“Who are you?” he asked in a gruff voice, holding a faded Halloween mask out to me.
I was confused. He knew who I was. We’d been friends since 9th grade art class when I gracelessly knocked a jar of paint-dirtied water off the table and into his lap. We had been friends through crazy exes and college essays and all of the things that somehow seemed insignificant in between. How could he not know me?
He pushed the mask toward me again. It was a rubber mask with a large nose and squinty eyeholes: a politician from sometime before I even knew what politics were. It was smudged with dirty fingerprints and smelled of latex and stale sweat.
“Who are you?” he asked again. “If you give a man a mask, he will show you who he really is. So, who are you?”
I frowned, “I don’t think I understand.”
“What would you do with a mask on?” he explained. “Your face is hidden. Your identity unknown. You can get away with anything you want. Nothing can stop you. No one will know it’s you under the mask.”
He pulled the mask over his face. His eyes were bright through the holes in the mask as he danced in front of me like a grotesque bobblehead on the smoky dashboard of a vintage get-away car. His voice, muffled by the rubber, sounded excited as he began, “I would rob a bank. The vault of some jerk that has a lot of money. I’d buy a car with some of the cash. A flashy ride, but not too flashy. Then I’d find Brandon Meeks, do you remember him? We had Science with him in the 11th grade. He was a total jerk. Do you remember?”
I did remember Brandon Meeks. He was always making fun of the smart kids and high-fiving his basketball buddies whenever he made suggestive comments at the girls in the halls. He HAD been a totally jerk.
“I’d find Meeks,” he continued, “and I’d punch him. Really hard. With a baseball bat. Then I’d find his other jerk friends and punch them too.” He swung an imaginary bat wildly at the empty space in front of me. “I’d take care of a lot of people with my bat. A lot.”
He pulled the mask off and handed it to me again, a smile still on his lips. “Now, who are you?”
“You have to put it on,” he insisted.
I obediently pulled the mask over my face, trying not to breathe in its stench. It was dark and claustrophobic inside and there was a sticky residue pasting the rubber to my cheek. ‘What would I do if no one knew it was me?’ I thought for a moment about vigilante justice and Robin Hood. I thought about payback and anger, and then I thought quickly of all of the things I was too afraid to do as me: belt out my own version of ‘Living On A Prayer’ on a karaoke stage, command hundreds of fans with amazing guitar solos in a band, lead the crazy chicken dance at a wedding reception, or audition for a community theatre musical.
What would I do, hidden behind a mask? No one could see me. No one could judge. No one would laugh at me or make me feel like a fraud. Who would I be when no one else could see?
I sighed. It was an easy answer. It was an answer that I didn’t even really need to think about for more than a moment. I would sing and perform and dance. I would kiss in the rain.
“I would fall in love.”