The Painted Faces
I’ve found a way to portray myself in a way that is appealing to a certain audience. I can be your best friend, and then I can be the world’s worst creation — if you need me to be. I bend and contort myself in all these unimaginable twists and braids so that someone, somewhere will have whatever it is they need from me. Because I am here not for myself, but for a purpose that is bigger, and greater, than anyone.
But when I come home at the end of the night to wipe off the painted faces I have made, I look in the mirror to realize that some paint hasn’t completely washed away. Because even when we come home, we are needed differently by the people who love us most.
When I’m around my mother my face is quiet — unemotive and it only speaks to her when she needs it to. I have learned that my facial expressions bother her more often than my verbal communication. So I have learned to speak less, listen more and choose the face I wear around her wisely.
My grandmother needs me to be a ray of sunshine — the girl who begged her room be painted dandelion yellow and dug up everything to understand where it came from and how it managed to grow in the horrible Texas heat. She needs me to be the person who will never wrong her, betray her or even speak against her.
When I’m with her, I try my best to keep my emotions in check because somehow she can hear all the nuances in my voice and the way I speak. Plus — she’s my grandmother. She knows without ever being told. One look at me and she quickly asks, “What’s the matter?”
With my best friend, I am the closest to being free of every damn bit of paint that clings to my skin. However, I’ve painted a face for her too. Because she needed one, despite how much I wished she didn’t.
I can paint my faces a million different shades of red to tell you all the ways I’ve loved, hated, and betrayed everything, and everyone in my life. I could change the hue to blue, just to show all the different ways I’ve cried, mourned, suffered and wished upon a starry sky that someone was actually listening — somehow, somewhere, there was someone who knew me and that I was asking them: “Why must I do this to myself? When will I be free of all the masks, facades and pretending? Will I ever get to be my full self?”
I don’t know if I’ll ever get an answer. But the one thing I do know for certain, is that one day, layer by layer each pigment that has stained my skin will fade. Every shade of red, blue, purple, pink, black, and all the colors in between. They will fade, and one day I will come home to a place I feel is truly mine. I will set aside my things, undress myself from the day, go into the bathroom to take down my hair and remove my makeup to see that underneath it all, I am still here.
I know who I am. Even on the days I question myself and am filled to the brim with doubt I know who I am, what I am capable of and that I am not here to please people, or to be seen as pleasurable. I am here to serve a purpose. I am here to help others, and if that means I paint my face in a way that’ll make them see I am a friend, not a foe, then damn it, I will do it.
It will just take time for it to all fade away, is all. One day, I’ll look in the mirror and take off the face I painted for that day, and I’ll say: “Hey there, it’s good to see you again.” Because underneath every layer of pigment, color, mask and facade, I will always find myself. Even if no one is okay with that, and I will be forced to wear the inaccurate portrait of someone who has done them wrong, broken their heart or destroyed their lives — that is what I’ll do. Because even if you don’t wear a variety of masks, you will come to see that in life, we are all but a portrait in someone’s life. A mother. A daughter. A sister. A lover. A child. A vagrant. A saint. A liar. A fake.
Call it what you must. But be still, and recognize who you are. When you come home and shake off all the names, labels and masks people have forced upon you — do you still see the person you know in the mirror? Or is it the image of someone — or something — else entirely?