Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Tell Me Who I Am.
Usually people come to accept the face they have to live with. Heck, some people are so painfully aware that they have perfect features that they flaunt it shamelessly; chemicals clinging on to their hair and makeup accenting cheekbones, puckering up lips and turning pale cheeks to rosebud blushes. Everyone comes to terms with their face. Everyone except me. Every time I look into the mirror, all I see is a monster, all I see is someone that I hate, and all I ever see when I look into a mirror is blood and a cruel smile.
Even in the suburb I live in, people steer clear of me like the plague, avoiding eye contact or physical contact. But I hear them whispering, even after all these years. "That's the boy?" "Yes, that's him. Shouldn't be allowed outside, that one. Just the same, I would think." "Wonder if it runs in the family?" "Of course it does!" I just put my hands into my pockets and walk faster back home. I don't go to the library, I don't go to the movies, and I don't even go to the shopping mall. I spend my time at home with the curtain drawn, shut off from the world. Half protecting myself from them, half protecting them from me.
My mum came into my bedroom on the morning that I was supposed to start school again and sat on my bed next to me. I was already awake; I hadn't even bothered trying to fall asleep the night before. "John," my mum said softly, "I know you're scared-" "I'm not afraid," I said, cutting through her, trying to convince myself that I wasn't actually scared, but she continued. "I know you're scared, but it wasn't your fault." She put her hand softly on my hair and stroked it with her thumb. I looked up at her and she gave me a smile. I turned and rested my head on her lap, breathing in her scent, my hands clutching at her nightgown. "I'm scared," I whispered and I felt her bend down and kiss the top of my head. "Oh, my sweet boy," she said and held onto me, "You're not him."
I got up and had a shower and after brushing my teeth, I looked in the mirror and sighed. "You are not him," I said and looked at my reflection in the mirror. Yes you are, the mirror seemed to say back to me and I looked away. I got out of the bathroom and changed before I went back to the bathroom mirror and looked at myself again. "You are NOT him," I said defiantly to the mirror again and my reflection just laughed at me. Yes you are, it said and I slammed my fist into the wall next to the mirror. I stormed out of the bathroom, my ear ringing with phantom laughter.
My dad drove me to school; we were quiet the whole way through, the silence piercing every fiber of my being. When we pulled up to the school, I suddenly had a flash of screaming students and police cars and I turned away, closing my eyes a moment. My dad's eyebrows knit together and he put his hand on my shoulder, strong and secure as always. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to, John," he said but I quickly shook my head. "I'm not letting him win this," I said and he nodded. I opened the door but my dad caught my hand and I looked at him. For the first time since the incident, he looked broken and vulnerable. "Be brave, son," he said and I reached in to hug him. "I will," I said and smiled at him.
But saying something and actually doing it are two very different things.
The moment I stepped into school, I felt the stares and I heard the whole school grow silent as if it were a graveyard. The students stopped talking and each and every eye was set on me. I stopped, on the precipice of giving up and running back home, but I knew that if I did that, he would win. So I mustered up what courage I had and I put one foot in front of the other. I walked through the crowds of students, staring at me, whispering about me and some even giving me the look that meant "You're not welcome here." I hurried to my locker and opened it, staring into the dimness and willing myself to breathe again. Slowly my breathe returned and I sighed. This is going to be harder than I thought it would be.
I got my books out and turned to walk to class and I bumped into the group of friends that I used to hang out with. "Hey guys," I said to them and smiled, but they looked at me with an expression mixed with sadness, disgust and coldness. One by one, they pushed past me and left me standing there feeling more alone that I had felt since the incident. I walked fast to class and sat behind, avoiding eye contact and huddling down in the seat. Mr. Michael Benjamin was scheduled to teach my class but when he rolled in on a wheelchair, my heart sank to my feet and I had to fight the urge to not throw up. He had been a runner and had loved competing in the state competitions and was my favorite teacher. He set his briefcase down and gave the class a once over. When his eyes laid on me, they flashed and I looked away, not wanting to see the judgment in his eyes. Already, some of the students were shooting me looks and some scowled.
"As most of you have hopefully realized," Mr. Benjamin said, "I'm not quite as capable as I used to be to reach the top of the board." Another round of angry looks set on me. "So I'll be asking one of you to help me with writing out notes. Alright?" he asked and one of girls put up their hands. "Yes?" he asked and the girl said, "Why don't you ask the one that took your legs away for help, huh?" I winced and Mr. Benjamin glanced at me before looking at the girl and then to the whole class. "I know that many of you see Mr. Harris as the culprit of what happened here last year," he said, "But HE is NOT the one that did this to me. Do I make myself clear? And I will not tolerate any kind of degradation done to John." I stared at him along with the rest of the class, slightly embarrassed, but mostly shocked out of my pants. How could he say that? How could he defend me like that? How could he even look at me?
When his class let out, I waited for the rest of the students to walk out and I went up to his desk. "Mr. Benjamin?" I said quietly and he looked up and smiled at me. "What can I do for you, John?" he asked and I looked down. "Why did you defend me?" I asked and he looked confused for a minute before I wheeled his chair out from the desk and up to me. "John, sit down would you?" he asked and I sunk into the nearest chair. "I defended you," he said, "Because it was the right thing to do." I looked at him and then at the table in front of me. "I didn't deserve that," I said and he smiled at me. "We usually think that we don't deserve the things that happen to us, John. But life has a way of showing us just how much we need it," he said and I looked at him with tears welling up in my eyes. Mr. Benjamin shook his head at me and sighed, "People aren't going to understand this now, John. And there's nothing you can do about it. You have to give them time to come to terms with what has happened." I nodded and he smiled at me again. "If you need someone to talk to, I'm here for you okay?" he said and I nodded.
I walked out of his class and to the cafeteria, thinking about what he had said and I didn't realize that people were staring at me all the way. When I got in line for lunch, I suddenly was brought back to reality by a feeling that someone was talking to me. I blinked a few times and then my heart clenched up when I realized who was talking to me. "So, you think you can just come back here like nothing happened?" he said and I looked up at him. There still were circles under his eyes and they looked a little puffy, but they were filled with anger. The star jock had lost his sister and his girlfriend in the incident. "I'm talking to you, asshole!" he said and grabbed my throat, cutting off the air to my lungs. I gasped and grabbed at his hand, so much bigger than mine and tried desperately to get out of his hold. "You think you can take my Clara and Marie away from me and think that I'm NOT going to kill you?" he said and I saw that even through his rage, there were tears rolling down his cheeks. "I-…m s-so..rry…" I choked out and his hand tightened even more. "You better fucking well BE sorry!" he shouted. By that time the whole cafeteria was staring at the both of us, but nobody was doing anything.
The world was slowly going black when suddenly I felt his hand release and I fell, coughing and wheezing as the oxygen returned to my body. I looked up and saw someone that I didn't recognize standing between us. "Back off," he said and the jock went up to his face and said, "Do you know what that piece of shit did?" The guy folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. "I know what he DIDN'T do," he said, "I know that he didn't murder anyone, I know he was trying to save everyone and I know that HE is not guilty of anything." I passed out then.
When I came to, I was in the nurse's office and I was lying on one of the beds. The guy was in the other room, talking to the nurse animatedly, recounting what happened and the nurse shook her head, a silent sigh escaping her lips. The guy looked at me and saw me awake, so he walked in and smiled at me a lopsided smile. "Hey, how're you feeling?" he asked and I realized that my throat hurt like crazy and when I spoke, it came out in a painful whisper. "Th-oat… hu-ts…" I whispered and he nodded. "Don't worry, it's just a bruise and the nurse said that you'll be singing in no time," I said and sat down next to me. "Who're… yo..u?" I asked and he started. "Right sorry, I'm Tyler. Tyler Keith," he said. I sat up from the bed and looked at him. I definitely hadn't seen him before in school. "Hav'n..t seen… you.. b'fore," I said and he nodded. "I'm a transfer," he said, "This is my first day here."
Before I got to continue, I heard someone calling me and I recognized the voice. "John? John!" I heard my mum call out and before I knew it, I was being hugged by her and she was checking my neck. There was a nasty bruise that and I could see her on the verge of tears. "Oh, Johnnie, I'm so sorry about this," she said and hugged me again. "N-Not… your fault," I said and she kissed my forehead before realizing that there was someone else in the room. She turned and looked at Tyler sitting there and she was suddenly angry. "YOU did this to him?!" she said furiously and Tyler put up his hands in surrender and backed up. "No ma'am, I carried him here," he said and then it struck me that Tyler had probably carried me from the cafeteria to the nurse's office. Which was at either ends of the school. Great.
I stood up and put a hand on my mum's shoulder. "He… Saved me," I said and she looked at me and then to him, her anger deflating. Suddenly she was hugging Tyler and I almost laughed at Tyler's shocked expression. He hugged her back awkwardly and when she released him, she said, "Thank you." He nodded and smiled, "He was in trouble and I don't like people getting hurt."
After that, Tyler and I became fast friends and everything seemed manageable. The looks, the whispers, the comments and even the time someone had stuffed my locker full of bullets. Tyler was there for me through it all and not once did he judge me for my twitches or when I would cave in and "turn off" as he would say. He defended me when people called me murdered or a crazy person and not once did he care that they were talking behind his back either. I had asked him once, when we were sitting on the bleachers eating our lunches, whether he minded not having many other friends and he had smirked at me and taken a bite of my sandwich. As he munched on it, he said, "I'd rather have one honest friend than a hundred dishonest ones." I didn't tell him this, but secretly I just wanted to hug him right then.
And so this was how I spent the school year, having my lunches on the bleachers and avoiding people's eye contact the hallways. Getting beaten up behind the school by the jocks and laughing it off with Tyler as he cleaned my face up. Reading Paolo Coelho and watching Singing in the Rain, but never going to the library or the movies. I thought that everything was slowly being forgotten, even though people still looked at me in anger, it didn't seem so bad anymore. Even though the jocks would beat me up on a weekly basis and there were even a few times that I needed stitches, their punches didn't hurt as badly.
But there was still one problem: I couldn't stand to look myself in the mirror. Tyler had asked me one day why that was, but I couldn't tell him why. Not without opening a whole can of worms that really didn't need to be opened. So I told him I would tell him one day and he accepted it. Every day I stood in front of my mirror in the bathroom and I chanted the same chant, "You are not him, you are not him, you are not him," and every day, the mirror would say back, yes you are, yes you are, and yes you are. And every day, Tyler knocked on my front door and we walked to school together.
One night when I was lying on my bed, I heard a knock on the door and my mum came in. She sat on the bed next to me and I turned, hugging her waist. "Tomorrow's your birthday," she said and I nodded. "Want anything special?" she said and I thought about it, going over a list I had made in my mind, but there was only one thing that seemed to stand out. "I want to see him," I said and I felt my mum's body tense up slightly. "Are you sure?" she said and I nodded. "I want to see him," I said more confidently and she sighed, "Alright love."
The next day I woke up with a heavy heart. Today was the one year anniversary of the incident and I shuddered to think what would happen when I stepped into school that morning. I had talked to Tyler about today, so when I answered the door that morning, I was a little confused by the smile on his face. "C'mon, I have a surprise," he said and took me by the hand, running out of my house and dragging me along at the same time. We ran into town and I suddenly stopped, not going further. He came to a halt and looked at me. "C'mon!" he said and I shook my head. "Where are we going, Ty?" I asked and he smiled. "Today is your birthday and you have the right to ditch school and do whatever you want to," he said and my heart skipped a few beats. "Ditch… School?" I said slowly and he laughed. "Yeah, you know where we DON'T sit through boring classes and mundane facts? Have a little fun?" he said, shaking his hips a little and I couldn't help but smile, giving in to him. "I have to be home by three, deal?" I said and he nodded.
We ended up going to the forest trails nearby and by the time noon came around, we were making our way up the hill. We talked and laughed all the way up, chatting about Tyler's crazy family and how my dad made walrus impersonations when he was drunk and by the time we got to the top of the hill, I was feeling good, my spirits soaring. The top of the hill was surrounded by trees and there was a lake in the middle of it, a small yet deep one. I shielded my eyes from the sunlight, looking around at the scenery and then my blood froze as I saw Tyler starting to strip. "What're you doing?" I asked hesitantly and he laughed. "Trust me, birthday boy," he said as he pulled off his pants and walked up to me bare-chested, with a smirk on his face. "Trust me," he said and I looked at him uncertainly before starting to take off my own clothes. His smirk widened and he turned, ran and jumped into the lake. I wasn't big on swimming, but the water looked cool and Tyler had obviously planned something, so I didn't want to disappoint him.
I gingerly crept into the lake, the cold sending shivers up my spine and I shouted when Tyler threw water on me, laughing at the same time. "C'mon you cat, the water is fine," he said and I narrowed my eyes at him before I jumped in fully, letting the water cool me down after the walk up. I surfaced and saw Tyler floating a few feet away, eyes closed and arms stretched out, so I swam up to him and he smiled. "So this good for you so far?" he asked and I floated next to him and thought about it. "This is perfect," I said and his smile widened. "Good," he said.
Tyler looked at me and got up, using his legs to keep him afloat and he pulled me to him, hugging me and I hugged him back. "Happy birthday," he said and I smiled into his shoulder. "Thank you for doing this for me," I said and he let go of me, smirking again. "You're welcome," he said and began to float again, lazily and without direction. Later when we were dying off on the bank of the lake, I sighed and looked at the sky. "You want to know why I don't have many mirrors in my house, right." I said, to taking my eyes off the sky and I felt Tyler get up and lays his head on my chest, letting his arm flop across my stomach and I smiled and shook my head. "Yes," he said and I sighed.
"My brother and I are twins," I began, "His name is James. We're identical twins and for a long time, we were exactly alike." Tyler began to play with a blade of grass next to me and I put my arm under my head. "We shared everything, not only a room and shoe size, but our thoughts and feelings. We didn't have to speak but I knew everything he needed and wanted. I didn't have to say anything and he would know what I was feeling. We were like the same person and everything was perfect." My eyebrows knit together a little and I sighed. "Then something changed and he stopped talking to me. I don't know what happened and I don't know what I did wrong, but we stopped Seeing Eye to eye and sometimes he just seemed like a different person."
Tyler glanced at my hand and saw that it was quivering a little and he put his over it. "You don't have to continue if you don't want to," he said but I shook my head. "You have a right to know," I said and composed myself, "One night I was sleeping and he woke me up. He told me to not go to school the next day. I asked him why, but he wouldn't tell me. He told me that he would explain everything when he came back. He told me that everything would be okay and then he kissed me on my forehead and climbed out the window." I held on to Tyler's hand and he smiled at me. "The next day I stayed home, but suddenly something told me that I had to be at the school. So I ran. I ran to the school just in time to hear the first gunshot."
Tyler's eyebrows knit together and he got up, looking at me with a confused expression. "Gunshot…?" I nodded and turned away from him. "My brother shot down 24 students, the school janitor and 2 teachers that day," I said. "I tried to get in to stop him, but he had locked the doors, so I banged on the front doors, screaming for him to stop. Pleading with a ghost to come to his senses." I closed my eyes and I felt tears running down the crook of my nose, falling onto the grass. "Wh-When he came out of the school, he was covered in blood and he smiled at me and said, "I did it, Johnnie. I got those bastards." He hugged me and walked down the steps of the school to the police officers who arrived there and went into custody," I said and I felt Tyler's arms scoop me up and he lay down on the grass again, this time with me on his chest and he held me close. I cried into his chest and he didn't say anything. "Th-the reason why I can't look into the mirror is because all I see is his face, smiling at me, blood-stained and maniacal. Every time I see my reflection, all I see is my brother."
Tyler stroked my hair and said quietly, "You wanna know why you see your brother?" I looked up at him and nodded a little. Tyler looked out to the pond and said in a voice that I hadn't heard before: soft and wise in contrast to the loud, confident guy he usually was. "You blame yourself for what your brother did. You ask yourself whether you could have stopped him. You ask yourself why you didn't tell someone about it. You blame yourself for not showing him that you care more. You see yourself and see his mistake. And that's not something you should be doing, John." Tyler looked down at me and smiled softly. "You didn't pull the trigger, John. You didn't kill those people. You didn't buy the gun or lock the school doors. You were the one banging on the school doors to stop him. You were the one that tried to save him. You're the one enduring the burden of his mistake and you're the one fighting yourself every day."
Tyler leaned down and hugged me and said, "You aren't in the wrong, John. You didn't do anything and you don't deserve what you see yourself as in the mirror. You're a beautiful person, if only you could see what I see when I look at you." I looked up at Tyler and I began to cry again, sobbing and crying out, letting all my pent up emotions flow like a river. I cried and sobbed until there was nothing left and I felt like something had been lifted off me.
For the first time since my brother had entered prison, I felt free.
Later that day, Tyler and I walked back to my house and at the door; he hugged me again and smirked at me before he left. I went inside and showered before my mum and I got into her car and we drove out of town to the juvenile prison that was just outside town. We signed in and the guard looked at me curiously, obviously placing my face as one of the inmates here. I smiled at him and he nodded at me before we went in. My mum waited outside to give us our time and when I went in, there, sitting at the far of the room was my brother. We were always alike, down to our hairstyles, but now, everything was different. Where I had a shaggy head of hair, his was shaven off. His arms were covered in various tattoos and scars and there were deep circles under his eyes. We were twins, but he looked a thousand years older than I did.
He smiled at me when I sat down and I gave him a small smile. "Hey there little brother," he said and my eyes narrowed. "I'm only two minutes later, you know," I said and he shrugged before taking out a cigarette and lighting it. I wasn't surprised by this; then again, nothing he did surprised me much anymore. I looked at him and said, "How have you been?" He took a long drag from the cigarette and blew out the smoke. "Been better," he said and I nodded. "And yourself?" he asked and I shrugged slightly. "I'm doing good," I said and he nodded. "I came to ask you something, James," I said and he raised one of his eyebrows. "Shoot," he said and I looked down at my hands. "Tell me James… Tell me why," I asked him and looked at him sadly, "Tell me why you did it."
He sighed and put out the cigarette. "Because it felt good and because those people needed to die," he said and my brows knit together. "Why?" I asked, "What could they have done to make you act that way?" "They were calling you a faggot, John," he shouted and everything stopped, the silence panning out. "Wh-what?" I said and he sighed and looked out the window. "All those people I killed had called you a faggot, gay, buttfucker, everything under the sun at one point or another and they had to die because no one fucks around with you, John. Not you," he said and I was taken aback. "But you didn't have… to kill them, James," I said, tears welling up in my eyes and he scowled at me. "Yes I had to, Johnnie. They didn't deserve to live," he said. I got up from my seat slowly and went over to him. I sat down next to him and hugged him. He buried his head in my shoulder and I kissed him on the cheek. "I love you," I said and he smiled at me. "I love you too, little brother," he said.
James cocked an eyebrow and smirked at me. "You found someone, haven't you?" he said and I flushed a little. He chuckled and shook his head. "Who is it?" he asked and I cleared my throat. "His name is Tyler," I said and James shook his head. "So I guess I killed those people for nothing, huh?" he said and I shook my head. "You did what you did because you wanted to protect me. And that's not wrong," then I caught myself, "Well, I mean killing those people was wrong, yeah, but I understand why you did it." James smiled at me and for that moment, we were brother's again, young and full of life.
Just then the guard came in and told us that our time was up. We stood up and I hugged him again and he smiled at me. "Happy birthday, John," he said and I smiled at him and said "Happy birthday, James."
I walked out of the prison with my mum and she held my hand. I looked at her and she smiled at me. "You okay, hon?" she asked and I nodded at her. "I'm okay," I said, and for the first time in months, I truly meant that.
Back at home, I looked at my mirror again and I smiled at my reflection. "My name is John Harris," I said, "And my brother killed people. My name is John Harris, and I love my brother because he gave up his life for me."
The mirror seemed to smile back at me and I felt happy. "My name is John Harris, and I am my brother and he is me."
Suddenly my door opened and a doctor came in with a nurse in tow. "Son, it's time for your injections," he said and I shook my head. "I'm okay today," I said and I looked at my reflection in the glass, "We're okay today." I looked at my reflection in the mirror and I began to laugh as the doctor held on to me and pushed the liquid into my veins.
Before I passed out, I heard the doctor say to the nurse, "His other personalities are getting stronger. John Harris seems to be taking over." He sighed as my vision blurred, "We might never see original personality again."