Last night I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed. My neighbour came in and we made eye contact in the mirror in that sort of half-true way when you aren’t sure which face to look at. He raised his eyebrows.
In the mirror, side by side, the differences between us were striking. His olive skin next to my paleness, his short hair to my curls. His brown eyes met my green ones, then instantly darted down: to the splotches of purple, black and blue that have been a fixture on my face for as long as I can remember.
“You should get some sleep,” he said. “You look so tired.”
Thumbing through my phone somewhere around midnight (maybe he had a point), I found an old note that I remember writing on my commute home from work last summer. When I used to fall asleep on the bus nearly every morning and smile at the floor when people looked my way.
If anyone has ever told you you look tired; if you’ve ever felt tempted to give up on something big and take a break from your dreams; to the people with dark circles under their eyes – this is for you:
Today I am tired. Today the skin under my eyes looks bruised, like someone has been pressing their thumbs against my cheekbones and I guess that would explain the lack of sleep.
Today I layered on foundation, concealer, foundation. I tried to patch up sleepless nights like cracks in the concrete.
Thought but never spoken: My face is a construction zone. I am something to be fixed.
But why can’t we look at each other – Monday morning or Friday afternoon, over breakfast or on the way to work – and instead of pointing out our flaws, whisper, “You look so strong this morning. You look determined. I am proud of you for waking up.”
Because bags under your eyes don’t mean ugly. They don’t mean worn thin or barely holding on. They are your body’s clumsy sign language, characters in an unfamiliar alphabet, litmus strips marking dedication and grit. They stand for late nights dreaming and planning and doing. Those circles under your eyes mean flashlights under blankets, the soft glow of a laptop screen, the solo beating of your heart when everyone else is fast asleep.
And so the next time someone points it out to me, with concern or with laughter in their voice, I will smile, thank them, and keep going.
I look tired because I’m trying. And I will rep my tribe, purple and blue smudges under messy, half-asleep eyeliner scribbles. 7am or half past midnight. The early risers and late night dreamers.
We are here and we are trying.