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I Wear the Mask
Silence as a social dietary staple is taboo for youngsters marching into manhood and is often looked down upon by their peers; being society’s opposable thumb, I was never starved of it. Through my middle school years, I retreated from my classmates—reading a book was much easier to manage than holding a conversation—and seldom opened my mouth. As the Fates would jocosely have it, my idiosyncrasy clung to me when I started high school. I soon found out as a freshman that remaining quiet would be agonizing; being human, a social creature by inheritance, I came to the terms that perhaps talking was necessary for health—this epiphany dawned at an inconvenient twilight. Summer break is an awkward stretch of time when one has no friends to spend it with, so I knew that I was expecting a rerun sophomore year. Mrs. Teague’s Drama class shattered my expectations—and taught me how to talk.
I enrolled in Drama ignorant of theatre. Beforehand, I visualized a play as some cut and dry Elizabethan production with drawling soliloquies and trigger-happy characters. So when I walked into Mrs. Teague’s room, I didn’t expect much out of the class. I seated myself at the furthest table, comfortable in my isolation; within minutes, I was up on stage, given the assignment of preparing a short skit.
Sharing in my panic were two of my classmates, Megan and Tyler; we were brainstorming on how to illustrate a common fairytale. Tyler was singing to the tune of “The Three Little Pigs”; Megan, rebelling, wanted “Shrek”; apathetic, I was silent.
“Come on, Tyler,” Megan whined. “You’re so boring!”
“No one will get Shrek!” Tyler protested. “It’s better to be traditional!”
“You’re a pussy.”
Their kerfuffle raged on until, in a thick Scottish accent, I bellowed:
“Would ya two just put a cork in it?”
My intervention had shut them up immediately; they stared at me in awe, drooling ever so slightly. After their homage was paid, Megan punched Tyler on the arm and said, “That settles it: we’re going with Shrek;”—she pointed a chubby sausage at me—“and you’re the ogre, pal.”
“No way,” I snapped. “I don’t do well in front of people—I can’t be the main character!”
“Too bad,” Megan scolded. “You’re going to be big and green while Tyler is going to be four-legged and furry.”
“I only meant the accent as a joke,” I explained.
“You can still be funny when we perform,” Megan said. “In the meantime, keep in mind that Shrek has to rescue Princess Fiona and that’s me—so don’t screw this up.”
I looked at Tyler for some backup. By his pale complexion, I knew he was of no use. Obviously, Megan was wearing the pants in this getup and we were along for the ride. What was I going to do?
I had no time to mull over my predicament. Mrs. Teague had announced that our planning time was finished and she would be selecting groups to perform. No surprise on what the die rolled: our group was first.
We were told that we could use black boxes for props and say “scene” to mark the beginning and end of our skit. Frantic, I hauled a box to center stage and plopped down on it. Megan hid somewhere backstage and Tyler was on the far left on all fours. We were ready. But there were at least twenty-five pairs of eyes aimed at me—I was the focal point, fan-frigging-tastic.
Silence ensued—something I was only too familiar with. Then, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I cried thus:
Tyler—now dubbed “Donkey”—started his crawl towards me. I had my chin in my hand, watching him get closer. The stares towards us were burning my face. What the hell was I on to be stupid enough and sign up for this class? I knew that I wasn’t a people person!
My heart thumped wildly in irregular beats.
My breath was a wispy, nonexistent vapor.
A vacuum was in the room. If only I had crickets to make some noise.
Their eyes still lay on me.
This was torture eternal. I needed relief.
Tyler was now edging towards my blocky throne. I had surveyed him previously through the corner of my eye, but now took complete notice as anger contorted my features and I rose in a Celtic upstart:
“Oy! Who are you and what do ya think yer doin’ on me swamp!”
Waves of laughter lapped at my feet in response.
The world stopped spinning on its axis for the briefest of moments: I was a dry sponge and was drinking it all in.
What was this? Were people actually laughing at something I had done? It wasn’t possible! And yet, here I was, standing in front of everyone, and people were laughing. Not at me, but with me. What would I do now? Think!
The laughter died down only for a kid to yell out, “More!” Kindling to crackly, dusty timber, a tiny flame began to flicker inside me. I continued my Scottish rant while they howled, screamed, and snorted.
Giggles were a joyous currency for my efforts. And with that payment I was granted something I had always longed for: acceptance.