The One Who Wears The Mask

I never would have imagined the thing that frightened me most and tortured me for years...is now evolving into my salvation. I embrace it, enveloping myself in this new truth, for I was sick all along! The truth gleams in front of me, and I learn to accept it as it is.

I'm finally free.

And as time crawls on, I've come to notice all of us want something. Fleeting needs and constant desires control us. But not me. No, not me, the one who wears the mask. You see I've recently found the mask in the darkest corners of despair. And the mask...the mask protects me. It protects me from the sickness. From the vicious circle, this place has found itself within, from wanting to needing, to receiving, to wanting, to needing. It's disgusting. It's oppressing. It's...evil.

But I am not without fault, nor am I near righteous enough to strut around as if I have no sin. You see, I was part of this circle. I was sick. For what I wanted is not important, the ambiguous and shapeless goal slipping away from my grasp time and time again. The cycle continued, taking root into my very core, affecting all walks of life. I could not sleep. I could not eat. Could not love. The sickness, ever so terminal, ate away at everything I had ever been and ever wanted to be. I ceased existing.

But I was born again. Like a phoenix from the flame, the mask ignited my ashes and set ablaze a new purpose. My face, hidden from the affected, was now rendered phlegmatic and emotionless. My frown, gone. My tears, dried. My smile...why...why I can't remember the last time I smiled. But what's even left for there to smile about? A fake expression, manufactured by the sickness.

The mask saved me. Now free to become who I was my entire life, I see what this sickness has done. They stare and point as if they are the ones hidden. They sneer, pulling their children close, their purses tight. The protectors reach for their waist, convinced their little metal devils will save them. Their new, fleeting want is for the mask to be gone, so they could shift back into the circle, uninterrupted. And without the mask? A future that only lives within my nightmares. But in the past? Oh, without the mask, I was the furthest thing from a threat! They'd welcome me with open arms and knives behind their backs, flashing smiles to cover a grimace. They invited me to sit and dine and gossip and complain and watch our sad lives dwindle away into the circle and commence over and over. And they were happy to do it. Happy knowing they were not alone, that their life wasn't the only life heading to oblivion. Happy to see me. Happiness...that oh so wretched, fake emotion. Manufactured by the circle, for the circle, to trap and doom us all. At least now, with the mask, they can see who I've been all along. I have become an embodiment of truth.

And what is the truth? What is my purpose? You assume it is subjective? You could never be so wrong...so sick. Our opinions, no matter how strong, no matter how thoughtful, no matter how carefully structured and manipulated, have no effect outside of perception. And yes, perception is a strong ally, perhaps the strongest. Perception is what caused the sickness. We've been locked inside a glasshouse, with the walls painted in the same image that lies beyond, leaving us unaware of which is the lie and which is the truth.

The mask allowed me to leave those painted walls years ago.

And yet, you stare, mesmerized, wishing you only had the key to find the truth that awaits beyond. But, my friends, truth IS the key that lets us out. Truth is what allows us to feel what lies outside. My friends, truth is the mask.

This circle you've been trapped in, built by limiters, forces you to either fall stagnant or break free only to find yourself within another limit. This glasshouse is massive, and the halls stretch on for lifetimes, but I've broken free. As I stare at the beautiful disaster this house holds, my eyes grow heavy, and streams take form. But the mask protects me, and all you who inhabit the circle cannot see my suffering...therefore it does not exist. You are not aware of my pain. But you stare nonetheless, bewildered, wishing to see what lies beneath. It seems the paint has covered me too.

But as I stare at the glass, I too have been left bewildered. Staring, I struggle to remember what it looked like inside. What was inside those halls that stretched on for lifetimes? Do I wish to see the peril it hides? Do I...do I grieve for the sick?

No...I don't wish them well. I wish for nothing. I want for naught. The mask has given me everything I've ever wanted. I am neither sad nor happy, nor angry. I simply am. Broken out of the circle, I will tear down those painted walls. But as I make my way forward and attempt to enter, I notice a peculiar thing. I...why...why I've only just realized the paint washed away years ago.

I'm tempted to remove the mask, to see the truth...this...this new truth for the first time. My hand quivers at my side and my heartbeat races so intensely I can hear the beat in my head, bouncing off the walls of the mask and reverberating into my core. Panic is beginning to take hold, sweat clouding the mask, my vision blurring, and the truth getting farther and farther away. I reach for the mask, tugging and pulling, screaming and cursing. This wretched thing!

If only they could see me! The mask, so perfect in its design, has accomplished its duty. At its peak, I was abandoned, outcasted, and ridiculed. But now, in my greatest moment of desperation, it leaves me invisible, the ashes from the flames falling in heaps at my feet.

Oh, how I want to see the truth! This ever so elusive thing, fleeting and constant, I reach out to grasp the door, but it morphs around my grip and slips away! Why can't I touch it! Why can't I see it!

I fall to the floor, in a motionless heap. The sick ones hover around, staring through me, watching my spirit writhe and rip at my core. I feel no pain. I feel no emotion. And that's the worst part of it. Maybe, being sick is what allowed me to appreciate health? Perhaps, the paint depicted life as it was and just as it should be? Maybe this imprisoned loop has a purpose, and to break free is hell? Does that mean, then, that we will never be free? And to cope, we throw a smile on and invite others to sit and dine and gossip and complain and watch our sad lives dwindle away into the circle. Because even a forced smile is better than no smile at all.

As these soul puncturing thoughts cross my mind, and I lay stupefied, a single crack strikes down the middle of the mask - a perfect incision. It falls from my face, the air rushing in, caressing my cheeks in its gentle breeze. The sick ones smile and offer hands of help.

Their smiles...their happiness... it's contagious.

I never would have imagined the thing that frightened me most and tortured me for years...is now evolving into my salvation. I embrace it, enveloping myself in this new truth, for I was sick all along! The truth gleams at me, and I learn to accept it as it is.

I am finally free.

“The wise have their eyes open, the fool walks in the dark. No doubt! But I know, too, that one fate awaits them both.
’Since the fool’s fate,’ I thought to myself, ‘will be my fate too, what is the point of my having been wise?’”
— Ecclesiastes 2:14-15

About the Author: Jordan Criss

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Jordan Criss is a creative storyteller and has wide-ranging interests from music, screenwriting, and anime. At his core, Jordan believes in being authentic, and it comes through in his writing. In his own life, Jordan explores the emotions and where it resonates with those around him. If you’re interested in following along on his journey, follow him on Instagram (@crisshappens). Send him your favorite song or craft beer to try!

Learn more about the author Jordan Criss on these Podcasts:

#55 - Jordan Criss: Dissecting the Muse

#52 - Jordan Criss: Soundset 2019 and Minnesota Brewing

#20 - Jordan Criss: Storytelling, Passion and Making Connections

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