Wearing Bravado

Eyes slip from me as I am, hidden beneath surface of darkness. Standing in the middle of the road, alone but for the of the crickets and mosquitoes and rain growing heavy in the treetops, I am invincible. I am god.

For now, at least. I feel safe while drenched with the obscurity darkness provides. Walking here, in this world of silence, of sanctuary, I don’t have to be liked, as I do in every other moment in summer camp, in school, in the life. I don’t even have to be noticed. Each and every thought I think is my own. I am and individual, clear and bright. I can be smart, creative, myself. Who is to judge me? These are the liberations provided by the dark. Nothing here will ever try to change me.

And yet, I am aware there is another place, another world, as close as the light of the next lamppost. If I’m not careful, I will stray too close to it and I will forget all this. My mind will slow, my speech trample its layers and complexities into single syllables, and my individuality will fall from me like a worn out coat. The way I perceive the world now, so sharply I cut myself on the muffled sounds of each breath, will be forgotten too.

A false smile flakes off of my expression like dried up glue from skin as breath falls soundless from my lungs onto pavement and rubble. I am graceful, my toes testing the ground before my heels touch it, careful not to disturb waters of the night in which I have so carefully submerged myself, careful not to make ripples which give purchase to the light’s cloying fingers.

I can make amends with the others later, for my abrupt departure, with a display of the masculinity none of us really have. They will berate me until, finally, sleep places cool hands over warm mouths, and eases indignant words back down throats, and closing eyelids over awareness. And then I will sit awake in my bunk and retreat into my head, the place I have always thought of to be an impenetrable haven. Unfortunately, of course, I am wrong.

I take the trouble to dance my way around the lamplights, to tread only upon ground and shadow all the long way back from the infirmiry because I’m losing myself. I am afraid. For years, I was the strange boy, the one who sat in the corner all day and read. But I heard people on the sidelines and listened too what they said. I took from them the charisma and humor and self-deprecation, and draped them over myself. I wrapped them about my awkward body, with longish arms and legs, and bad posture. And these attributes dragged my back into a line, broadened my shoulders, and lengthened my torso. And then people liked me. Not one or two people, everyone. At first it hurt, to bind myself so tightly, to tailor each thought that came out of my mouth, to file down the long words so as to allow my sentences slide more comfortably in peoples ears, to declaw my ideas, take away their ability to find purchase in peoples’ heads.

Even here, at the arts camp I love, in a place which not only accepts difference but encourages it, I can feel out of place. Because even though everyone is accepted, there are still kinds of difference which are more “normal” than others. Forget the ability to write, if you cannot use music or dance to entangle passersby, draw them to you with a glitzy piece of glass balanced at the end of a metal pipe, or a brush tying them all to the paper in the form of paint. And there are always those who are more normal, more rigid. Who are less accepting of others. Those others who, consequentially, seek their approval. Because even when callous, they are charismatic, and one such extroverted person seems to quell a thousand introverts.

Even here I catch myself as I pick and choose some aspects of my character and enhance them, as if they can mask the fact that I think differently from other people. I have to bind myself, if not from everyone, but from most everyone my age. And now there is now respite. My amorphous mask dries out and sticks to me like a contact lens after a nights sleep.

It hurt, too, when I first censored myself, like a legion of wayward splinters who find themselves embedded into my skin, like underwear three sizes too small. It hurts to be dropped into a scene where I have to play the part of someone I’m not, not just for the audience, but for the world

And while there was pain, there was division. My personality still rested just below my skin. I was still reading quietly inside myself, and voicing long-winded opinions about the world. It was still me inside. But then that pain faded, as I diligently quelled the more unnatural flares of individuality. Each morning, when the girls put on make-up, I would put on bravado, confidence, slather my voice and opinions with testosterone.

I hope that the boy who reads in the corner is still in there, that he is the one saying this, not some hybrid of an empty-headed teenager. I can feel him sometimes, when I say something which floods the whole room with silence, or sets it alight with outrage. I can feel him now, as I stand immersed in darkness. Sometime I think there are some pieces of my being which I refuse to give up, no matter how abnormal. But then there are others when I look behind my mask of falsities, there’s no one there. And more and more do I think of he and I as two different people. I am fast becoming the type of man who he abhors

I pad down the road, pressing silence into my footsteps. People pass me by, talking, laughing. I can step into the light of the streetlamp, if I choose, watch as my personality is washed from me in its dirty yellow glow. I can talk, laugh, have fun, but when if I look down, it won’t be me I see, though it is my silhouette stamped upon the ground. And so I stay in the dark, walk along the sides of roads. Trying to remember who I am.

Joe Polsky
Age 14, Grade 8
The Fieldston School High School
Gold Key

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