to her daughter. “Happy third birthday, Big Girl.”
The excited child pushed aside the pile of already opened gifts and reached for the box with an excited squeal. Her small, delicate fingers began to tear at the colored tissue and all of her concentration became fixed on removing the ribbons separating her from her gift. As she leaned forward, her long, light blonde hair fell forward, covering her face and blocking her bright, blue eyes. Seemingly without noticing, she raised one hand just long enough to push it back out of her way and then quickly returned to her single minded work. At last her diligence paid off and the ribbons slipped free, quickly followed by the box top.
An even louder excited squeal erupted as Jennifer pulled out a blue and white checked dress and stood, scattering other presents, but holding the most recent offering up in front of her. “Oh, Mommy, it’s pretty! Put it on!” she cried. “I want to put it on.”
Smiling at her child’s obvious joy, her mother led her into the girl’s bedroom and in only a couple of minutes returned with Jennifer dressed in the new garment. The dress was long, reaching almost to the floor. The large checks of white and light blue were enhanced by decorations of ribbons and small white embroidery at the collar. She bounced into the room behind her mother, now and then stopping to look down at herself in obvious pleasure. Then she stopped in front of David Morton and said, “See, Daddy. Pretty dress. Pretty me.”
“Yes,” her father answered, smiling at her. “You are a very pretty girl. And it’s a beautiful dress.”
“I want to see,” the little girl cried, and started towards the bathroom with its large mirror over the sink. Her parents followed her. The girl looked into the mirror, but her height was such that she could see little more than her own head over the counter. She tried to jump up high enough to see and then looked around for something to climb on.
“Hold on a second, Jennifer,” her father cautioned. “Remember, no climbing on the sink. I’ll hold you up.” So saying, he scooped up the girl and held her above the counter, watching her excited face as she studied herself in the mirror. When he put her back down, she again tried standing on tip toe to get a further glance of herself.
“I think she likes it,” Kathy said, smiling at the girl’s antics.
“I’m sure she does,” her father agreed. “Too bad we don’t have a full length mirror in here.” Then, struck by a sudden thought, he added, “But I think I know just the thing. Wait here a minute while I see if I can find something.” With that, he left the room.
Kathy held Jennifer up again so she could see herself and listened while the child told her over and over how pretty the dress was. In five minutes or so, Kathy heard the folding steps leading to the attic creak and her husband descending. But instead of returning to the bathroom she heard him move into Jennifer’s room. She was just starting to lead her daughter in to see what he had found when she heard him call, “Just give me a minute before you bring her in. I’ve got another surprise for her.”
So Kathy waited with her daughter, both admiring the new dress, while in a minute or so hammering sounds began to come from the other room. In another minute, David called out, “OK, bring the birthday girl in here.”
Jennifer gave one more long look at the mirror and then yielded to the tug of her mother’s hand and followed her into her bedroom. But when the girl entered her room and saw what her father had brought, she gave another squeal and ran over to where he was standing. She gave him a big hug and then, still saying, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over turned and looked at herself in the tall gilded framed mirror her father had attached to her wall.
Kathy stared at the mirror. A foot and a half wide and over five feet tall, the mirror was surrounded by a heavy gold tinted wood frame carved in an elaborate pattern of flowers and leaves and hearts. It looked like a piece from another time, something which might have been popular half a century or even a century and a half ago, but it looked to be in nearly new condition. The glass was heavy, clear and unscratched and the silvering was totally intact. For several seconds she stared at it and then asked, “Wherever did you get that, Honey?”
“Oh, just something I picked up at Walmart. No, we’ve had it up in the attic along with some of my grandparents other stuff. It might even have been from their parents. I remember when I was little, my grandmother had this beside her bed. I remembered that this was stored upstairs. I just thought it might be just the thing for Jennifer.”
“Oh, yes, Daddy!” the little girl cried. “I love it.” She was standing in front of the old mirror, twisting back and forth, sometimes twirling all the way around, admiring herself and her new dress. “It’s wonderful!”
When Jennifer was nearly six, her parents took her to see the classic movie, “Snow White”. Although the mirror in the movie didn’t look anything like the one in her room, Jennifer was fascinated with the talking object. For weeks after, her parents would sometimes hear her in her room intoning, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
Jennifer had frequently spent long times looking in the mirror and talking to herself, but the concept that the mirror could talk back to her was something she had never considered - until seeing the movie. Now she stood admiring herself - she was really a very pretty girl - and quoting from the movie. The mirror in the Disney movie spoke in an adult voice and was shown as only a face. However, in Jennifer’s mind her mirror took on a different personality. As she spoke her questions, she visualized in the mirror a boy of her own age and heard his comments in a young boy’s voice.
And the young girl did not limit herself to simply quoting from the movie. If she had some other topic on her mind, she would discuss that with the mirror, so her comments and questions were wide ranging - as were the responses she heard the mirror place in her mind.
Even at her young age, Jennifer did not really believe the mirror was alive or that it actually answered her questions. She realized that she must be creating the answers herself, but this didn’t reduce the satisfaction she received from these discussions. Her parents sometimes overheard her holding conversations with her mirror, but saw no problem with that. After all, most children created fantasy worlds in their minds; Jennifer’s just included someone in an old mirror.
As Jennifer grew older, she no longer quoted the Snow White lines to the mirror; however, she still used the object to help her sort her own thoughts. Whenever she had a big decision to make she presented both sides to her mirror and often seemed to be listening to advice from within the glass. She knew there was no one actually living in the reflective world, but it helped her to sort out her own mind to visualize the response as coming from another person. Without conscious thought, she kept the image of a boy about her own age - maybe just a little older - and as she grew older, so did he. She thought of him as the older brother some girls had but that she lacked. Someone, not an adult, she could look to for advice and not be afraid to tell her secret fears.
Once, when she was eleven, Jennifer’s school class was going to put on a play. For two weeks the class had read the play and planned their performance and on Friday, parts would be assigned. Jennifer had come to strongly associate with one of the leading girl characters in the piece and desperately wanted that part. The only problem was that Alice, a sometimes friend and sometimes competitor, also wanted it. For days Jennifer thought so intently on this that she became almost obsessed with it. When Friday came she was so worked up she could hardly eat her lunch, her stomach felt tied in knots and she had trouble thinking about anything else at all. Just before school was let out, the teacher began to assign the parts. When she came to the coveted role, both Jennifer and Alice were on the edge of their chairs and it was obvious to the teacher that this decision would be really important to both girls. Both of the girls were good students, had wonderful personalities, and got along well with the other students. As the teacher studied them, she could find nothing to help her decide which one deserved the coveted part. She called both girls up and asked each if she wanted the part. Of course, each enthusiastically said she did, so the teacher settled the problem by a coin flip. Jennifer lost.
The teacher could sense Jennifer’s disappointment and felt the crushing emotion along with her. However, she couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the little girl handled it. She still managed to smile and congratulated Alice. She was given another role - a supporting role of a friend of Alice’s main character - and seemed to genuinely accept the part. Jennifer was definitely mature for her age and the teacher once again thought of her as “eleven going on thirty”.
To Jennifer the loss had been a tremendous blow. Still, her pride would not allow her to show how disappointed she was, and she strained to control herself as school ended and she walked rapidly home. With only a quick word to her mother who was busy washing dishes, she went directly to her room and closed the door.
Her mother had guessed from her abrupt actions that Jennifer had not gotten the part and, as the door to her room closed, wiped her hands on a dish towel and silently followed her daughter, stopping outside the closed barrier. She listened quietly, expecting to hear the sound of crying and trying to think how to comfort her. However, the quiet sounds coming from within the room were not those of the wild distress she had expected. She could hear her daughter talking, but there was no shouting, no crying. Just a contained, if somewhat strained, dialogue. Dialogue? Yes, her mother decided, Jennifer was talking things over with her mirror. Kathy smiled to herself, shaking her head at the surprising maturity of her little girl, and again silently returned to the kitchen.
Inside the room Jennifer was addressing the old mirror. “I know we both can’t have the part, but I wanted it so much. But I guess Alice really wanted it, too, and I’m glad she got it if I can’t have it. But, Mirror, what can I do to feel better about it?”
A brief hesitation as she seemed to listen to a voice - if not from the silent mirror, than from somewhere inside her head. “Yes, I know I would have been very good at it, but so will Alice. Yes, instead I will be the best I can at the part I have. That way Alice will do a better job, too, and we’ll have a better play. Then maybe next time I’ll have the lead and she can help me. Thank you.”
Her quiet conversation went on for a long time and when she finally emerged from her room to find that her mother had made one of her favorite dishes for supper, Jennifer was controlled and relaxed and talked excitedly about how she was going to be so good in the part she had.
Jennifer was in junior high; her fourteenth birthday had come and gone several months before and she had become aware of a new and exciting aspect of life: boys.
For a long time Jennifer had either picked out or at least helped to choose her own clothing. Her taste had always been good and her mother usually needed only to supply, at most, a little prompting in her selections. But just recently Jennifer had become somewhat fixated on some almost punk styles. Garish colors in clothing, and she had started to put on much heavier makeup in wild colors. Kathy knew girls that age often experimented and thought the best way was to allow her daughter some latitude in her choices, so she had bitten her lip and remained silent as the girl overdid the coloring and garish clothing.
Now Jennifer was dressing for a party. A well chaperoned party at a known friend’s house, to be sure, but a mixed boy-girl party. She had bought a new dress: a dress that, in her mother’s opinion, would not have looked out of place on a seventeen year old runaway working the streets. Jennifer’s body was developing and she was trying to make herself look as sexy as possible - especially for one particular boy. Tom was tall with broad shoulders, played halfback on the JV football team and ran track in the spring.
Jennifer stood in front of her mirror, turning back and forth, looking at herself. Like every other teenage girl (and most adult women), Jennifer was not completely happy with her body. Her breasts, while already filling out, were not nearly big enough for her liking, so she had compensated by getting the dress slightly too small. The dress material was a soft, thin, almost filmy, material, but was at least opaque. (She knew her mother would never have permitted her to wear it if it were any more transparent.) But she had bought a half bra which left the upper half of her breasts clear and the soft material clearly outlined her nipples. Since she didn’t think she would be able to get out of the house wearing that, Jennifer planned on donning a much more conservative one and changing as soon as she arrived. But now she was checking out the effect of the more risque garment. The lower half of the dress was also a little small and fit her like a second skin, clinging to her bottom and thighs and ending not half way to her knees. Added to this was enough heavy makeup to cause her, in her own eyes, to appear much older. (Actually by the time she became older, she would realize that young women should not wear anywhere near that much.)
As she stood appraising herself in the old mirror, Jennifer’s conscious mind was telling her how sexy and sophisticated she looked, but at the same time, deep down inside somewhere, she was at least a little uncomfortably aware that the effect was overdone - way, way overdone. She remained critically examining herself and in the mirror her mind formed the image of Jimmy - she had now attached a name to the imaginary personality of her internal sounding board. Of course, the mental image of Jimmy was exactly what Jennifer would want for her closest male friend - taller than she was, strong, tanned with light brown wavy hair and azure blue eyes. In the mirror of her mind she now saw him examining her critically, a slight frown on his face. Trying to put the subversive thoughts aside, she asked, “Well, Jimmy, am I a hot fox or am I a hot fox?”
But instead of the reassurance she was seeking, the image seemed to answer, “You don’t need this to be hot, Jennifer. You are a naturally beautiful girl. Don’t try to hide it as something you’re not. Any boy who needs all this to think you are pretty isn’t worth being around.”
Unhappy with the answer her mind was supplying, Jennifer violently shook her head back and forth and responded, “What do you know, Jimmy? You’re just an old mirror.” Then she spun around on her heel and, without another glance at the mirror, set about changing her bra before walking out of the room.
There were about twenty or twenty-five people at the party so even though the rec room was fairly large, it was pretty crowded inside. There was a lot of loud music and noise and even though the party was chaperoned, the two adults couldn’t see everywhere at once. Tom was, not surprisingly, much sought after with several of the girls trying to dance with him and get his attention. Unfortunately, Tom had also succumbed early on to the disease which infects so many school athletes: he felt he was above rules and could do whatever he wanted. The world, after all, was his, so he could have whatever he felt he had coming. Jennifer noticed a couple of times when she saw him dancing with another girl that when the chaperones were looking elsewhere, he managed to grab a feel, tightly cupping a buttock or clasping a breast in his hand. Although the girls looked a little uncomfortable with these maneuvers, they seemed to not fight it and allowed Tom to continue.
When Jennifer finally got to have a close dance with Tom, he quickly settled a hand over her left breast and began to roll her nipple through her dress. Jennifer pulled his hand away and told him, “No, Tom. Definitely not here and now.” A minute later he tried again and this time Jennifer had to be a little more forceful in stopping him. So instead he grabbed her bottom in both hands and pulled her tightly against himself. This time Jennifer stopped and pulled back and said, “I told you ‘No’. Let’s just dance.”
But Tom didn’t start dancing again. Instead he looked down at her and said, “Forget it, you frigid bitch,” and turned his back on her and went over to one of the girls who had been letting him feel her up earlier.
Jennifer held back her tears and managed to put on a front for another half hour before she left the party and went home. As she came in, her mother called out, “How was the party, Honey?”
Forcing a sort of smile into her voice, Jennifer replied, “Oh, OK. Nothing special,” and then went on into her room. Once inside she looked at herself in the mirror and this time she saw things for more nearly what they were. A single tear ran from the corner of her right eye, leaving a trail in the heavy makeup. It was quickly followed by more as Jennifer stood there, crying silently. She had wanted Tom so much, but she just couldn’t be what he seemed to want. She didn’t WANT to be that. Surely she didn’t have to give up all her self respect to be liked.
As she stood with the silent tears running down her cheeks, the image in the mirror was overlaid with that of Jimmy, a sympathetic look on his face. “I told you you didn’t have to be like that. He isn’t worth it, Jen. And he’s not the only one out there. You are a beautiful, lovable girl and you will find a guy out there who will be happy with what you are. Trust me.”
Somehow the words in her mind seemed to comfort her and Jennifer began to calm down. She went into the bathroom and washed the makeup from her skin. The dress was hung in the back of her closet - she knew she would never wear it again. At last, dressed for bed, she stopped in front of the mirror again. Once more Jimmy’s image appeared and said, “Much better. A beautiful, wonderful girl. I would grab you up in a second.”
His words washed the last of the lingering hurt from her and Jennifer smiled and whispered back to the mirror. “Thank you, Jim. I guess I can wait a while longer.”
Prom night. Jennifer was a senior, about to graduate and leave high school behind, and tonight was the last big function before graduation. Jennifer did another twirl in front of the old mirror. The formal was a lovely shade of dark blue and highlighted Jennifer’s figure superbly. Her long blonde hair was arranged high on her head adding to her five eight height and accenting the long, smooth length of her neck. “Well, Jim, will I do?” she asked her alter ego in the mirror.
The visualized image subjected her to a long scrutiny and slowly the reply came, “You certainly will. You are truly lovely, Jen. A beautiful girl.”
Jennifer smiled, the expression lighting her face like direct sunlight. “Why thank you, sir,” she replied out loud. “I’m really glad you think so.” She adjusted the dress slightly, picked up a small evening bag, blew a kiss to the image of Jim she had formed in the mirror, and turned to go downstairs.