An Estimation of a Young Man

An Estimation of a Young Man

by James Blair, Prose Staff

It’s odd to see yourself expressed through someone else’s eyes. So rarely do we scrutinize ourselves in our entireties: we are so often focused on a singular aspect—an outsized nose, unruly eyebrows—that when somebody reconstructs us for our own subjective viewing, we are jarred to see what they emphasize and what they gloss.

Recently a friend drew me, in an attempt to distract from boredom. We were at work, in between busy periods, and she was occupying herself by sketching. I was roaming, amusing myself, and I walked past her, with her sketchbook in her lap and pens sprawled across the floor around her in a corona. When I walked by again, she called me into the room and presented a portrait, in multi-colored ink, of me.

She drew me from the neck up. My jawline was a defined trapezoid, and a tiny scribble denoted a distinct dimple in my chin. My lips were thin, with two pronounced triangles on their upper half, and a right angle marked the divot below my nose. My nose was a large teardrop, dominating the white space of my face, and two grape-sized circles marked my nostrils. My eyes were plain, beady dots, set off-center and asymmetrical from my nose. My eyebrows were thick straight lines across my forehead that almost connected to the slim ears framing my sharp cheeks. My hair was a mass of squiggles, falling down into my eyebrows and exploding from the sides and top into the blank space above my head.

“What do you think?” My friend asked.

What did I think? What could I think, other than that wasn’t me! But of course it wasn’t. The me of the mirror and the me of her sketchbook resembled each other, but neither were me. One was an approximation, stemming from the memory of an artist, and the other was an abstraction, defined by myself, a person who had long ceased to perceive the face in question.

Where my friend saw thick straight eyebrows, I saw unruly messes that collapsed in on my eye sockets and gave my face a somber air. Where she saw unremarkable earlobes bordering my hair, I see pronounced extensions. Where she sees a cleft chin, I see no such definition. Where she sees little space between my eyebrows and hairline, I see much.

But of course, she struck upon what I see, too. My nose, prominent, and my eyes, small and inset, she sees like I do. My thin lips and my curls, she sees too. Those features are proof that we started from the same figure, the same face peering back upon the recreation.

“Nice drawing,” I said. “Who’s it of?”

She grinned and lowered her sketchbook.

“Who should I draw next?” she asked.

“Whomever strikes your fancy.”

I sat next to her and stared out the door to the room. The door opened up into the main corridor, in which everybody flowed busily like airplanes humming along their routes. Plenty of people with different gaits, airs and tics. Plenty of interesting faces, with countless compelling features.

Now, taking time to really look at people, our similarities struck me. I looked out and saw hair of a few different colors, and faces, in a range of complexions, and a half-dozen eye colors. Small variations elsewhere, but nothing extraordinary.

For a brief moment, the sameness terrified me. I felt like I had abstracted too deeply and I was now looking out at a thousand identical beings. Worse, I imagined that they knew I had done so—that I had simplified them to a nameless horde. A mental image of them advancing on me materialized in my mind’s eye, and I silently clenched my fists until the thought resided.

I turned my mind’s eye to myself and I regarded my own facelessness. I thought about how, on some brighter days when I woke up early and cheerily, my eyes shone differently. Was I still myself on those days? Or was I not myself on latter days, when my eyes were darker and my skin more pallid?

Am I myself with inflamed skin? With chapped lips? With tousled hair and unkempt eyebrows? Perhaps not best to think about it. I closed my eyes, and my thoughts dissipated as my friend rose from the floor.

“Time to go?” I asked.

“Yep! If I sit in the Gordon wing, I might see a dog walking by to draw. Would you like to come and hold my pens for me?”

“No, I’ll pass.”

She chuckled and left. I remained, disquieted, numbering in my head all of the mirrored surfaces I might pass throughout the rest of the day and how I might best avoid them.

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The Vanderbilt Review 2020/21