The Chameleon Complex—Chapter 38 Shut up, Murgatroyd!

I house-sat for a family from my church, and the night before I left for college, as I lay in bed, the mirror over the dresser fell off the wall and cracked.

      I didn’t die from fright. My hair didn’t turn white. I didn’t shout, “Shut up, Murgatroyd!” I just swallowed my fear.

      Literarily, the cracked mirror represented the loss of my youthful image. It foreshadowed the shattering of my world view as I left my childhood home. My world was about to become a much larger place. My bildungsroman had begun; my face would appear older and more cynical if again reflected in that mirror. Perhaps it foreshadowed bad luck—scary things just outside the campfire light and panic attacks in tight spaces.

      Psychologically, as I lay vulnerable, alone in the dark in my underwear, I had inside me the traumatic baggage from Apache Street. The schema—the mental filter—I had developed as a frightened boy misinterpreted the falling mirror as poltergeists. But why did it have to be a mirror? Mirrors are so creepy. They are portals to a doppelgänger dimension, windows for the deceased to peer through at our lives. Why couldn’t an insipid oil painting of an anonymous Cherokee woman fall off the wall instead? Mirrors were so ready for metaphor, begging self-reflection. My world was so small and I was so egocentric. My presence made the mirror fall, I concluded, like an infant that cries and causes a breast to appear. It was still all about me, you see. The crashing mirror meant that Murgatroyd didn’t just inhabit the house on Apache Street; he had followed me. Or else Murgatroyd was in me, like the demon possessing Regan in The Exorcist, which meant that I would take my fear to college with me.

      Logically, perhaps I caused it. I admit that I’d had a couple of house parties, and not all my hormonally raging guests were well behaved. Doors slammed. The hook upon which the mirror hung shook for the umpteenth time. I went to bed as the night lengthened and cooled, the wall contracted, and the mirror fell. Today, in the world we inhabit as rational adults, in what we agree upon as “reality,” the mirror fell due to physics.

      But wait; there was one more interpretation, the chameleon interpretation.

      For some unknown reason, the mirror fell and cracked while I lay nearby in bed. Although it was random, still I felt shame for having fear. I was supposed to be strong and going away to college as if I were a knight on a quest. My vulnerability didn’t fit my desired image, so I suppressed my fear and pretended that I didn’t feel anything at all. I put my game face on—the mighty track star going away to seek college glory—and when my family took me to the bus station the next morning, Mom cried. As the Greyhound bus pulled away, I smiled grimly despite having no place to stay, no classes, and no clue what to do once I arrived at my new school. All I had was my coach’s promise to pick me up at the Lawrence bus station when I arrived twenty-four hours later. I appeared brave as I left my childhood home, which was more important to me than being vulnerable and authentic in those youthful, exuberant, chameleon days.

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