I am a puppy at a Halloween costume party. People show up in masks and costumes to enjoy the frivolity. I am not currently understanding the language spoken and am unsure the reason for the masks. Occasionally, someone looks over at me, either with pity or with joy. Some remove a mask to talk to me in jibberish. For many, there is another mask underneath. I wonder if the masks they wear are as unending as the boy with 10,000 hats. There are people that remove the mask and it is just them underneath. I ponder the significance of wearing a mask at all, but it as least interesting not to be looking at a dead president. Rarely, someone strolls in without a mask. I have known this person and have seen the face before. I know in my head I can trust my feelings and reaction. Unfortunately, my heart has been tricked and lied to so many times, I hesitate…
The masks are not uncommon or unexpected. I have met very few people who don’t ever wear one. I secretly have often wondered if at night they put one on and dance naked in the moonlight. The masks are defenses. They were originally made to keep us safe. They distanced us from the hurt we had felt. The masks aren’t evil or even wrong. They just are. When I was younger, my Dad told me that I was a chameleon. He meant it as a compliment. He was saying I could fit into any group and have something to talk about. I really could. I had a roladex of masks and would thumb through them deftly. I could even pull the old switch-a-roo in the middle of a conversation and admonish someone, or ridicule them. There were times that I would wear 2 or 3 different masks at the same time. It was exhausting, but I felt like I always fit in. As I have aged, I embarked on a journey to be authentic. I wanted to stop running and escaping from the emotions I felt. I wanted to be alive. I wanted to be whole.
Like that fabled boy, as I removed one mask, the next one would appear. There were variations: different size, more feathers, etc. But there was always another mask. My pursuit continued. There were times that I thought I had finally revealed my true face when someone would lob a harsh comment or reject the image they saw. If the person was close to my heart, I would immediately pick up a new mask. There were times I would let my head and heart unite and I would be without a mask. It was like riding a motorcycle without a helmet: free, exhilerating, and yet somewhat dangerous. The vulnerability was too much all at once. The puppy was exposed, confused, and injured under the feet of distracted and hidden party goers. I hid.
I am learning discretion. I remove the mask more cautiously now and there are very few masks. I have sat down with each one and identified its’ use and meaning. I thanked it for how it has protected me. I voiced my appreciation for its’ services. Then I set it aside. In reality, some of them are tenacious in their protection efforts and try to sneak back in. More than once, I have found my face stuck in one like the puppy in a paper sack. I sit down and restart the process when I recognize it.
I would not suggest this process to anyone. Let me qualify, I would want to warn anyone doing this process that it is extremely painful. When the masks first began to be removed, I was rejected by loved ones. Not intentionally, I don’t think. It was subtle. I heard them say, “It is just a phase.” I listened as they said, “This isn’t like you, you are…” The voices behind the masks uttered, “When he gets his feet under him again, he will be normal again.” I was unsure who I was, the mask or the face. Later, as you enter the party with no mask on, the crowd barks as excitedly as the puppy. It is strange and unfamiliar. Most cannot handle the exposed, true person. It is very hard to talk to a face when you are wearing a mask. The opposite is true as well, it is hard to talk to a mask with your face exposed. You are left with a decision, persist in the journey or run and hide. This is that moment in recovery that so many pick up a drink. This is that time in healing that so many resort to anger or abandonment. This is that time in mental illness that so many resort to suicide.
I am at that point that I have a mask or two. I have become deliberate in using it. I use it when necessary. I prefer to be without a mask, and to see how others respond to my true self, but there are those that really just want to judge, condemn, and hurt. So, on goes the mask.
In the words of the great philosophy group, Oingo Boingo, “Who do you want to be today?”