Faces and Masks
It was a Friday night in Fall, early October, that I went to the party. My favourite day, my favourite month, my favourite season: I had all the makings of a wonderful weekend, and I spent the day with my friends, Max and Francis. After school, we holed up in Francis' basement, playing my game on Max's console. It was fun, if unremarkable. We talked, we argued, we joked, we laughed, we got some food, we hung out. The seconds and minutes piled up, and the day melted into night.
Max's phone was always at his side. The day was dotted with instances where he would receive and reply to a text, a conversation separate from me and Francis. He was in no short supply of criticisms for the girl he was texting, making a point to comment every time she said something stupid or annoying, but he kept replying regardless. Eventually those text messages led to an invitation, which Max extended to me and Francis. Somebody somewhere was throwing a party, and Max wanted to check it out. Francis and I gave an adamant no, at which point Max threatened to go by himself.
“We'll see you Monday.” Max didn't want to go by himself.
“So don't.” But he still wanted to go.
In the time it took him to convince us to go, I'd wager Max could've walked there alone. The same way you can only hit snooze on an alarm clock so many times, Francis and I eventually caved in. We slipped on our shoes with all the enthusiasm and gusto of an inebriated slug. Max promised we wouldn't be there long.
The night was cool, and the crispness of the autumn air was invigorating in a peculiar way; the sharp inhalations felt like I was breathing in October itself. The sky was dark and the streets were vacant. The sun settled below the horizon at least an hour before, but the moon had yet to make an appearance, so we made our way by street light, talking all the way. The topic of the conversation was seldom focused, but never boring. We arrived, I'd say, around 10:00 PM. The moon had come out by then, nestled just over the mountains. Max pointed at the house we were to go into. Feeling refreshed after the walk, I managed to convince myself I might have a good time after all, or at least that it wouldn't be so bad. Francis, however, harboured no such delusions. He sat down on the curb and told us he'd wait.
“The people in there are idiots.”
Good ol' Francis. Max and I went in.
There were far too many inhabitants. Max mediated pointless introductions, after which I immediately made my way to the corner nearest the exit. My hands were trembling, my face was devoid of colour, and my pulse was rapid-fire. I folded my arms, leaned against the wall, and stared intently at a clock just opposite me, but it seemed neither of us was ticking.
The party wasn't kind to my senses. The room was lit a dismal magenta. It was too dark to make out any dancing, just the dizzying movement of indistinguishable people. The music was loud and terrible, but it seemed I was the only one who thought so. The air was thick and stuffy with the stench of bad cologne; a foul cocktail of Axe body spray burned my tongue. The room vibrated from the music and shambling and unintelligible words, and everything had a nauseating aspect to it. My jaw ached from clenching. The corners of my mouth twitched.
Max was talking to some girl, probably the one he was texting, and I just stood there, quietly suffering. My temples throbbed to the beat of the music, whereas my heart pounded a discordant tattoo of its own. I shuffled uncomfortably where I stood, sweating profusely in the jacket I refused to take off. Focusing on nothing, I gathered everything: The conversations forced their way into my ears, and I overheard every word. There was plenty of talk, but nobody ever seemed to actually say anything. In the movies, idle chat is always about the weather. In reality, it's not so obvious.
I watched Max talk, and my perception of him washed away as he did. He spoke on the same level as the girl, who was vapid by his own admission, and as they both laughed, I realized the Max in front of me was Max as he was in the text messages he'd been sending all night. To her, this was the “real” Max, and I wondered which of us was at the performance. Maybe both. Maybe Max was just a mirror, only able to reflect whoever was in front of him. If people base their identity on who they're interacting with, and their interactions with people were largely meaningless small talk, what kind of identity does a person end up with?
I looked around. Were any of these people were real? I wondered just how much of their genuine identity was on display. I wondered how much of their identity was even genuine. Above all else, I wondered why I was still brooding in the corner. I waded through a sea of shawls and cowls and veils and façades and disguises to the door. I slipped out and didn't care too look back. Outside, the full moon cast a dreamy glow over everything. I approached Francis on the curb.
“The people in there are idiots,” I parroted, and sat down next to him.
Max never came out, but his Thespian counterpart eventually did, playing a ruthless parody of my friend. His act wasn't meant to conceal his identity, it was meant to feign one. He, and perhaps everyone else at the party, had a collection of these acts, a collection of identities, but as with any cheap counterfeit, their collections amount to nothing. Empty boxes with pretty wrapping paper and bows, good twenty-four days out of December, but not the one that matters. A real present, a real identity, is something different, something authentic. It's the exploration and discovery of what's already there, not the fabrication of what's not. Too often, in a rush to find an identity, people forge one and adopt it as their own; and all the while their faces stagnate, neglected, under their masks.