Behind the Mask

She was beautiful, draped in a vermillion gown that juxtaposed her cerulean eyes like the now cliche Robert Frost contrast of fire and ice. My tuxedo was not as elegant, but it was in fact her day. I remembered the days leading up to this, when I refused to change out of my sweatpants, drowning in self degradation. Now I found myself in a suit, drowning only in the endless beverages provided by the gracious host of preprom. Joyful or jubilant I would never be. Stuck in a labyrinth in which there were an endless number of beasts to fight.

We shuffled towards the balcony of the manor, careful not to lay foot on the trailing dresses of our closest friends. Everyone begged for pictures, desperately wanting all of us to paste on a smile and imitate the feeling of a groom on his wedding day. I love smiling. It is amazing how a simple curve on one’s face can conceal all other emotions better than anything else, developing a hidden contrast between interior and exterior. Underneath two rows of glistening white teeth was shame and embarrassment of an illness that wasn’t real to me. I often think of the Greeks, who wore masks on stage to represent the emotion of the characters they played. I knew how my character needed to feel and so I applied the appropriate mask.

It worked. We made our way back towards the dining room area, analyzing each picture on her phone as if it was fine art in a museum. A knock at the door broke up some of the chatter — her parents. My anxiety and depression grew uncontrollably and the smile slid right off my face. A tall, bald, muscular gentlemen with a suit even more polished than mind stepped up to me and reached out his hand. A handshake: a true judgement of a man’s confidence and character. I could hide behind my visage, but there is no safe place in a handshake. All the despair that I was so ashamed to discuss made its way past my cufflinks and into my right appendage, extracting all form of life and energy, as my date’s conservative father reached out to grab a limp hand. I was but a young servant reaching out to touch the hand of Ares. He could sense the blackness and emptiness and lifelessness behind my bright pink flesh.

Her mother gave me a welcoming hug; her brother, a handshake. I tried my best to eject from the situation, but my date found me wandering towards the living room; towards guaranteed solitude. Boutonniere in hand, she roped me back into the kitchen. The boutonniere was exquisite: a cream colored rose lined with gold. Though my lack of belief in a higher power left me without anyone to turn to, it gave me a deeper appreciation of nature’s beauty. Not many understand a flower’s interior and all the work that goes into making such an elegant design. The binary opposition between my charcoal tuxedo and the rose brought the plant to life. Yet, my lowly spirits would soon kill the Dryad that inhabited this flower and so the petals withered away.

The couples grouped together and prepared to leave, waving and saying their final goodbyes, acting as if they were settlers departing to the New World. The excitement amongst my friends was evident in their face, their body language, their words. Only four more hours until I could stop pretending. I looked up at the orange of the afternoon sky; down at the green of the freshly cut grass. I was at peace. I placed all of my evils in a box that someone was bound to open sooner or later — just not tonight. Adjusting my mask one final time, I got into the car and never looked back.

– Senan Farrelly, The Haverford School, Class of 2016

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