There are things we take for granted in this world, and things we don’t notice. Shelters and masks, in that order. This may seem a little bit sudden, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot more of late. The house I live in, it drives me crazy. Sometimes all I want to do is scream and leave, and not come back. Except I’d have to. I have nowhere to go and nothing to go in.
As I walk the streets of Dublin, I’m forced to see the people I don’t want to see: the homeless. I understand that they’re not all drug-addicted excuses for humans or alcoholics or whatever, and that a lot of them are probably only there because of a mistake they’ve made in their past, and as I think about them, I realise they don’t have the liberty of just running away. They don’t have a shelter over their head to trap in the screams they let out, and they don’t have a door to slam after them as they walk to nowhere in particular in a huff. The homeless of Dublin, like the homeless of everywhere else, seem to be trapped in the endless cycle of asking people for change and barely getting enough to feed themselves, let alone to move on somewhere nice, to get to a hostel or to get off the streets. That would take a while, I think, to get enough to get off the streets.
I thought about the harsh winter we had. I didn’t see so many of the usual homeless of Dublin after that, and it made me worry for them. They don’t have a shelter over their head to keep out the cold and the damp and the illness, and they don’t have a door to closed to keep the heat in as they wrap up nice and warm before the fire watching whatever’s on television. The homeless of Dublin, like the homeless of everywhere else, are subject to this world, stuck in the endless cycle of winter, spring, summer and autumn.
Then there’s the rest of us. The ones who’ve see the homeless for a long time and done nothing about it, and who sometimes really don’t have the money to spare to give away, and who rarely feel like the money will go to much good. That might sound harsh, but a guy asked me for money earlier today to go to California. Then he said, “I won’t lie to you, it’s for drink.” My friends’ drinking habits I don’t mind occasionally feeding. They have somewhere to go afterwards. A homeless guy is doing himself no favours by drinking, because 1. it just drives people away from him, 2. the effects of alcohol aren’t permanent, so any warmth he may think he feels is only a temporary illusion and 3. he has nowhere to go when he’s done drinking, because he’s spent all the money he could have used for shelter.
The rest of us see people like this and we wear a mask.
Masks are interesting, though. Masks aren’t just for the homeless. Masks are worn by us all every day to hide how we really feel. That pain we’re feeling... we say it’s about one thing, which can be the perfect truth, but it could also be about another. Or we could hide it altogether behind a smile and a laugh.
I find a reason for a mask a lot of the time, though you won’t always see it on my face. I go into hiding behind my laptop, writing things I don’t want people to hear come from my mouth, to see on my face, to know, for sure, that it’s what I feel. I write my deepest darkest secrets down and cloud them with fiction so that they don’t appear to be anything more than the troubles of any of my characters. So where’s the big secret in that? That’s not hiding. Except there are problems – real and fictional – that aren’t my own, too. Everything about me is hidden in plain sight, but whether you recognise it as truth or fiction, and as my truth or someone else’s, is a different matter altogether.
Masks. Never. Fail.
I’ve been wearing them for... must be five and a half years, now. Five and a half years of being someone else, of smiling when I really had a problem – and when I didn’t, of course, or the mask would be obvious – and of pretending there was nothing killing me on the inside, no nightmares haunting my days and my nights.
Take off the mask and what happens?
People ask questions. People wonder. Worry, concern, anxiety. The smiling boy is frowning. Then, as quickly as they noticed, the mask is back on. It slipped off, just for a wee bit. It got uncomfortable. It got hot and clammy, stuck on so tight to the face of the smiling boy that he had to take it off.
People forget they noticed anything was wrong. They choose to forget, because masks are sometimes easier to look at. A perfectly constructed mask is a beautiful thing, covering up ugly truths. Masks even cover words. A simple, “Yeah, I’m fine,” suffices to dismantle most concern.
Everyone wears masks. The homeless do, too. They’d be crying most of the time, I think, until they couldn’t cry anymore, if they didn’t wear a mask. The problem, of course, is that tears get sympathy but earn trouble, too. Someone who doesn’t seem strong enough to survive may convince himself of that fact. And on the forgiving streets, a mask could keep you alive. Lying to yourself could keep you alive.
We don’t all have shelters, I know. We don’t all have one to escape, or one to protect us. But we all have our masks. We are all a silent mystery wishing never to be solved, hiding truths behind eternal yet fragile masks.