Manufactured Truth

adelaide bowen

I am not what you expect when you see someone like me. You expect people who can’t mask easily. You expect a stereotype. You expect something that doesn’t exist. You expect someone who doesn’t exist. You expect someone who can’t exist; someone who is in one piece, someone unfractured, not scattered to the wind and unsteady.

Because wearing a mask, you are not two people, one with and one without. Every time I mask, I am someone different for someone different. I’m a charlatan, really. Selling an act for anyone who will look. Begging them to come look at the act I’m putting on, even if they don’t know they’re in the audience.

Hey, it’s all a part of the magic! I can’t ruin the illusion. Don’t pay attention to the gaps, the cracks, the slips and the skips— because there’s no way I can keep up with those, either. Just watch my hands, the movement of my body, listen to what I say — pay no attention to the details, leave those to the Devil; leave those to those better suited to set those affairs in order, who are so well acquainted with them, people like me.

When you pull the curtain away, it all becomes clear. Trying to stay safe made a liar out of me. A liar and a coward, really. I was loose with my tongue in none of the ways that mattered, but all of the ways I thought would help. The naivety of the child’s brain forced to grow up too quickly; feeling like a snake slithering it’s way unseen in tall grass, but truly being observed from all sides. Even worse, that it was allowed to go on. Did people get some sort of sad fascination from watching me struggle to keep my dignity and secrets, but wearing them all on my sleeve by doing so? No matter. I have learned to hide my secrets well.

Now, to save myself from disappointment I don’t even try, sometimes. I justify it in my head by telling myself they don’t want me around and that it’s better this way. This is how your brain ‘saves’ you grief - you do not reach out for the connection you so obviously crave. You are a bystander in your own life.

They probably don’t even imagine the way your brain is spiraling every which way. They’re likely just enjoying each other’s company, like you would like to be doing if your brain didn’t impose these barriers at every turn


My high school teachers, however, for the most part (to my knowledge, dismay and great confusion) had high expectations. They expected me to go far and do great things. I’m sure they all had very big ideas of what I would do and where I would go. I don’t know if it was into the bottom of an inkwell, but the feather flies where the wind bids.

I think they were worried, though. They worried very much about me and where I would end up and oh, their expectations. No, I’m not in college now and no, I’m not pursuing that degree I was going to. They had imagined a different life for me, I believe, one contingent on me graduating high school and going to college and moving out of my parents house and suddenly, miraculously, getting better.

Fantasies are so easy to manufacture for yourself when you no longer are faced with the object of them. They can imagine I’m anywhere, doing anything, so long as we don’t speak, so long as I don’t shatter the illusion. And frankly, I don’t care to — don’t need to. I would rather not shatter my illusions either — the ones where they are still proud of me, which will stay untouched if I do not say a word to them otherwise. Maybe they would not change their minds, but I much prefer to brace for disappointment rather than expect the best, and to avoid that reaction altogether.

No, I’m not where I expected to be, either; but my expectations were borne of needing to be what I thought others wanted of me, for my own sake.

Now, I don’t know where I will be, but I will end up somewhere that is better for myself. Maybe when I can gain more control over my illnesses, I will consider school. If I gain a foothold over poverty. If, if, if. And very big ifs - not things that are easily conquered.

I cannot do much. There is little I can change. This has been all I’ve known for a long time. But I can write, I can control my narrative, I can control myself. I can be better than anyone ever was to me.

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