by Blake Bunker
Jane is perfect, perfect and dying, and no one can see it.
The alarm clock blares responsibility in her ear. Time to wake up. She sucks in a long, anxious breath as another day of school presses down on her, another day of endless homework and studying, another day of friends and parents and teachers, all of them crowding her, loving her, crushing her. Another day of worry. Another day of exhaustion. But Jane can’t let them down. They’re all so invested in her, invested in her success and happiness. She can’t let them down. And so she peels herself out of bed, heart skipping inside of her chest, and prepares herself for one more perfect, dying day. Bathroom. Shower. Perfect clothes. Perfect teeth. Perfect makeup. But something is missing. Jane wipes away the steam on her bathroom mirror, staring at herself. A sad, tired girl lives in this mirror now, a girl with bleary eyes both distant and hurting. The girl in the mirror isn’t good enough for all the parents and teachers and friends. The girl in the mirror isn’t good enough to be shown outside Jane’s locked bathroom. The girl is too fragile, too ugly, too weak. Worthless, Jane tells herself. This girl in the mirror will never be good enough. Jane reaches underneath her bathroom cabinet, her fingers finding the crumpled plastic of a Ziploc baggie. She goes about the ritual, the razor blade, the tap-tap-tapping, and finally the inhale. After a brief, crackling euphoria, all goes blank in Jane’s mind, like a silent, frozen morning following a night of icy storms. Jane looks into the mirror again. The girl has changed. A mask has been pulled down over her tired, sad eyes, a numb, unbreakable mask, or so Jane hopes. Now this is the girl Jane wants to be. This girl is strong. This girl can handle all the responsibility, all the pressure, the homework, expectations, and everything else. Just a couple more months, and then college, Jane thinks. She won’t have to use the mask in college. But she had once said the same about her senior year of high school, and that didn’t turn out to be true. Jane couldn’t remember the last time she had left her room without wearing this mask. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore. School passes. Jane re-applies her mask in the privacy of another bathroom during lunch. Her friends look for her. She doesn’t answer their phone calls. She comes home to a party. Her parents—her wonderful, kind, suffocating parents are throwing a party for her. All of her friends and family are here. They’re congratulating her on soon graduating from high school. They begin to swirl around her in a current—so many happy faces, so many happy smiles, and laughs, and embraces. And yet Jane feels alone, alone and cold at the bottom of whatever abyss she has plummeted with the help of her mask. How did she reach this point? How could things be so perfect on the outside, and so dead on the inside? She doesn’t understand, and she can’t help but feel abandoned, even in this crowded room. Her mask attempts to hide these feelings, but it is cracking, Jane knows, so she excuses herself to the bathroom once more. There she looks into the mirror, and the girl inside, without her mask, is crying. Jane reaches for her purse, for the Ziploc baggie, but as she does she hears a knock. Her mother’s voice, shrill and worried, pierces Jane’s many layers of secrecy and fear. “Jane, are you okay?” Jane doesn’t respond. Her mask pleads to be re-applied, and she almost gives in, but she’s had enough. All it took was one question, one concern. Jane realizes she has been waiting for this all along, for someone to ask about her and not school or college or anything else. She doesn’t know why she feels this way. She doesn’t know when this all began, or why she gravitated to wearing a mask in the first place. It all just spiraled out of control, looking back at it now. But one thing Jane knows for sure is that she is tired of living this way. “No, mom,” she says through the door. “I’m not okay.” With that, the mask shatters. Jane, so perfect and dying before, now feels flawed and alive. And as frightening as that may be, it’s better than dying.
Depression and addiction can infest and insulate our lives, often preserving an elaborate and distracting exterior picture—a mask. Amongst young people, the mounting pressures of a looming adult world often appear insurmountable and terrifying. Young people, even those with all the signs of exterior success, can easily hide their feelings, stuffing them away in the corners of their locked bathrooms. A gentle question, an honest talk, a genuine worry—these are the antidotes to isolation and loneliness. Left alone, an individual may turn to vices like drugs in an effort to assuage these painful emotions. In the end, by participating in the lives of our loved ones, we help them rid themselves of their unhealthy masks, and face the world as they truly are: perfectly flawed, but free. Recommended Reading: LEAVE THE LIGHT ON by Jennifer Storm [su_spacer]