Growing Up Jeub

Grieving the Mask

This post was originally uploaded on March 3, 2015. It is part of the restored archives.

I wait for the opportunity to get away, and I step out into the moonlight. The metal gate is covered in frost, and it stings my hands as I climb over it, firmly planting my feet so I don’t slip. I dodge snowdrifts and hay bales, and let overwhelm take me.

“I want it all back! Just for a moment!” I yell into the night sky, startling the horses and cows.

“I want the innocence! I want to see my children’s faces! Lie to me and tell me it’s not over.”

Tears come, and I hesitate. I remember my mother’s threats: stop crying or I’ll give you something real to cry about, holding a spoon or a stick or a cutting board. I knew how to catch my breath and stop crying. It was harder to cease while she was swatting me, adding another measure of pain to fight past and control myself.

I couldn’t cry for years. Now there’s relief in telling myself it’s okay. Nobody will threaten to hurt me for hurting.

I’m crying because I miss the family that did this to me. I miss the good times, building tree forts and playing in the creek, sledding on our makeshift jumps in winter, sleeping on the trampoline in the summer.

Don’t be angry, mom said, go make a list of all the things that make you happy until you feel better. Lie to yourself.

I wish someone would lie to me like she did, and tell me I don’t have to wonder where I’m going to live and how I’ll make enough money to live there. Explaining to strangers that no, moving back in with my parents is not an option.

I miss the misery hidden behind my fake smile.

I miss the mask.

It’s still there, it taunts me: you can have it back, my father whispers, holding out the picture that’s worth a thousand lies, all you have to do is force a smile and say you love us. Never question, never complain, never criticize.

Like some drug, my mask – my doll face – offers what I once was. I’m not just grieving that my father and my mother are dead to me. I’m not just grieving that my children will be grown before I’ll see them again.

“Lie to me!” I cry out again. “Tell me they’ll forgive me, that they’ll understand what I had to do. Tell me they’ll remember me.”

The barn cat likes to be scratched, but not to be held. The horses don’t want to be ridden. I am like them, which is why I outgrew the mask. I can’t have it back. It doesn’t fit anymore. Besides, the piece of art I fashioned for my face has no room for these tears.

I must be alive, because I still feel pain.

I’m not just grieving them. I’m grieving me. I’m grieving who I thought I was. I’m grieving the face I wore, the mask that took so much maintenance.

With expression, comes absolution.

With release, comes peace.

With grief, comes relief.

I don’t have to hold back or pretend anymore.