My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at forty-six. After a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, she had several “good” years, and we thought she had beaten it. But then another malignancy appeared, which meant more surgery, more chemo, and more radiation. The cancer was spreading.

One day, my mother asked if I’d help her shop for a wig. The request startled me: Mom’s hair was beautiful — silver and thick — and she hadn’t lost any of it during her prior treatments. But she knew these next bouts of chemo and radiation would be even more intense, and would most likely lead to hair loss.

She asked me to take care of the arrangements. Trying not to appear rattled, I dug out the Yellow Pages and looked under “Wigs and Hairpieces.” Most of the listings sounded too glitzy or ditzy: Audrey’s Elements of Style, Lori’s Fashion Wigs (“Featuring the Eva Gabor Professional Collection”), and even — God forbid — Love That Hair. A couple of ads, however, specifically mentioned cancer patients (one even advertised “chemo discounts”). I picked the least offensive of these, called, and found out we didn’t need an appointment. My mother and I immediately set out.

We found the place, a small brick shop with a flashing pink neon sign, and smiled encouragingly at one another before walking in. My heart sank, however, when a saleswoman named Muriel greeted us, looking a lot like my Great-aunt Jessie, a bossy woman my mother and I had never liked. Muriel’s own gray hair was way too big — you’d think someone who worked in a wig salon could do better — and she wore a pink polyester smock and sparkly blue cat’s-eye glasses. “I know this is hard, honey,” she said, taking my mother’s coat and leading her to a pink naugahyde chair in front of a huge mirror. I hated her.

I sat in a folding chair behind my mother while Muriel brought out several wigs for Mom to try on, babbling “dearie” this and “sweetie” that. I caught my mother’s eye in the mirror and raised an eyebrow to subtly ask if she’d rather get up and leave. A barely perceptible shake of her head told me she wanted to get it over with, that this was just the latest in the never-ending series of cancer trials to be survived.

When Muriel placed the first wig on Mom’s head, tears began to stream down my mother’s face. As Muriel yanked and tucked and combed wig after wig, I tried not to appear horrified. They all looked like wigs. None of them looked like my mother’s hair.

After trying on seven or eight, Mom kept going back to one — pulling on it, adjusting it, trying to imagine actually wearing it. It was better than the others, but it still looked unnatural. Finally, not trusting the mirror, Mom turned the pink chair around, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “I want your honest opinion, Terry. What do you think?”

“It’s not bad at all, Mom,” I said. “Nobody will even be able to tell.”

Terry Martin
Yakima, Washington

My Aunt Ruby brought a jug of homemade blackberry wine to the Fourth of July barbecue. Thanks to the prolific vines that covered her back yard fence, we’d been treated so far to blackberry cobbler, pie, jam, and even blackberry muffins, her own creation. But wine?

As a young woman, Ruby had been a fun-loving nonconformist who smoked, wore red fingernail polish, and dated a procession of zoot-suited young men. It wasn’t unusual for her to stay out all night playing poker with the boys. When she won, she would tiptoe into my room and quietly slip a few dollars under my pillow. She was my role model. But I had seen my parents frown and shake their heads over her behavior, so I kept quiet about my admiration.

Then, about twenty years ago, my aunt got religion. She joined a fundamentalist church and was “born again.” Thereafter, she attended church three days a week — twice on Sunday — and stopped drinking, gambling, smoking, and, as far as I could tell, doing anything else that might be fun.

Yet this same woman was now out in my back yard, circulating among my guests, pouring samples of the wine she had made from a Prohibition-era recipe that had languished for years at the bottom of a box. She must have been sipping some herself, because she soon swaggered over to where a group was playing penny-ante poker and said, “Deal me in! I’ll teach you amateurs how to play.” Before long, Aunt Ruby had a can of beer in her hand, a cigarette dangling from her lips, and neat piles of money on the table before her.

Later, I was in the dining room cutting cakes and arranging desserts when Aunt Ruby walked in. Her eyes twinkling, she told me she’d won all the money, and now couldn’t find any more suckers willing to play with her. Suddenly she said, “Hello. Who’s that woman?” We were the only people in the room. She was looking at her own reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror.

Thinking it was a joke, I said, “I don’t know, Aunt Ruby, but she has on a jacket just like yours.”

“Well, she’d better get out of my way,” Ruby said, “because the dessert looks better on that other table” — the one in the mirror — “and I’m going to get me some.”

And with that, my eighty-year-old, Bible-thumping aunt proceeded to have a shoving match with the woman in the mirror. She even got off a few one-liners from her carousing days before giving up the fight.

Finally, turning to me with great dignity, Aunt Ruby carefully smoothed her clothing and said, “I think I’ll have just a bit of that peach cobbler, baby.”

That was five years ago. We’ve never discussed what happened that afternoon. I know my aunt remembers, though, because since that day she has not made blackberry anything, nor has she set foot in my dining room.

Name Withheld

I was a gawky fourteen-year-old when my oldest sister moved out to an apartment and, for the first time in my life, I got my own room. The only furniture was my bed and my great-grandmother’s bureau. Even with the new bedspread and window treatments I picked out, the room was not romantic enough for me. I longed for furniture that had stories to tell.

After my Great-aunt Lu passed away, her son Harold was cleaning out her house one day, and my mother and I went to select a keepsake or two. I had always adored going to visit Lu; without fail, she’d have a handmade toy for each of us children. Her house was a magical place.

Harold let us in and led us upstairs, where I had never been. I’d always imagined it to be filled with toys, but to my surprise there was only a simple bedroom with an old-fashioned double bed, a desk, and a vanity. Harold offered us anything we wanted. I was entranced by the vanity, complete with velvet-covered stool. When I sat down at it, I was not a scraggly teenager, too tall and too thin, but a beautiful woman with a flirtatious smile. I didn’t even have to ask for the vanity; Harold just helped me carry it to the car.

That night, before bed, I could not resist putting on a nightgown, rather than my usual T-shirt. I sat at the vanity, lit a candle, and brushed my hair the way the women in my favorite books did. As the candlelight danced in the old mirror, I leaned on my elbows and gazed at my reflection, hoping to find my true self in the glass. I saw my almond-shaped eyes, my freckles (a family trait), my perfectly straight teeth. As I looked, I realized I was not homely, but rather was verging on pretty.

I learned to wear makeup in front of that mirror, and searched in it for something new in my eyes after I lost my virginity. I sat before it and cried over boys who didn’t deserve my tears, and I adjusted my wedding veil there. Now, when I look in that mirror, I search for signs of age, wondering how so much time could have passed without my noticing.

Beverly Army Gillen
Verplanck, New York

The baby-grand piano was so polished I could see my fingers reflected in its gleaming ebony casing. The piano and bench were squeezed into a small alcove with eight-foot-high mirrors on all three sides. A fourth mirror ran the entire length of the bar opposite me. The bartender’s bald head shone, and spotlights bounced off the chrome pourers atop the dozens of bottles. Perhaps, to someone sitting on the red-leather banquettes, the mirrors made my alcove seem less tiny (I had to climb under the piano to reach the bench), but to me it felt even more crowded, as if I were surrounded by a dozen pianos, with a dozen pianists, all playing the same tune.

This was the Thoroughbred Lounge, located two short blocks from Santa Anita Racetrack. Each afternoon, the bar went from empty to full within fifteen minutes of the last race. The clientele was older — much older. Often no one in the bar was under the age of sixty, except me. I was twenty-five, hired to play songs from the stacks of sheet music stored in the piano bench, most of them written decades before I was born.

The men were bald, paunchy, rumpled, and a little desperate. They wore checked sport coats with rolled-up racing forms stuffed in their breast pockets. The women wore wigs, gaudy jewelry, and shoulder-padded dresses. They chain-smoked, sipped white wine, and called out requests to me in raspy voices: “Hon, can you play ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’? Thanks, doll.”

I’d played piano in singles bars before, just never exclusively for people more than twice my age. But lonely people were lonely people, whatever their generation. Besides, they were nice, and they tipped well. As the weeks passed, it became less and less strange to see someone’s grandfather flirting with someone else’s grandmother. They made passes just like everyone else, with just as much ego on the line. Their conversations were about horses and jockeys, ex-husbands and ex-wives, jackpots and losses, all larger than life, all memorable.

I sat in my mirrored alcove and played fox trots and rhumbas, beguines and mambos. Two people, each coming off a disheartening day at the track, might meet, talk, drink, flirt, buy the pianist a Jack Daniel’s, request a tune by Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hart, take their first shy dance together, order another round (plus another for the pianist), ask for a song made famous by Jack Teagarden or Bix Beiderbecke, tell an old joke and laugh loudly, inquire about champagne, move on to Basie or Ellington, and sooner or later wind up “In the Mood.” And as the evening ended with her head on his shoulder, it was “Stardust” — always “Stardust,” the most beautiful melody of them all.

Douglas A. Konecky
San Francisco, California

The sight of my mother’s naked body is a shock. I feel like an intruder in sacred, forbidden territory. Despite both our ages, I have never seen my mother without clothes before. Always modest and protective of her privacy, she is now dependent upon me to help her bathe.

Looking at her, I think of my own mortality. (How could I not? The disease — Alzheimer’s — is in part genetic.) Her sagging skin hangs in thin folds on her fragile frame, with no muscle between flesh and bone. Spidery deep purple veins crawl over her thighs, calves, and ankles. Her toenails are thick and yellowed and in dire need of a trim, yet her fingernails are perfectly manicured. (The disease randomly extracts information from the brain; the instructions for filing fingernails remain intact, for now.) Her pink scalp shows through her thin white hair. Her small breasts droop like deflated balloons. Her distended abdomen protrudes above the water’s surface, and is hard to the touch. Most startling of all is the lack of pubic hair, making her genitals seem childlike.

My mother looks up at me with a confused expression. Pointing to the bar of soap on the edge of the tub, she asks, “What do I do with this?” I hand her a washcloth and show her how to use the soap. Given step-by-step instructions, she manages to go through the motions of bathing herself. I wash her back for her, gently massaging the spot near her left shoulder that has been the site of chronic pain for thirty years. She winces as I knead the tender area, tells me that it feels good and hurts at the same time. Unlike the rest of her, the skin of her humped back is soft and smooth.

I help her out of the tub, dry her shivering body, apply moisturizing lotion, and help her dress. We face the large mirror in the green bathroom of my childhood, ready for me to apply her makeup and style her hair. Though I have looked into this mirror thousands of times over the years, it feels like the first time we have stood here together. I see a fleeting hint of lucidity in my mother’s eyes as she stares at her reflection. I reach for the makeup, but she stops me. Continuing to stare, she pulls back the loose skin on either side of her face, and appears instantly younger. “What happened to me?” she says. “I must do something about this.”

I carefully apply makeup and style my mother’s hair the way she likes it. She seems to enjoy this; her face relaxes, and she closes her eyes. When I’m done, I tell her how pretty she looks. She lingers for a moment over her reflection, then tells me, “Yes, it’s good.”

Name Withheld

Once, almost thirty years ago, someone gave me mescaline and challenged me to try it, saying I was too uptight, too middle-class. I took it one winter night after the children were asleep, and almost immediately became nauseated and dizzy. I curled up in a corner of the couch, wrapped myself in a blanket, and lay there shivering and cursing the person who had given me this awful drug.

But after an hour or so, the sickness wore off. I began to notice how the lights of the Christmas tree were reflected in the wood floor; I’d never seen anything so beautiful. Looking out the window at the house lights on the snow, I was filled with wonder and delight. Everything inside my house was warm and friendly and gorgeous, while everything outside was cold and forbidding. As the hours passed, my hallucinations progressed to the point where I was seeing only an intense white light. I thought I was seeing God.

In the morning, I looked in the mirror. Though I’d always been unhappy with my appearance, I now saw a beautiful woman. She was perfect: not too fat, hair just right, nose not too long. I’d never seen this woman in the mirror before.

Now I look at photos of my younger self and think, Yes, she was beautiful, but only that one time did she know it.

Barbara Rehmann Seguin
Beloit, Wisconsin

I used to sit at the kitchen table and make faces in our toaster’s shiny stainless-steel surface. This bothered my stepfather so much — that I was looking at my reflection in an old toaster rather than at the amazing view of the mountain range outside our window — that he took the toaster away and made a new rule: I could take it out only to make toast, and I had to ask first.

When he caught me licking my lips obsessively, my stepfather told me they would turn brown and fall off if I didn’t stop. I ran to the bathroom mirror to search for signs of brown, and continued checking my lips every chance I got, until he told me that only vain people looked in the mirror as much as I did.

By the time I reached middle school, my self-confidence had hit an all-time low. I was taller than everyone else, my legs seemed too long, and nothing about my body looked the way it was supposed to. I hated mirrors and avoided them if I could. When he wasn’t out in the barn smoking pot because it “mellowed him out,” my stepfather was fighting with my mother. After their fights, he would throw open the door to my room and tell me I was an ugly, fat, lazy bitch, that I was good for nothing, and that I was too dumb to do anything with my life. I was convinced everything he said was true. Afterward, my mom would come in and lie in bed with me and we’d both cry until we fell asleep.

One night, my stepfather came home yelling the minute he got in the door. He told my mom she’d better get out into the hall so he could “kick her goddamn lazy ass.” I saw him go into Mom’s room, and heard them screaming insults at each other. Then I heard something large and heavy hit the wall. (Later, I found out it was my mother.) I ran and got the phone in case I needed to call the police. Back in my room, curled into a ball on my bed, I saw my stepfather backing down the hall past my door, followed closely by my mother, who was leveling a pistol at him.

After that, they got a divorce, and I began the slow process of regaining my self-esteem. I’m seventeen now, and I like who I am. I’m happy with my body, and know I’m smart enough to go as far as I want in life. The other day, I saw my little sister sitting at the table making faces in the toaster. I started to tell her that her face would stick that way, but instead I grabbed her in a bear hug and said, “I love you.”

Name Withheld

When I found out I had breast cancer, I was determined not to lose my breast. I wanted to remain symmetrical, whole. I’d always heard that women could choose between mastectomy and lumpectomy; then I learned I didn’t have a choice. Three months of aggressive chemotherapy hadn’t significantly shrunk the tumor. I would have to sacrifice my breast.

In the surgeon’s office was a mirror located at chest level. This was where I would first see the scar after my surgeon removed the dressing. Except I wasn’t going to look in that mirror — no way.

When the time came, though, I couldn’t stop myself. It was like trying not to put your tongue on a loose tooth. I looked.

It’s been three months since the surgery, and the scar is healing very well. I see it in the mirror at least twice a day, when I apply Saint John’s wort and chamomile oils. As mastectomy scars go (and I have seen quite a few among my new circle of friends), it’s a very good one, graceful and somewhat dynamic. My radiation oncologist even said, “My, he did get artistic.”

Still, I’d rather have my breast.

Kara Jacobs
Windsor, California

I was walking down the hallway of the residential hotel where I lived when I heard someone say, “Shorty, come here.” I looked over and saw an eyeball peeking out at me through the crack of a doorway. It was Mitch, a speed addict. He opened his door a bit wider and pulled me inside.

His room was dim; the lights were off and the heavy curtains were drawn tight, secured with thumbtacks at the corners. He was sweating and seemed agitated. He probably hadn’t slept in days. “What’s up?” I asked.

“It’s that mirror,” Mitch said. A full-length mirror was mounted lengthwise on the wall next to his bed. “There’s something going on with it. . . . Something just ain’t right.”

When I asked him to elaborate, he pursed his lips and shook his head, looking at the floor.

I didn’t really need an explanation. I’d experienced meth-induced psychosis plenty of times, and knew the tricks the mind can play when you’ve been too high for too long: maddening tricks of light and shadow, images flitting at the edge of your vision. Mirrors only make matters worse, with their illusion of depth and shifting perspective.

“So what do you want me to do, Mitch?” I asked. “Help you take the mirror off the wall so you can see there’s nothing behind it?”

“No, that’s OK,” he said. “I know there’s nothing behind it; it’s just . . .” His eyes kept darting around the room, lingering at the mirror and the dark corners. I offered to store the mirror in my room for a couple of days, but he declined.

We stood there a moment in the man-made twilight of his room; then I said I should be going. Mitch seemed anxious for me to stay, but unable to offer a valid reason why I should. As I stepped into the hallway, I told him I’d stop by again later. He thanked me distractedly. Before he closed the door, I saw his eyes being drawn back to the mirror, as if pulled by a string.

Jed Miller
Crescent City, California

My mother used to stare at herself in the mirror for hours, and with good reason: she was an actress, and her face was her livelihood. As a child, I would watch her reflection while she applied her makeup. First, she’d rub her face with cleansing cream, then gently wipe it away with a moistened cotton ball. Then she’d put on her foundation, a specially blended warm brown that matched her skin color. (She’d been unable to find the right color when she’d first arrived in Hollywood, so a movie makeup artist had created one for her.)

My mother peered intently at each feature of her face: the eyes that needed shading above the lid to widen them; the nose that required heavy shadowing on both sides to slim it; the forehead that was too pronounced no matter what she tried. Her hairpieces (“100 percent human hair”) had to fit exactly at her hairline, where a bit of her own hair was washed and ironed and curled up to blend into the wig.

I’d try to talk to her as she dabbed concealer under her eyes, but she never really listened. I wondered what she saw in that mirror that was so much more interesting than my stories. Now I know. She was dabbing face paint over her fears and insecurities, so that she could go out and do what no woman in her family had done before: have a career; gain respect; become powerful. But to me, that mirror was my competition. And it always won.

Today the way my mother has lived her life is written all over her face, and I pray she won’t listen to those voices telling her to get a face lift. She needs me now more than ever, but we still find it hard to talk.

Name Withheld

I am a beautiful young woman. My hips are gently curved, my breasts soft and round. My hair falls to my shoulders, and my hands are long and slim. I wear a light pink nail polish and soft pink lipstick. My warm, moist vulva lies hidden under a tiny shock of curly blond hair. Just the thought of a man’s touch makes my nipples grow hard.

But when I stand before the bathroom mirror, my reverie ended, I see an ugly old man. My hairy belly is much too fat. My flabby male breasts are a pale imitation of a woman’s. My penis has retracted into my scrotum. My beard is scraggly and gray. The smooth, taut skin of my bald head reflects the overhead light.

From the bedroom, my beloved wife of forty years calls, “Sweetheart, come to bed. It’s getting late.”

Name Withheld

Every Wednesday afternoon just before 4:30, I fill my water bottle, set up my step-aerobics bench, and wait for my exercise class to begin. I try to secure a spot where my view of the gym’s wall-length mirrors is unobstructed. Sometimes a latecomer squeezes in and blocks my view. The workout doesn’t feel quite right on those days.

As I exercise, I watch my knees rise and fall in rhythm with the other women’s. Though there are thirty of us moving in sync, my workout is essentially private: just me and the mirror. My body doesn’t let me down. I can trust it to hit the right spot on the bench in time to the music. I like watching my thighs moving to the beat, my biceps bulging as I lift the hand weights. For now, I forget that my body’s far from perfect, that I’m getting older, that I’m not skinny, that some of the other women are in better shape.

Five years ago, I would never have put on this outfit — tights and a sports bra — much less let anyone see me in it. When you use food to escape your troubles, your pain is written all over your body. My round face and double chin reminded me I was no good, and deserved to be abused. My big, flabby arms said I was disgusting, not entitled to respect. My expanding stomach proclaimed me unworthy of love.

But that was a long time ago, and since then my body has changed along with my outlook. Thinking back, it’s hard to say which started to change first. It’s a chicken-and-egg thing: the more I worked out, the more confidence I gained; and the more confident I was, the more I wanted to take care of my body. Regardless of which came first, the fact is I grew strong — inside and out. That’s what the gym mirrors remind me of every day.

About half an hour into the class, sweat pouring into my eyes, I blink at my blurry image in the mirror and whisper, I love you.

Osie Gabriel
Huntsville, Alabama

In San Juan Chamula, a town in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, a sky blue church presides over the drab town square. Inside, it’s dark, and the air is filled with the strange drone of prayers. The Tzotzil, longtime residents of the area, kneel on a stone floor strewn with pine boughs and soda bottles. Above, sunlight from a small window streams through the thick smoke from votive candles and incense. And near the altar, beneath a soot-darkened dome painted with the images of eagle, lion, bull, and panther, are the saints with their mirrors.

Over their plaster Spanish armor, the stern statues wear tunics of colorful yarn, red, yellow, and blue, like the shawls the native women wear. From the neck of each saint hangs a mirror framed in tin. Standing before the statue, you can see your face in the mirror resting on the saint’s chest. This, the Tzotzil say, is so that those who come to pray feel connected to the saints as they converse with them.

The Tzotzil are direct descendants of the Mayas. For five centuries, they have interwoven Catholicism with their old ways. There are crosses at the entrance to the village and on the surrounding hilltops, but the people honor a Mayan Christ who rose, blown by the four winds, to become the sun. In this church, Coca-Cola and orange Fanta take the place of Communion wine, and it is said that burping is a sign one’s prayers have been heard. During festivals, the town square is filled with chanting revelers, rum-drinking harpists, and masked horsemen. After the celebrations have run their course, the square seems lonely. Inside the Church of San Juan Chamula, a man with his hat in his hand examines his teeth in San Sebastian’s mirror, and then tells the saint what’s on his mind.

Alan Spindle
Chicago, Illinois

It was the mid-1980s. I’d recently been promoted to executive speechwriter and transferred from Manhattan to central New Jersey, just five miles from our home. Quite enjoying my climb up the corporate ladder, I’d begun reading Saab sales literature, and then some from BMW.

My new office was on “executive row.” Just a short walk away, down a long, oak-paneled corridor with soft, indirect lighting, was the executive washroom, complete with an electric shoe-buffer, cloth towels, and even a shower. But the most wonderful thing about the washroom experience was this: On the wall outside its heavy door hung a large, gilt-framed mirror. When I walked down the thick-carpeted corridor to the washroom, the mirror reflected me in all my glory. It was grand, watching myself march toward my executive pissoir in my Brooks Brothers pin-stripe suit and white-collared blue shirt.

It was grand, that is, until the day I went home unexpectedly for lunch and found my wife in bed with a good family friend. After that, the thought of my earlier pride and preening sickened me, and I found another, more utilitarian men’s room to use — one without a gilt-framed mirror outside its door.

Name Withheld

There are six mirrors in my small two-bedroom apartment, but they remain starved for reflection. In fact, I avoid them.

I don’t avoid mirrors just at home. For the past ten years I have shunned the corner of Legion and Franklin in downtown Olympia because a building there has a block-long row of silver reflective windows. Once, while driving past that building, I accidentally looked over and saw the full length of my filthy car on display, with me at the wheel, and I thought, Is nowhere safe?

So why, if I have this compulsive aversion to my own reflection, do I own six mirrors? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that I purchased most of them at garage sales and thrift stores, where I also bought my funky cups and glasses and mismatched plates. Although I can afford new things, I find them somewhat creepy, so pure and unscathed. I prefer the mystery of the secondhand. I like to imagine the families who consumed countless meals on those dishes before me — how well they got along, how much they loved each other. And maybe somewhere in the secret depths of my secondhand mirrors lives a woman who is pretty, thin, and normal, and who’s not afraid of her own reflection.

Karen McSwain
Olympia, Washington

When I was a kid, I used to beat myself up. My dad would beat me first, and then I would go into the bathroom to finish the job in front of the mirror. I’d punch my mouth until my lips split and bled. I’d hit my cheekbones and eyes until they were red and swollen, and would eventually turn a hideous black and blue. When my father saw my face and asked what the hell had happened, I would tell him I’d picked up where he’d left off. Then he would beat me again.

I used to take a sunlamp I’d stolen from the drugstore and hold it to my face until I was red and blistered. Later, the skin would turn brown and peel like a lizard’s hide. Sometimes I’d even take razor blades and make tiny cuts all over my face and body.

Now I’m an actor and procure work because people think I’m handsome. They say, “You must have led a charmed life to look the way you do.”

I rarely look in the mirror anymore, and when I do I am amazed the self-mutilation doesn’t show. There is only a small scar next to my right eye, where my brother hit me with a golf club, and another under my left, where Dad split my cheek open one night when he straddled me on the carpet and pounded my face.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window of a building, and I don’t know who that person is.

Mark D.
Hollywood, California

When I was a kid growing up in Colorado Springs, I saw Christ on the face of Pike’s Peak. I’d been tipped off to his presence by a letter in the local newspaper, and since our picture window was filled every day with the peak’s majesty, it wasn’t long before I made out the Savior’s snowy robe and outstretched arms.

Every New Year’s Eve especially, my eyes were drawn to him up there on the mountain. That’s when a club of eccentric climbers would scale the peak in order to set it aglow with fireworks at the stroke of midnight. On their way to the summit during the daylight hours, they would pause and raise hand mirrors to the sun, sending brilliant shards of light down upon us wretched mortals below.

I was the son of lower-middle-class alcoholics, and those rays of light emanating from the mountainous body of Christ felt like blessings on my dark little existence. In response, I’d stand in our sunny front window, holding up a heavy, wood-framed wall mirror to bounce the sunlight up onto the mountain’s face. The signals that came in return were like answers to a prayer. “We see you,” they said.

And when the new year finally arrived at midnight, Christ’s face, now only an imagined outline in the dark, was lit by a thousand glittering fireballs that exploded from the summit, drifted down, flickered, and died in the thin mountain air.

Denny Townsend
Boulder, Colorado