TW: Language, Substance abuse.
Ben Stein said it best as "Dr. Arthur Newman" in the movie The Mask. "We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking.
I suppose for me, it all began as a child. My father was not a particularly nice human being. He often showed his affection for his family with a flurry of fists, but it didn't stop there. He was master of gaslighting, and after a beating, he would whisper in our ears with a brand of brutal magic that made us believe that what had just happened was our fault. We did this to ourselves, because we weren't good enough.
In public however, he was the "Father of the Year." He dressed in suits, worked a steady 9-5, put food on the table, and came to all of our school events. He demanded nothing short of perfection from us, but not because he wanted US to be successful in life, but because he didn't want us to tarnish HIS legacy. When I was six years old he took my mother to an event from work. He had won an award for his outstanding dedication to the job. As I understand it, she had made a comment in public that made him feel embarrassed. When they returned home, he beat her within an inch of her life, directly in front of me. I'll never forget the look she had in her eyes. It was beyond physical pain. It's like I could finally see it, the decade long buildup of torture of mental fragility from walking on eggshells around a man she once believed she loved. They say that "eyes are the window to the soul," and in that moment that phrase rang true. There, buried underneath her emerald-green, tear-stained eyes, was the reflection of a soul that had been caged for so long, it had lost its light. I never blamed her for running away after that. Even though I was young, and even though I missed her, as any young boy would miss his absent mother, I knew it was the only way for her to get back what he had stolen from her.
The next ten years of my life were a steady mixture of hope for a better future, and the cold, brutal reality I was trapped in. By the time I was fourteen he had broken nearly every bone in my body. If there was ranking system for being able to put on a disguise in public, he would have been a master. He would make grand showings at the hospitals he put me in, bringing me sweets and ice cream. I could swear he was " Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" reincarnated. Despite the monster he often was, I still find myself loving pieces of the man. It's a complicated piece of my personality that I still find myself struggling to reckon with. In many ways, the little boy I was, still cries out for the father he never had. It has always struck me as strange, the way the world turns. How heartbreakingly-beautiful it is that the people who wound us the deepest, are the very people we love the most, with an unfiltered, burning intensity.
Shortly after my 17th birthday, the mask my father wore had finally worn off. He had been seeing another woman, and when the monster reared his ugly head, she took no mercy. She called the police, and he was arrested for attempted murder, and in the aftermath racked up a few more charges. Resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, and later, witness intimidation. His violent tendencies followed him to prison, and on my 19th birthday he was stabbed to death by another inmate during a fight. I still remember getting the phone call. I felt nothing, no sorrow, no joy, just an empty numbness. I suppose looking back I would say it was because I never got to ask him why, I never got the chance to figure out just what it was that drove his rage. There was a fear deep inside me that I would end up one day just like him.It's likely a driving factor into why I never married, for fear that the monster is alive in my DNA. The thought of making another human being who trusted me with her heart, look at me the way my mother looked at my father that day, well, I am still haunted by that notion to this day.
One thing that he did pass on to me, was his ability to put on different masks. Though the reasons for wearing mine were not born of violence, my penchant for showing up as different characters in the masquerade that is life, was undeniable. There was a swirling storm that lived inside of my soul, a mixture of fear, and insecurity, a delicate blend of madness and melancholy. I have always had a unique ability to inherit the emotional cores of the people around me. Through their stories I could feel what they felt. The more negative, and sullen the story, the more I felt their pain. I have no way to explain this, other than I was a sort of "emotional sponge." I could hold a part of their burden that they could no longer carry. In those moments, I could see what they needed to heal, and I became that. Unfortunately, that pain, coupled with my own internal torment, put my own madness and self loathing into hyperdrive, and self medicating became my way to cope. Mixing alcohol with that trait made me channel those emotions into various characters. I became whoever I though the people around me wanted me to be. I took on stories that were never mine to hold, and I became their host. After a few years spent in a booze-soaked state, wearing a different mask every single day, I began to spiral out of reality. That's the thing about wearing masks to fit in; after awhile, you've worn so many that you forget what your real face looks like. Day after day I would steal stories that did not belong to me, and channel pain that was not mine, all in the hopes of gaining some attention. I have always been ashamed of the real me, and I have always been reluctant to allow anyone to see it, in the fear that they would be disappointed. I suspect it has a lot to do with knowing that my father went to the grave thinking of me as a disappointment. How it was somehow my fault he ended up an early grave. Taking on different characters allowed me a sort of deflected detachment from my grim reality. I could use the emotions I channeled to connect with another person, but I could also cut the cord, and walk away at any moment without ever looking back. I went on like this for a period of time that I can hardly remember. I cannot even recall when it was I realized just how disconnected from society I had become. I just remember waking up one morning feeling lost, and tired. But it was a different kind of tired. The kind of tired that no amount of sleep could ever alleviate. Perhaps it was my spirit losing its strength. Perhaps it was the madness finally getting a firm grasp on me, and dragging me into Hell.
That feeling left me restless, and searching for something I couldn't seem to grasp. It's hard moment in one's life, where you find yourself faced with notion that for all your potential to rise, you never did. I went aimlessly from job to job, pretending THIS is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Yet another mask that further disguised me from myself. It was a bit like wandering around a battle field with an enemy who throws a barrage of smoke grenades, constantly disorientating and detouring you. The irony was that the blinding smoke was of my own making, the restless burning of disenchanted soul, and the enemy throwing them into my path? Was the same man I saw in the mirror every morning. Every disguise that I wore that I believed hid my self loathing, was stitched from the fabric of my insecurity. As I continued my descent down that dark winding road, I began to feel less and less like myself.
I continued on my foray into futility, trying desperately to gain some sort of grasp on my life. I was young, and I cast off the notion that I would have to work for my success, and instead focused on taking shortcuts I was sure would get me there, faster. I was a bit of a case study in the "crooked-ladder" theory. Instead of climbing each rung with steady foot to get over that wall that stood between me and my dreams, I opted to stand the ladder on one leg, and springboard off of an unsteady platform in the hopes that I could clear the wall without all the time and patience required in the conventional step-by step approach. I thought I was above the rules of life. Call it "self-loathing narcissism. That's my best guess at least, because I can think of no rational reason why I would believe I was so fucking special. Of course, I crashed in spectacular fashion, leading to me to slowdancing with the devil, holding a whiskey bottle and a gun on the roof of a motel that I can't to this day remember the name of. It was then and there I decided to get sober.
When I made the decision to clean my life up, I knew it wouldn't;t be easy, and more than that, I knew I would be doing it on my own. I'm not someone who puts a great deal of stock into the AA programs offered around me. I have no desire to placate to a bunch of beta-males who have to cling to hypocritical belief system like Christianity in order to find the strength to overcome their addiction. Their "God" is nothing more than a crutch, and the fact that he is practically forced down the throats of people who are already at their weakest point is proof positive that his message is diluted to those who are secure in their foundations. I walked into the blackness alone, with brass knuckles, ready to fight my way through their demons, knowing that one of us would not walk back out alive. I am still here.
I don't really remember what prompted me to begin writing, I just know that the minute my pen hit that paper, and my emotions came tumbling out, embedded in the ink, staining the pages, I knew what I was meant for. If I had to compare myself to any other writer in history, I would say that I embody a modern day Edgar Allen Poe. The feelings that I get when I read his work are the same feelings I hope to convey to my readers. Poe was a man who spun tales from a deeply tortured mind. He himself had bouts with lucid insanity, self doubt, and the propensity to self medicate. He learned to channel his darkness, and turn into something that was so beautiful in its underlying sadness.
When I set out on my career path, I experienced yet another crisis of identity. I published two books, that were met with mediocre sales, and was quickly lured away into the world of screenwriting. It was there that I once again began to feel myself straying outside the lines that I believe destiny had painted for me. As independent as I carry myself, I am not immune to the pressures of the outside world, especially when it comes to the potential of the doors of Hollywood opening up to me, and offering things I never thought possible. I became enamored by the thought of everyone knowing my name, and I carried myself as if I were already one of the people, without having accomplished, well, anything. The moment I signed my first film contract I believed that I had made it. How wrong I was. The next year was full of harsh lessons on the trustworthiness of the people you surround yourself with in a cutthroat industry. Human souls are much like the "Horcruxes" in "Harry Potter;" we only have so many we can give out to the people around us before we inflict permanent wounds on our soul energy. I fell for false promises, chased the money, and the fame, and completely lost track of what I was doing it all for to begin with.
There is no greater cause for madness nor melancholy within a man than the one he loves. In particular when that love goes awry. And this my dear readers, is where my troubling tale becomes even more sullen. Love is a powerful, fiery blaze. It is meant to ignite two souls, and weld them together in an inseparable, forged bond. That love is intended to be pointed outward, showering the world and those around them in its warmth. When it goes astray, those same fiery embers inverse, and strike at the heart with such a force, that in the moment, the whole world ceases to exist. All you can feel, hear, taste, and touch, is pain. That is what she did to me. The one I loved. The one whom, when I had nothing else I could say "at least I had her." I gave her my soul, gently wrapped around my fragile heart, and she threw it under the floorboards with the rest of my corpse. She left me all alone in the cold, with nothing but the faint beating of my slowly dying heart to guide me back into the madness I had narrowly escaped. I never saw her betrayal coming. I suppose if I had to think of a clever way to portray the lesson I learned during our entanglement it would be this; " You cannot rescue the princess from her tower of loneliness, without also learning to love, understand and respect the dragon which guards her heart." I didn't understand her dragon, and to this day I still don't. All I know is that I pulled on its tail, and oh boy, did I get burned.
It is apropos how I started out as a kid just trying to survive, and I find myself in my 30's, still that same kid. I still don't know what the real me looks like, but I at least feel as though I am getting closer every day. I do sometimes have doubts on whether or not I will like him when I meet him. I suppose perhaps that's why I chose to be a writer, because it allows me to hide my insecurities behind the shadow of a pen. As I take this next step on my journey forward I can't help but wonder that, if when I am finally unmasked, I will be someone that the world could ever love. Perhaps even, as the world itself becomes unmasked to me, will I still love IT? Will my words one day follow in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and give meaning to someone spiraling into madness? Will they make someone who is basking in the drowning waters of melancholy feel just a little less alone? or will I, like in Poe's "The Raven" "Be Nameless, Evermore?"
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This was gripping and brutal. I really hope you’ve never experienced anything like that, either way it was well written and kept me to the end.