Masks unveil the hidden, for if one needs to wear a mask, it means there is something to hide. But if the mask is a good one, others never suspect that the mask is, in fact, not my face. They have seen it so much, though, and so often that they have come to believe it is not simply a mask that I wear in order to protect my secrets and insecurities, my opinions and maladies, but they believe that it is who I actually am. But I know it is not, and sometimes the illusion of mask becomes so heavy in its deception that it is harder to hold up with only a strap. And I can feel it slipping ever so slowly, the holes for my eyes covering my lids, making it harder to see clearly; my mouth now distorted so that my grin looks more like a smirk or a sardonic leer; my hands shaking to readjust it even as others watch with dismay or amusement (I’m still uncertain of what they actually see).
And if I only wore one mask, it would not be surprising that the mask would become aged and begin falling apart with cracks like wrinkles suddenly touching the edge of existence. Where once there were cheeky colors and ballsy retorts upon an intriguing calavera mask, now there is only the inevitable fading like a relinquishing submission to expected conjectures that only lead to spiritual death. Ah, if there were only one mask. But there are too many interchanging masks for me to keep up with, one for each watchful faction of spectator just waiting to see the sinful face of reality, the pallid one that conceals what makes me the most vulnerable like a washed up crab along the shores of oblivion, glaring into the sun of others while slowly shriveling up and dying.
Even crabs hide behind shells, and so even I hide behind the masks that you have papier-mâchéd onto my face.
Many who know me know that I absolutely hate clichés. They are verbal excuses to not think beyond the obvious and, instead, to rely on hollow phrases that have been told way too often to hold any true meaning. Clichés are like air-filled balloons that, despite how high they may go, will always be empty on the inside and will always lose their buoyancy. They are designed to not delve under the cracking surface to witness the wild tempest and ride the dangerous waves of a broken friend.
The worst clichés are religious ones, the ones that quote out of context in order to offer vacant reassurances and false hope (but for whom?). These clichés are more dangerous because they usurp the beauty of the truth and warp it into the speaker’s own selfish fears of having to “stand in the gap.” Which makes me ask: what does “standing in the gap” really mean? Is it only about praying for one another? Or it is walking the walk with someone else who needs some hand-holding until she is strong enough to walk alone and, perhaps, able to hold someone else’s hand? And I wonder: who will stand in the gap and hold the hand of a needy friend through the darkness of her days when she struggles in the waiting and suffers alone?
When I was younger, I was afraid of crazy, maniacal killers that lurked under my bed rather than the iconic monsters that lived in my closet. It turns out that I was wrong. There is so much more to lose in a closet than under a bed because those secrets hidden between the floorboards will catch up to me no matter how long they’ve been buried. Those pesky little skeletons can only stay still for so long before squirming back into my life and wreaking havoc where stability had once reigned. And when they’ve escaped their intended confinement, everyone living in the house is suddenly affected and confronted with the fear of pretenses and dismissals, affirmations and judgments.
But how was I supposed to know that these skeletons could lay so dormant, obediently repressed in the darkest corner of the closet where I’d forgotten all about them, only to rise up with the vengeance of having been scorned and hidden away for far too long? And who am I to rage against the pain of having lost and gained, only to lose again? No one but a specter with skeletons in her closet.
Bone Church, Czech Republic
And there it is, right in front of my face, like a sharp slap that burns instantly at contact, the sound resonating in my ears as if a nuclear explosion had taken place. Not near enough to blow me to smitherines, but not far enough to not have an impact. The brutal honesty of emotional upset always seems to predominate stoicism when pushed to its limits, and only then can the ripostes of perfunctory people be taken close to seriously. You see, I am fully aware of my own emotions, the disease that runs through my brain like thick, black cords strangling my neurons, and how they course through my body like electricity, abusing the demented on and off switch. I can deal with truth as well, that candid little tattler who sits on my shoulder thrusting a pitch fork into my temples until I can no longer justify myself, or breathe; yeah, I know her too.
What you do not know is that I am my worst indicter, the one who sees the craziness inside and hates me while loving me as well, the dichotomy of such contradictions both exciting me and making me self-repulsive. It’s not as if I’m not fully aware of the hellion that erupts within me like an unexpected firecracker bursting in the night sky so that I’m explosive on lift-off, but quickly diffuse in a haze of hot smoke. I hate that! I hate the way I have lost control of my light switch and now some unbalanced force pushes me around like an ocean wave, beautiful but void of willpower. I used to display passionate expressions of conviction, but now all it has become are rapid-fire tangents that say too much and make no sense.
Zero to sixty in seconds.
My father was my world, the one person who showed me that who I am is something of which to be proud, that I was more than just a gender because he treated me like the surprise little girl that was born and the little boy he had been expecting. He would watch out for me and my sisters like a cock around his hens, and then crawl under the vintage Mustangs and call out wrench numbers while I eagerly passed them over to him with knowing and expertise. I was not even six-years-old then, but I knew what he wanted and earnestly aimed to please, not so much so he could accept me, but because I wanted to love him the way he knew how to love.
Decades later, after the uprooting to Costa Rica and the bilingual private schooling and the weekends at the beach and the family outings and dramas, after the divorce that brought me back to the States and to the other family, and the Welfare visits and the poverty, after years of loneliness and sadness and teenage anger and confusion, of lies and half-truths and hurting and reconciliation, I realize that what my father taught me those early years of my life when I lived in a world where he was king, was that I was indeed his princess and his prince, that his man-cave under the hood of a car was our castle, and that in those precious moments when we spoke our own language, we were a kingdom of two, just him and me, ready to take on the dragons that surely came.
“Rest.” The advice I get from everyone from the sensible chiropractor who can hardly touch me to the incumbent therapist who smiles kindly as she says it.
“Don’t forget to breathe.” Sure. And yet these simple acts of relaxation and comfort seem so foreign to me like watching a Kung-Fu movie without subtitles; lots of action, but little inter-action. And it makes me wonder whether there are subtitles of my life and what they might say. Do I even have any, or am I as strange to others as they are to me?
I wonder if my subtitles would even be read, such carefully placed words that make it out of my fast-moving lips amidst wild gesturing, small blocks of white letters flashing across the screen with such speed I cannot even keep up with them. Or can they read the raw, unplanned words that dominate my mind, the real reason I cannot rest? Because they do not stop blotting my brain with black ink letters scattered through my head like moths too close to that bug zapper in the corner of Reality, speaking an exotic insect language I have never mastered, much less been able to translate into small, block letters eager to interpret the craziness inside.
Have you ever watched something happen to you as if in outer body experience? Somehow, you are present at the moment, but emotionally detached, lost in the atmosphere like a specter or a wisp of white smoke no one sees, or no one bothers to acknowledge. Maybe not emotionally detached so much as simply detached, as if the event that is happening to you is really happening to someone else, someone you love and care about but is not you, and you’re just watching with sympathy as it unfolds before your sage-ing eyes.
Sometimes, I feel like my life is someone else’s life, as if I have become so compartmentalized that sometimes I’m living life and sometimes I’m just observing it, going through the motions but not really living in the moment. And I’m not sure whether my out-of-body experience is my detachment from this life and I have become merely a viewer of my own disjointed reality show, or whether the life I am observing is actually my own and all I need to do is become embedded in it rather than simply an observant of it.
But, how do I make the scrupulous leap between living and watching? And why should I do it at all?