This is a summer-rerun post–a story called, Masks. It was originally written 3 years ago but is truer now than it was then–at least for me. It was inspired by a post on Jean Raffa’s wonderful blog, Matrignosis, called, “Ruling the Inner Chamber” ( http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/ruling-the-inner-chamber-3/  .
Joseph Anthony Petro
Once inside a time, a child descended the rainbow spiral and slipped into the life of a troubled young couple. The child floated in its embryonic wonder, dreaming of eternity, dreaming of worlds within worlds, dreaming of creating the universe, as her little body formed–clothing those dreams in flesh and bone.
At long last she was born again and when she first focused her grey, oceanic eyes on her mother, she took the image of her mother, saw it form into a mask, and drop down onto her little face as lightly as a breeze. After a moment the mask took on the shape and contour her own face, and disappeared, leaving her seemingly unaffected. The same thing happened when she first saw her father. A mask lifted from his face, imprinted with his features, drifted down upon her face, and disappeared just below the surface.
One day, years later, her father lost his temper for the hundredth time, something about money and bills, and the image of his face changed, distorted, and another mask lifted and wafted through the room until it landed on her face where, like the other masks, it took the shape and form of her face and then disappeared.
One day her mother flew into a rage and slapped her around the room, because she had broken her cellphone, and the child took on the mask that lifted from her mother’s wild, anger-blinded face. Her tears acted like an extra strong adhesive as that mask stuck itself down to stay.
Another day she was assaulted by an uncle in the basement of his house on Easter Sunday. His mask burned as it grafted to her face. As did the faces of everyone upstairs when she was finally able to move and go upstairs, in shock, somehow their gazes told her they all knew what a horrible, ugly person she had suddenly become. And they looked away but their masks hung in the room and followed her as if suspended on invisible strings, to where she sat rocking on the floor in front of the TV, her arms wrapped around her knees, like stunted wings.
Still another day she was humiliated in front of the entire school when she forgot the words to the song she was singing at the Christmas assembly. It was quite a feat, but she managed to assimilate the masks of everyone staring at her; everyone who laughed and pointed their fingers.
Over time and over years, she took on mask after mask from those around her. She would watch other children get praised for something they did or said and she took on their masks as well. She took on masks of bullies, victims, the wall flowers in the corner; heroes, heroines, pop stars, movie stars, lovers, therapists, friends, and even imaginary people she made up in her mind. And with every mask she forgot who she was. Sure she knew the name her parents gave her; sure she knew things about herself. But her real name; her true identity, that became increasingly hidden under layers and layers of micro thin, but nonetheless nearly unbreakable masks.
Until one day, in her late thirties, she broke down while looking in the mirror. She no longer knew who she was. She didn’t know what to do with her life. She didn’t have a purpose, a direction. She didn’t know anything except that she hated herself, that she felt ashamed with every step she took. And as she stood, hunched over the sink, sobbing into her hands, a raven slammed into the bathroom window with a horrible thud. Broken from her trance, she ran downstairs to see if the bird was still alive. Outside her door, flapping miserably, but looking a bit embarrassed, was a raven. Its eyes looked dazed, one of its wings was bent in a way it shouldn’t be, but otherwise it seemed OK. She bent down to see if there was something she could do when she fell backwards screaming because the raven, as a-matter-of-factly-as the rising sun said: “It was worth it.”
After shaking her head and staring at the raven for quite some time, she stood up, trembling.
“You heard me,” said the raven, “now pick me up and take me inside, I won’t bite. Yet.”
The woman gingerly scooped the raven into her arms, surprised at the size and weight of this night-colored creature.
“What do mean, it was worth it.”
“I had to get your attention somehow. I didn’t mean to hit the window so hard, but at least it broke you out of your trance.”
“You-you smacked into the window for me?”
“Yes, a few more minutes and you’da been lost forever.”
“In the swamps of pity. Once people get lost in there, they almost never make it out alive. But you’re OK now,” he said as she gently placed him on the couch.
“What do you need,” she asked, “What can I do for you?”
“I just need a few minutes to rest before I ask you to stick my wing back into its socket. It’s just a bit dislocated.”
She cringed at the thought. “It’s the least I can do after you saved me from the swamps of self-pity.”
“I suppose,” said the raven, “but first we need to work on you.”
“Me? What do you mean?”
“I was sent here to help you remember.”
“Who you really are.”
“But I know who I…” and then she stopped and remembered the mirror.
“Right,” said the raven as he tried lifting his hurt wing. He winced.
“What do I need to do?”
“Remove the masks.”
“The ones you’ve been collecting since before you were born.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do not know who you are,” said the raven. “You don’t recognize yourself. And the person you see in the mirror you hate. You do not like who you have become.
“Yes,” she said starring at the floor.
“It’s the masks,” he said.
“I don’t remember wearing any masks.”
“I believe you,” said the raven, “now please, let’s actually do this to my wing first, I’ll be able to concentrate better on you. Pull my wing gently from right here near the shoulder and lift it ever so slightly and then gently, gently, press it in and towards my body.”
With a deep gulp she slowly did as he requested. He screeched sending her tumbling backwards.
And then he was flapping around the room, strutting with great glee.
“It worked!” he shouted, “Nicely done! So much better!” And for a few moments he preened his feathers starring at her with eyes the color of black blood.
“Now,” he said, “let’s begin.”
She tried to speak but he interrupted her.
“Just listen,” said the raven, “this is only a beginning, and there isn’t a finish line. This work is eternal. We are just going to make it so you at least remember your real name. That’s a great start. Most people don’t get to that point. Once you do that though, the other masks will lift off almost of their own power and you will become lighter and lighter, more you than ever.” And as he spoke, he guided her on a journey within herself, where she began lifting off the masks of the people in her life. As some of the masks were removed, she wept; with others she raged; with others she threw up into the trash can; with others she shook for hours. Mask by mask, she uncovered who she really was. She got in touch with her body, with some of the memories she had long ago hidden. She slowly began accepting herself as herself. She would look in the mirror and catch glimpses of the person she always wanted to be; the person she really was underneath all the masks. The person she loved.
The raven stayed by her side for the rest of her life. And wonder of wonders, with every mask she removed, he shifted his shape. First he became a horse, then a black bear. Then he became an owl, and then a panther. And one day, after she had removed a particularly old and worn out mask, one that crimped her skin with its brittleness, she looked towards her shape-shifting friend, and he was an angel—winged, dark as night, and yet somehow radiant as the stars.
“Now,” he said, “are you beginning to remember your real name?”
“I think so,” she said, “but if I’m right, won’t that be the end? I mean you said there wasn’t a finish line, but if I remember my real name and who I really am, won’t that be it? Game over?”
“Not at all,” said the angel smiling like a crescent moon, “it only means you can begin doing everything you always wanted to do. It only means you will begin looking at this unmasking work as a grace-filled, wonderful adventure and privilege. It simply means you will shine like you were meant to shine. It simply means those around you will begin to look at you with awe and reverence, for so few people know who they are, and when they get into the presence of someone who knows their real name, they will seek out your wisdom. So tell me,” he whispered as he stopped to look her in the eyes, “what is your name?”
After a few moments of luminous chills coursing through her body, and tears of gratitude streaming down her face, she said, “Freedom. My name is Freedom.”
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog