[Trigger Warning: Suicide]
We all have at least one… The masks we wear to keep people out, to trap people in, to grip a story so tight there’s no more juice left from the pulp, and to affirm the old stories of isolation, abandonment, loneliness, and scarcity.
My uncle’s memorial is today, in just over four hours. We were asked to “refrain from politics and withhold how he died.” Therefore, only leaving his life to converse about. Problem is, I didn’t know his life. I've learned more about who he was during the past month after his passing.
“Please don’t take my mask
Is that too much to ask?
It is June
And Halloween won’t come soon,
But my mask is part of me,
It won’t come off -
Don’t you see!”
He wrote this in elementary school, as you can see from the wide lines and youthful hand-writing in the picture attached to this post. I have art like this; poems of covering up, boundaries being crossed without consent, women painted on the edges of cliffs, and songs eluding to alcoholism, all expressed throughout my K-12 journey. What we had in common was isolation and even suicide ideation (quite awhile ago now). But the world kept proving to him that his mask was important, necessary, and a positive attribute.
Isolation pervaded through his time in the military, raised in a highly patriarchal family, oozing with toxic masculinity and emotional shaming, and even in his social circles. Eventually this mask became affixed to his face, similarly to Jim Carey in the classic (and ridiculous comedy), The Mask. As it became harder and harder to peel off, he used the easiest, most accessible, and clearly exampled tool to pull back that mask.
It had been so long since he breathed fresh air. This much exposure felt like a blizzard wind hitting wet skin, the burn was real and stinging.
He wasn’t shown the way, gifted the tools, and he didn’t seek out the resources to help hold his true self as the mask’s material became softer and the adhesive less effective.
I think he was attempting to remove it; the mask, isolation, you name it. But without resiliency, without practice, and with years of experience gripping so tightly, the exposure was just too great. The tsunami of his rawness was too big to care for.
So on this Friday, the 6th of December, I ask and invite you, myself, all of us, not to remove the mask, at least so quickly or with great force. I ask that when removing it, caress each layer or crumbling piece, holding each that naturally and gently falls away. That mask is there for a reason. We do not need to be brutal or aggressive towards ourselves. It’s okay to take time, build emotional resiliency, and then hold each piece of protection, honoring the cover, the shield, and the comfort.
The assumption from the title of this post would be a conclusion of mask removal, but what we all too often bypass is the how. How will we take our time, hold ourselves through the rawness of uncovering, and esteem our past protections? And how will we love on ourselves? Perhaps lathering the exposed skin with pounds of lotion to adjust to the dryness in the air.
Exposure can be vitally important, but without proper care, frostbite can settle in swiftly, biting away at our own sanity and eventually leading to the biting of that oh-so-final bullet.
Noticing my staggered breaths,