It had an iridescent sheen to it from all those years of use. I would often brush it off to make it look more genuine, like a real face. Maybe I was born with it, but I don’t think so. I remember a very different sort of face then.
I knew the rules of the mask. You find a mate, you marry, make a family of some combination of adults and kids, yours or others, you have a good job, you buy a house, fit in a box and close the lid. You give up who you thought you were to become the mask your family thinks you should be. They say it makes you happy and complete. And it does for all those years, within reason anyway.
Then one day the lid slips off of the box and you discover a corner, ever so small an edge, is beginning to peel off of the mask. You try to patch it, but each patch makes the edges tatter more until one day you actually see the real color of your skin under all the makeup of the mask. It’s beautiful, with imperfect pores and wrinkles and just an inkling of character. You.
You would have thought you had started the whole world on fire by the way people react though. Everyone you know and love begins freaking out about the loss of your perfect mask and commences doing their best to help you recover it. They insist that it be repaired and fitted back on so you can fit back into the box they all know and love.
But the lid is off the box and you like what you see under the mask. And you want more.
Now this is where everyone really goes berserk throwing a barrage of accusations and questions at you as if you are mad. “How can you do this?” “How can you let it go?” “How can you possibly like this thing underneath?” “It doesn’t fit.” “We can’t see you.” “How can you be one of us now?”
Your answer is very simple and direct, “I don’t know. But I kind of like it. Can’t you see the gift in the changes?”
“NO!,” they exclaim in horror. “It’s a mess. We don’t like it. It means that we have to change too. NO way. You had better get back in that mask right now or you’ll ruin everything.”
“But why,” you inquire painfully. “Can’t you take yours off too and try it just a little? It’s so freeing. It’s really more of me, not less. Can’t you see that?”
“NO!,” come the screams back in great upheaval as if you had just upturned a bridge they were on with your little finger.
In innocence you try again, “Why not?”
“Change, for what? We’re just fine as we are, thank you very much. You’re the one that is wrong,” is the only answer you get back.
Your confusion rises as you ask, “Who am I?”, over and over again. “What am I doing? What do I believe? Who is the true me? Why can’t I fit in anymore? And why can’t they change just a little to see my side, see me?”
Anger rising inside you, your tolerance disappears as these scenes play out over and over again with only the same outcome until finally the mask falls off completely thoroughly tear stained and threadbare. And there you stand in the mirror, YOU.
The arguments cease to matter. You catch sight of an edge on this new mask of yours that is beginning to fray. How many of these masks are there? A new curiosity guides you to step out of the box. The old mask lies on the bottom of the box with the laundry and dishes.
Suddenly you discover you are in charge of everything as a new suit of responsibility slips uncomfortably onto you. Friends mysteriously evaporate, finances shift to and fro, and time is immeasurable, all yours now. You take one last look at the mask on the bottom of the box and securely replace the lid.
You explore your new and bigger box. It’s heavier and makes funny noises in your brain. But it’s your box now to design as you please.
I took a new mask off today, but the responsibility didn’t go away. It just changed a little, like one degree on a compass. And I see another mask beneath it still. I wonder how many more there are to go? Only I am in charge of finding out.