Every experience is a miniature big bang. Expanding outward away from the initial moment of combustion, moving further away from where it set motion. Creating endless possibilities, yet only one course of action. Memory is the recording of experience to tape. As each miniature bang blows one after another the earliest recordings are muted by sheer overabundance. When we watch the old reels, we find them pockmarked, full of holes. We patch the holes with the piecemeal tape on the cutting room floor. They’re not perfect, but they’re as close as we’re going to get.
Accessing memory is a performance. The act of remembering requires a honing in on the specifics of a past experience. This concentration allows us to re-enter the past moment. The moment is recalled scene by scene and acted out to the best of knowledge. It is a reproduction of what was once in the present, now in the past. Therefore memory is re-rehearsed each time it is recalled.
The re-enactment of memories creates a slow decay. When recalling a memory, we are actually recalling the last time that specific memory was reproduced. Each time a memory is performed it is liable to lose auxiliary details. A person has countless experiences each day, let alone throughout a lifetime. The act of performance is what stores a memory long term.
The auxiliary details are any extraneous information that takes away from the main narrative of a memory. The first time I stared into a mirror and became self-reflective takes place in my mind in two rooms in the same house. This is the likely result of me staring into many mirrors throughout my life and deconstructing my identity. When I recall the first time, it matters not where I was, all that matters is the impression the first experience had on me. The exact room I was in, age I was at the time, and clothes I was wearing are all auxiliary details to the original experience and are left on the cutting room floor.
The process of reproducing a memory need not be a large filmic production; it can also be quite brief. It’s as simple as putting a check on a mental list next to an experience. If I’m reminded of an experience and my mind agrees, “Yes that happened.” then my mind won’t have to run through the entire production. This is one way memories deteriorate and the mind falsifies auxiliary details to fill in the gaps of a memory. If we do not reproduce memories they will become less familiar and the more likely they will be erased or heavily distorted.
When auxiliary details are erased and filled back in by the mind memories develop a dreamlike quality. In a dream, environments that are familiar from waking life become unfamiliar and the dreamer accepts the change in environment without a shrug. For example, in a dream, it is perfectly acceptable to walk out of a childhood bedroom and into a movie theater. It is the same with distant memories. I can stand in two bedrooms simultaneously and cut my own hair without questioning the back and forth shifting of environments. The mind doesn’t need to question its own doings.
So then what even is a mirror? In antiquity, mirrors were made from solid sheets of bronze or silver and were prone to corrosion. For the last five hundred odd years, mirrors have been made by applying a metal coating to the backside of a piece of plate glass.
At their base, mirrors are carriers of light. They absorb it and bounce it back in new angles; left is right and right is left. Humans share this trait with the mirror. We are creatures of light. If our universe is truly traceable to a point of extreme density and heat, a point of combustion where all light was born, a point where all light surged away and spread itself across the universe, a point that set our cosmos in motion; then we are all decedents of light. Light, which pierces abyssal darkness and momentarily forces it away. This is our affinity to light and our aversion to darkness. We are like moths to flames. As carriers of the light, it is our nature to traverse the unknown and illuminate it. The light bearers won’t stand for unending darkness. As carriers, creatures, of the light, the ones who must blind darkness itself, our gift is in reinterpreting the light, making it our own and shinning it back into the void. Where left becomes right and right can become left.
Though mirrors are also carriers of light, they’re more reptilian than mammalian. They are kin with the lowly chameleon, the reptile who is incapable of an authentic self. Like a mirror, chameleons are only capable of replicating their surroundings. Then what happens when two mirrors, two chameleon-light-bearers, face one another? Imagine two mirrors pressed together at their wooden frames, holding a negative space between the two panes where all light escapes. Their lack of reflection is nothingness and in the darkness, the two become one with the lightlessness. Do they fail to function, or is this chameleon kiss, this lovers’ embrace drenched in dark, only meant for two? Mirrors are secret keepers. They’re cunning. They force us into their games and tell us nothing about themselves. In the negative space between the coated plate glass does the mirror take on any physicality? Is it possible to steal a glance? I know no way to shine, to sneak a spark onto their embrace without the two just chameling, reflecting that bulb, flame, or chemiluminescence.
Staring into a mirror disassociates my self from my body. My eyes, looking in and upon my self, see me as others do. If that figure in the frame is me, is it a separate part of me—a part of my self that I’ve yet to realize?
When I was a very small child my mother loved to watch the movie Ghost. It had come out the year after I was born and by the time she acquired the tape, it was rare that it left our VCR. She’s the kind of person who watches a movie, rewinds the tape, and watches it again—a sucker for a good story. As a toddler, most of the movie was too complex for me to understand. And the parts that weren’t I found too scary. With the movie playing most evenings at home, certain imagery, certain scenes from it stuck in my head.
When a person dies in the movie a ghost leaves their body. It fades out of a keeled over and limp corpse. It stands, is shocked to discover having died, and leaves the body where it lies. The ghosts look exactly like the person who’s died. But their body is hazy white and almost see-through. They can walk through walls and possess the bodies of the living. But they can’t even pick up a coin and no one can hear them speak—except clairvoyants. These ghosts, my mother explained to me, is what’s left of a person after they die. The ghost is their soul. I have one, she has one, all people have one.
In that bathroom mirror where I gracelessly cut my hair, just before disposing of the evidence, I wondered where my soul, where the spectre of my self, was. I wondered if I could find it in the mirror.
It’s the exact same size as me. We are identical. It’s somewhere inside of me, so it must be slightly smaller than I am. Maybe my body is like a glove that covers it. The spirit must live somewhere between my skin and my bones. Is it just trapped there, waiting? If I were cut open could I see its white haze, would it escape? Or is it compact, like a tiny little spark somewhere inside my heart, or my brain—a spark that bursts into white light when I die and then takes on the form of my self. Are these the thoughts of my ghost, or my own? Is this how the spectre speaks, through the mirror?
What I know about the Spectre is that it is as much a part of me as I am of it. It was the ignition that turned my heart over for the very first time. It can’t speak, it doesn’t even think. It is pure light. By igniting my body, my mind, it gave me consciousness. When I catch its glimpse in the mirror it is reminding me of the day we will be one. And I am not afraid.
The Spectre was my connection to God and an afterlife. It made that journey possible. It was what I was going to become after I died and it would be the form I’d take as I lived on in the afterlife.