Something strange happened to me in August.
A large chunk of the mask I had permanently affixed to my face fell off. For the first time in a long time, I really looked at myself, my real self — or at least, I looked at the part which was now revealed. I loved part of what I saw, and I hated part of it too. I fought the urge to pick up the broken piece and glue it back on before anybody saw what I’d worked so hard to conceal over the years. I didn’t want others to be uncomfortable with what was underneath. I didn’t want myself to be uncomfortable either. And I really did hate the scars that showed.
And then, in September, I decided to take my own advice. No more masks.
Since then, on what feels like a weekly basis, I’ve reached up and grabbed what remained affixed and yanked. Sometimes large pieces come away. Sometimes only a bit of powdery plaster crumbles off. Sometimes, no matter how much I pull and cut my hands on the jagged edges, nothing comes loose and I’m left frustrated, staring into the mirror and wondering why it has to be so difficult.
Italians have a concept reflected in their phrase emozione nacoste (“hidden emotions”) which I’ve come to greatly appreciate in the intervening days.
Emozione nacoste isn’t about suppression. It is about emotion that is so deep you aren’t even aware of its presence until, suddenly, you are, and there is a sense of correctness, a sense of completion. “Of course,” you might say to yourself. “I knew I felt like this, somewhere, but I couldn’t put it into words.” And now all the words are there, flowing out of you like music.
In October, I started to write a book.
I began to look at how people connect with one another. I began to explore the ways we communicate in order to create connection. I began to walk through my own life story as if it was a museum, quietly moving through the Relationship Room, running my hands over the displays, feeling for the bumps and scars and divots, shuffling through the papers and books and reams upon reams of staff paper scribbled over with half-formed stanzas and driving, driven, bass lines.
I learned two things: my musical background means I relate to the world in sound, but not the everyday sounds of talking and broken car mufflers and the clack of someone’s wobbly wheeled shopping cart. It means that everything, and I mean everything, causes a melody in my head. Where other people may mentally record their thoughts and experiences and hear the clicking of typing keys, I hear music. I can hear three, four, more stories at a time, weaving around one another in graceful arcs like voices in a choir.
I also learned that physical distance can be intimate. I’ve had my share of long-distance relationships, and long-distance moments in relationships. “Why am I telling you this?” Because you can’t see me crying while I write it. “When can I see you again?” Because I’m aching every moment for a single touch. “No matter how much I beg, never delete this outline. I’ll be crazy and want you to. I won’t even know myself at that point. I know I can trust you.” Because you’re far away and won’t have to face me as I glare at you and try to argue and force you to do my will, no matter how destructive it is to myself.
And I did do that. I sent the outline to a friend in Croatia.
Two nights later, I fell asleep at my desk. I had been writing for hours but everything felt flat. Where was the conflict? I didn’t have enough conflict to propel the story forward.
At about 3:00 a.m., a chat message dinged in my earbuds, and I raised my head to look at the screen. “Dobro jutro,” it read. Good morning from Croatia. Embarrassed, as if ŽB could see my exhausted face through the chat window, I replied. “Good morning. I’ve been writing.”
Not “I fell asleep.”
Not “I’ve cried half the night over this stupid story.”
Not “I can’t do this.”
Not “I quit.”
Just “I’ve been writing,” because all of my mask hadn’t been torn away yet. I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable about this.
With an aching neck and an earbud cord-imprinted cheek, watching the cursor blink in the chat window, I realized the conflict was inherent in the relationship between the two main characters and the fact that one of them could never, ever tell the other one what she truly was.
She had her own mask, you see. It was the conflict.
Armed with the ideas of music and distance, and finally having a conflict in place, I told ŽB I was restarting the story, placing the characters very far away from one another, and the outline he had in his possession was no longer valid. Just as I had asked him to do, he refused to delete it. I knew he would, that’s why I chose him above everyone else to guard the outline to begin with.
I moved a character to Budapest.
I began to break the other character down, beat the ever-loving hell out of her emotionally, abusing her in every way I had ever been abused. I had to crush her. And then, I had to start handing her gypsum plaster and molding tools. I had to help her construct her mask. I know the power of symbols as well. I had to help her find a symbol of hope and settled upon the perfect one — an acorn. My own symbol during my recovery was a mermaid.
I’m going to Budapest for a month in April and May of 2014 to flesh out the Budapest narrative. I may get to visit with ŽB down in Croatia and try to glare and get my way. (I hope I fail.)
I go through a box of Kleenex every two days.
I fall asleep at my desk now and then. I am finally admitting it when I’m caught.
I wear a silver acorn on a chain around my neck, right next to my own symbol of the Tree of Life, the gateway between worlds. I abandoned the mermaid long ago.
i’ll see you in my dreams
Lucid dreaming can, I’ve read, lead to dream walking — entering the dreams of others. True or not, the idea intrigues me because of a long-term recurring dream I have had. That dream was the basis of the outline ŽB still holds.
And so today I’m writing, and there’s some stuff about Budapest, and some stuff about abuse, and some stuff about acorns and new beginnings and dreams and loss and masks and never-will-have because sometimes life is like that.
Lifting and falling, weaving around one another, intertwined phrases creating a symphony because that’s how I experience the world.