Disguise the Limit

Amor fati and bad faith on a vacation in Maine
by Elizabeth C.

A bag of generic bread rolls, mayonnaise,
varied lunch meats of the same color, boxed wine,
Volumin-Eyes mascara.
There is much you can tell about a grocery shopper from behind the cash register.
are bound by the freedom of not living in their surroundings.
She wouldn’t buy beauty products with food in whatever town it is she comes from,
she would probably buy wine in a bottle.
I can see she is at home in her convictions
but not her manner. I wonder who those eyelashes flutter for
and who will be drinking that boxed wine.
And if it will be drunk over sandwiches.

“There’s Bishounen, La Mer, Casabianca...“
the tired concierge intones. It won’t be sandwiches tonight after all.
I’m not all that jazzed about eating dinner on display. But
I am tired of the predictability that comes after many vacations.
startled by this voice. I know this voice,
it is the origin of my heartbreak,
recalling a sixteen year old persona that was too arduous to maintain.
And now he’s a concierge, listing restaurants where my husband and I will dine.
These are worlds that ought not to cross,
I can’t exist in them simultaneously.
Doubting whether I can exist in the former at all, I find I rather prefer predictability.
I must know though,
does he recognize me and will he see that I am happy.

“There’s Bishounen, La Mer, Casabianca...”
My daily recitation of the local restaurants with phlegmatic zeal and an effete heart.
I know this one though, barely,
today I know the guest.
She is unrecognizably controlled. I watch her downcast eyes,
little black mascara flecks detaching themselves from her quivering lashes.
I want to see if she knows I’ve recognized her.
I slide a menu across the counter and
she becomes sixteen again.
Idealistic, riddled with doubt and self deprecation.
She no longer needs to please me,
how is it that she reverts instantly.
As if she can only exist in my world as a sixteen year old girl.
Sam F. -

When I was little, I would always be very open with people; very outgoing and very honest, in every sense of the word. In that way, I was incredibly open and not very self-conscious at all, and in no way did I ever cover up who I genuinely was. I continued to speak my mind to every single person who would give me an ear for over a decade. It wasn’t until middle school that things really began to change for me.

Now, I had gone through my first year of middle school sort of, for lack of a better word, “avoiding” an extreme amount of social contact. That was because, despite wanting to be friends with as many people as possible, I was afraid of them. I was afraid of being rejected and, worst of all, being an outcast. It still baffles me that those kinds of social pressures were present even at the beginning of seventh grade, but that’s how it was. And so I spent the year avoiding most people and keeping to myself, hoping nobody would notice me and I could remain insignificant in the world’s view.

In eighth grade, however, I made a little bit of a different decision. I realized I couldn’t go my whole life without at the very least talking to a couple people, but I still feared rejection from the so-called “popular crowd.” So I made up my mind: instead of avoiding everyone, I would fix my personality in order to appeal to their better side and cover up the stranger part of me that had gotten me to the strained position I was in in the first place.

And so I carried out my decision in earnest. I covered anger, sadness, emotional turmoil, and even a certain amount of intelligence in order to bring out the “best person I could be.” I still didn’t speak much unless spoken to, and I remained calm, polite, and passive, but I always tried my best to be kind to everyone and make them happy. Unfortunately, in the process, I stopped caring about my own happiness and wellbeing, and I lost sight of who I was deeper down. By the end of eighth grade, with high school on the horizon, I made a vow to be more genuine, especially to myself and my friends.

And so I entered ninth a couple months ago, nervous but excited to see what it would be like. Other than having back-breaking amounts of homework on a daily basis, it still seems to suffer from the same problem I had at the middle school; the people are separated into looser but still present cliques, and though being your “genuine self” is promoted (though not specified exactly what it means), it’s still tough with the amount that goes into one’s image. I’ve truly made a much larger effort to get over self-consciousness and be more open with many people, especially with my opinions, which seemed to be lost in the vortex that was eighth grade, but it is very difficult.

My disguises, varying from personality to intelligence to clothing to emotions and all the way back around, have gotten me to where I am today, but they’ve also dragged me down with the stress and effort that goes along with keeping them up. I hope that one day I can be as open and true to the world as I was when I had just learned how to talk, showing it off to the world that I could now voice my opinion. But until that day, I continue to don my cloaks and hope that people can look a little bit deeper and see the real me in all its glory.

Sadie L. -
Who is that lazy man with a soul?
            You ask me
And I tell you again that that’s just who he is
But who is that beautiful woman who tells me it’s so easy?
            I tell you that it’s not
But you ask me again and again to spell out the pros and cons of every up and down - zig and zag. Yes, you tell me to spell out the words under the words
And I tell you that the opposite of knowledge is the gaps between here and there
But you don’t want knowledge, you just want to know:
            Who is that lazy man with a soul?
So I spell out the words under the words for you
That green sometimes has more yellow than blue
            and that colors can only be so deep until their black
and red is a primary color
And that lazy man with a soul knows more about the blue sky than I’ll ever know
You stare into his eyes of stone and stale bread with marmalade
and you see nothing but his lazy self which sleeps on the porch in the slanted sunlight all day and answers “nothing” when you ask him what he did today
but I tell you to look harder so maybe you’ll see the creases under his hairline, and on his worn out hands
Maybe you’ll see the emptiness of his pupils and the puzzle pieces of his loneliness scattered on the ground around him
And maybe you’d even see a little glint in his eye
You read the words under the words, and no one has to tell you this time.
Grace F. -

Disguises exist not only as masks that we put on ourselves but also as lenses through which we view others. This February, I had the amazing opportunity to spend three weeks living with host families in Senegal and The Gambia through a program at my school. “Africa?!” everyone would gasp as I explained my upcoming travels. They thought I must be crazy. Some friends told me to watch out for monkeys and lions, and others talked about the entire continent as if it were a country. No one, including myself, had too much of an idea of what would really be awaiting my six classmates and me upon our arrival; we only had the bits and pieces of information about the entire continent of Africa, as it is so often presented, that we had been exposed to.

Before our departure, our exchange group was able to study and try to learn as much about Senegambian culture as we could. Between the stories of two of our teachers who spent their childhoods in the places we would visit, the history lessons, and an education about food and music, we could start to get a sense of the lives of our West African hosts. And honestly, a great deal of the acquisition of knowledge was actually unlearning my own preconceived notions about people and places that were different from what I had known. The media coverage and messages that I had received for most of my life about West Africa—and other African countries—tended to revolve only around war and extensive poverty and sadness. So before I knew and could see for myself the wonderful cities, villages, and families that we were so fortunate to visit, I had projected those images onto them. In effect, the assumptions I had before this trip limited what I was able to envision of West Africa and allowed me to view it only through a disguise that I had created.

Upon arriving in Gunjur, a small village in the Gambia where our entire group was welcomed with open arms, I was introduced to my host father, his mother, ten children, four grandchildren, and three wives. In truth, I was initially a little taken aback. Three wives? To say I was surprised is an understatement. My whole life I had been taught that marriage is always between two people. We have national laws against marrying multiple men or women in the United States and those who believe otherwise are publicly denounced. And those public opinions are all I have ever heard. But through living with my incredible hosts, the Njie family, and spending my days talking to each family member and gaining an understanding of their lives, I began to realize how they all work together to make a strong and loving family. I had let my own presumptions based on what I had personally been told determine how I initially looked at their family; the love that the Njie family had for one another and the normality in which their household was viewed in Gunjur was masked, through my eyes, because I allowed myself to judge so quickly. In fact, some people would have the same reaction to learning that my parents are two women who have married each other until they understood that they have created such a loving family together. It's just about what you know and experience and what you see in your own community.

As people, we create disguises for ourselves to hide behind, but we also view others with masks that we make for them. By prejudging people based only on our own views and experiences, we cover up who they actually are and see them instead through a lens of who we think they are. My ideas about what I was going to experience before leaving for Senegal and the Gambia were seriously clouded by what I had seen in the news and heard from people around me, and I let that masquerade an entire part of the world before I was able to break through it and discover that those assumptions are not true. It is incredibly important to look at the way we view new people and places. You never know when what you see might really be a disguise—and when that disguise may actually be of your own making.