When Mirror’s face appeared beneath the flicker of my dreaming eyes, it was the first I’d seen of her in over a decade.
I tell myself that I can remember every detail of her appearance, every line on her palms, and every static electric shock that ever struck me from touching her skin. After all this time, I know that her image must have been romanticised by the rough currents of my memory, but I relish the chance to hold it, just as it appears in my mind. I close my eyes to look at her, and there, I can wrap myself around the idea that the girl I am conjuring is Mirror herself, exactly as she once stood before me.
I pretend that my mind can accurately reflect the shape of a jaw that clenched slightly as I reached it with my lips. I convince myself that I still know the pair of eyes that always seemed so captivating in their distinctive colouring. I have come to accept that those eyes must have been the same shade as every third set that forms the background of my daily routine, but it takes nothing away from their position in my memory. I remember them shining like no other colour I have ever seen, and I allow myself to accept that exaggerated idea as truth.
When looking back on the first blurs of youthful intimacy, the person who sparked them will always look special in the hazy reflection of half-forgotten years. Accuracy is easy to push aside when it comes to sparking the essence of nostalgic lust.
As teenagers, we are all clumsy webs of lust and limbs. Our growing feet kick us into a stumble as we stagger through the opening stanzas of romantic interaction, the foreplay for the very concept of sex. We trip towards the people who catch our eye, but rarely find ourselves falling into a comfortable land in their open arms. I have let time stretch the gap between me, my first love and the version of the self who loved her, but when I saw Mirror in my sleeping vision, I was immediately fifteen again.
With sparkling eyes and flame red hair that never quite matched the colour on the bottle, the legally named Miranda reached a level of rebellion that was always far above my own. She talked back to the adults lazily positioning themselves as authority figures and wore tank tops with slogans designed to ignite offence, layered under the worn leather jacket that defined her image. She hated the name her parents had bestowed on her and soundly rejected it, along with all the trappings of a persona that might have come with it. She insisted that she be called Mirror by all who came into contact with her, refusing to ever respond to the name on her birth certificate. To an adult, this might have looked like standard adolescent practice, a strategy of fighting back against control in all its forms. To my fifteen-year-old self, Mirror’s actions set her apart as a dazzling beacon of white light standing alone in a dry grass field.
The idea of being with another girl had barely appeared as a possibility before I started spending time with Mirror. I have been told by so many self-taught armchair psychologists that she was the one who placed the thought in my head, seducing my identity with the bold gestures she aimed in my direction. Girls press their way through the knee-high rushes of their defining years with constantly scribbled prescriptions informing them of the reasons for their own actions. They drown under dust-ridden books and glossy magazine covers that persist in the assertion that the balding faces garnishing their opinion pieces know the mind of a young woman better than any girl could possibly know herself. Even now, I struggle to see how many of the beliefs I have put forward as my own were once dictated to me in the shotgun judgments of passers-by. I still find it hard not to bend to the water cannon spray of ideas that keeps being fired at me, grappling to maintain the prevalence of my own internal voice. I still look to the memories I hold of Mirror, standing staunch and stubborn in her refusal to ever give in. To a girl who was slowly learning her own sexuality through tattered picture cut-outs hidden in a growing scrapbook, Mirror’s strength was nothing short of breathtaking.
In the years that have passed since knowing such a gravitational force as my first love, I have allowed myself to trust the person I became while standing by her side. I can remind myself that I know who I am better than the commentators who want to use my picture as bait for the self-satisfied rage of their readers. Still, when Mirror’s face fell unexpectedly back into my sub-conscious vision, I was jolted into that half-forgotten blend of inexperience, confusion and desire. I was removed from where I lay and placed in my awkward teenage body, feeling my sweaty fingers fumble with another pair of hands for the first time.
Behind my sleeping eyelids, Mirror addressed me as my current self. Fully grown, I stood before her as comfortably as I always had, wearing the mask of my remembered teenage body.
I heard your news.
She spoke with her signature firmness, sending latent guilt rising in my throat with the sudden awareness that I had betrayed her. The scolding look in her eyes revealed that she knew I had reached a point of settling down, with a man no less. She glared towards the fingers that had once laced patterns across her youthful skin, now rubbing lotion into an abdomen that swelled with growing life. She saw that I had committed to the concept of reproduction, so dangerously unwelcome to our queer teenage selves. I had become a breeder, a role we had sworn away together in the blood oaths of our shared cycles.
I felt the residual impact of her stare burning me, even as I woke. I saw myself through the disappointment in her eyes, discovering the label on my chest that named me as a traitor to my own identity. The face of Mirror sat above me, playing back my most unacknowledged fears in the sound of her voice. Her ethereal form shouted accusations into a gust of dreaming wind, and my own voice fell back into my ears. Suddenly, I was living proof of the ideas I had once so angrily rejected. I felt myself boiling under the eyes of all the observers who had so vehemently insisted on recognising my desire as a phase. I felt their nameless faces staring down at my current happiness with gloating eyes, pointing to my swelling womb as evidence of the natural order. Evidence of what they had decided these half-forgotten girls would inevitably, truly want from life. The poster girl for teenage rebellion had become the perfect example of everything she was supposed to be rebelling against.
As consciousness began to drift back to me, I was able to remind myself that the fears stuck on repeat in my mind still came from the critics who had never stopped telling me what I was destined to represent. They claimed my happiness as their proof, while labelling me a traitor through a different set of vocal cords. In a world where the choices of individuals are used as swaying statistics regardless of the shape they take, I have always found it challenging to avoid the shame that comes with seeking a life that could bring me joy.
Slowly waking, I calmed myself with the touch of the warm body lying beside me, and the whispers of movement from the one still growing within. I looked fondly on the image of Mirror that was quickly fading out of my mind, and reminded myself of the principles that had always kept the fire in her eyes.
As a girl, my most sincere form of rebellion was living as the part of myself that I was told to reject. In growing up, I have seen womanhood as its own act of rebellion. Any step we take towards loving ourselves can be twisted into a betrayal, framed as treachery against whatever mould is currently being forced around our shapes. If I were to meet Mirror in whatever frame might now surround the spark I look back on so fondly, I know she would be unlikely to judge me for my happiness. The strongest act of protest a woman can commit is to stay on the path she has laid out for herself.
My first love showed me that we live in a world that will always try to tell us what we believe. If I want to stay faithful to the picture of her that I still hold in my mind’s eye, I know that my most enduring love will be my most taboo. Self-acceptance will always be my greatest act of defiance.
Sarah Jane Justice writes lyrical poetry, whimsical character pieces, and thrilling genre fiction. Her poetry has been included in collections from The Blue Nib, Capsule Stories, and Pure Slush, and her short fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Caustic Frolic, and Hawkeye Books. In addition to the written word, she is a celebrated spoken word artist, having won an array of competition titles, and performed at the Sydney Opera House.