Narcissus

It may surprise you to know that one is completely aware that one is turning into a flower. It is not instantaneous, a sop to ameliorate the pathetic nature of one’s death. It is a slow turning, and one feels it acutely, minutely, as toes begin to merge into round masses and sprout tiny roots into the ground. And even as I knew that my hair was weaving itself into strands of yellow and white petals, I knew that I was the one causing the transformation. And I could not bring myself to stop it.

It began with the mirrors. I could not seem to pass one by without becoming engrossed. I would stare into my own eyes and examine the mosaics of blues and grays, every subtle hue and shade of color in the irises. I would be fascinated by the contractions and dilations of my pupils, so slight I wondered if my eyes were tricking themselves. Examining the whites I would ask myself if they looked clear, if there were more veins visible than usual. If so, perhaps I could justify the hour alone in the dark in meditation I so desperately wanted.

Reflections began to appear in other places. Computer screens, bathroom fixtures, tinted windows. And I could not look away. Safer to stare at oneself than make eye contact with strangers anyway. I memorized the shape of my nose and the angles of my cheekbones, taking mental notes of how these things could appear different if it were cold or hot, if I had slept very little or slept too much.

I did not recognize the first sign for what it was. I was brushing my hair and the brush became snarled in a knot-monster at the base of my skull. I switched to a comb and worked the teeth through, forcing myself to be patient. When I finally succeeded in untangling my hair, I glanced down and noticed a few white petals scattered around my feet. “Where on earth could those have come from?” I wondered. I picked them up and threw them on the trash, then went on about my day.

Reflections aren’t just external.  I created a mental funhouse where sometimes I saw myself stretched and others squashed, sometimes twisted and sometimes upside down and backwards. One or two showed a true image, perhaps, but it came to be that I could not distinguish them from the distortions. I wandered through that mirrored hall in my mind and gazed for long periods at each reflection in turn. I thought that if I could smash the wrong ones, I could move on, no longer caught in my own gaze. But I wasn’t sure which ones were right and which ones were wrong, so I kept them all intact. Mirrors piling upon mirrors, trapping me in the middle of an infinity of mes.

It was after a day of haunting the mall, trying to find presents that would prove just how thoughtful I was, how I knew my loved ones so much better than they knew me, that I felt something was different about my feet. My toes felt stiff. The arch support in my shoes had been digging in all day and when I took off my socks, it seemed as though my arches had inverted themselves, causing the soles of my feet to curve down. “Edema of the arch? Is that even a thing?” I mused. I resolved to elevate my feet more and pushed it out of my mind.

“I wish you felt better about yourself,” my mother lamented. “Maybe if you joined that choral group you’d make some friends, get out more.”

I didn’t know how to explain. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel good about myself. I was just never as good as I deserved to be. Inside I knew I was the best, the most beautiful, but the world never seemed to recognize it and hand over the rewards I had coming. What if I joined that choral group and someone criticized my pitch or tone? I was too delicate, to important, to risk careless damage from the bourgeois judgments of mortals.

As winter turned to spring I began to find the outside enjoyable again. It seemed as though I could not step out into sunlight without taking at least a moment to raise my face and arms to the sun. A new habit for me, as I had spent most of my life getting sunburned and squinting against bright light.

It was in the midst of one of these sun-worshipping moments that my eye was caught by the tracery of veins visible under the thin skin of my inner arm. My veins had turned green. Not greenish-blue, but a deep, rich, grass green. “Have I been staring at the sun too long?” I asked. But when I looked around me all the other colors were true. I looked back at my arms and the veins were still verdant.

I remembered the mysterious petals, the swelling in my feet. An image of the cover of Ovid’s Metamorphoses sprang into my mind. As a child, I had pitied Narcissus. As an adult I had come to envy him.

Days went by and it seemed as though shelves were becoming harder and harder to reach, like I might be shrinking. Food lost its appeal but water had never tasted better. I began to go up to the potted plants and dig my fingers into their soil just to savor the feel of it.

Was I going mad? If so, I did not want to be sane. I wanted to be a paper-white, glorious in the spring, safely underground and asleep during the cold, dark, misery of winter. So I took a shovel into the woods where a little creek ran.  And I dug. I had never had much stamina for manual labor, but I was more determined than I had ever been about anything before.

When the hole was deep enough, I crouched in it, lifted my arms and face to the sun, closed my eyes, and sighed.

 

[Victoria Harkavy has her Master of Arts in Folklore. She has been fascinated with myth and legend since she first discovered a book of Greek Mythology in her elementary school. You can discover more about Victoria and her mascot, Folklore Horse, at victoriaharkavy.wordpress.com.]

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