The Mask This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     The actor, the one with the carefully crafted mask, sits quietly by herself, staring out the bus window. Just moments before, she was cheerfully socializing but then we pull up to her stop. The Danielle we all know leaves, a foreign mind taking over as she steps off the bus.

I sit across from her, half asleep with one eye open. I watch her moods change and remember that only a select few know the truth about the two Danielles. The girls are jealous of her, often talking about her beauty and the mystery that surrounds her. But they will never know the price that she pays each day. No one knows her like I do. Perhaps her only male friend, my mind has transformed into a treasure chest where once in a while she throws some coins in the form of thoughts and feelings.

I often stare at her bright hazel eyes and study the strands of her long brown hair, each group neatly separated by golden highlights. The same jeans that everyone else wears wrap around her legs. The shirt with the same common phrase outlines her perfect figure and tanned skin. A smile sometimes appears when we talk, a rare sight so compelling I try my hardest to find it again.

Many consider her beautiful, but I see a different image. The outer beauty is concealing the internal suffering that has completely eradicated most of her inner beauty. But still the girls are jealous of her attractiveness and her life. “She’s so lucky,” they often say.

Like a book, we all judge her by her cover, too busy or disinterested to read the pages. But her cover has the wrong title and the wrong author. It amazes me how two personalities can reside in one body, each with different qualities, each taking a different shift of the day. Behind the hyper, cheery, easily amused, crazy, immature, dreamy Danielle, there’s a gloomy, depressed and deserted twin I cannot even refer to by name. Like a foreign presence, it takes over as soon as she’s alone or when she’s near that prison she calls “home.”

As soon as she starts pacing home from her bus stop, the changes in her mind eliminate the beauty and brightness of just moments before. What happens to her? Why does she wear those sunglasses even when it’s dark? I wonder if she hides the window to her soul behind them. Yet the other girls wonder how they can be more like her.

The change is almost complete when she approaches that house. It’s small, forcefully limiting her space, stopping her from escaping. As soon as she steps through the front door, the change is complete. The actor behind the curtains removes her mask. From the stories she tells, from the secrets she buries in me, I know what goes on in her house. I can feel the foggy, rough walls that rob the air of happiness. I can see her dragging a schoolbag up to her room. I hear the silence of shoes as she tiptoes to her room to avoid her parents. I can even see the light pink of her walls, the color that she and a friend applied so that the monotonous gray present everywhere doesn’t rob her room of any happiness that may appear occasionally. I know the home that has turned into a prison. But she seems hopeful.

“I will make it, I will get through it,” she often declares. Never giving up, she has found ways to escape reality. Is that why she reads so much? Is that why she worships those Harry Potter books? They let her escape to other worlds, the words on the pages filling a space. Her songs and poems resemble letters written by a captive. But Danielle’s words are addressed to the world.

Taking shelter in religion, she often prays for better things. A dear friend of hers is the journal that she keeps, the red one that Danielle hopes will one day be found by her parents after she leaves the house. She often imagines ways of returning the “favors” for all those terrible times when her own parents seemed to enjoy pretending their daughter did not exist. But the other girls do not know, and will do anything to live her life.

Then again, every morning as she steps outside to go to school, the shifts change again and the Danielle we know reappears. The same girls remain envious and stare at her with awe in the hallways. The actor again puts on her mask to begin yet another show. But I ask, who is Danielle?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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