The Faces We Wear

I have been writing a book. It will be published in a few weeks, hopefully. It is about a guy who pretends to be other people. Won’t give away more than that - spoilers can’t be good for business. You must read it when it comes out - I will share the details in this space. Anyway, as I was writing it, I had several crises of faith - Will it be a good read? Would anyone buy this? This is boring. Am I writing this character right? And in all this, I looked closely at myself, to draw inspiration for the imposter I was writing about. For as long as I can remember, I have had trouble understanding myself as a person. Often I have felt like an empty vessel, driven by the faces I wear. 

Let me clarify - my life hasn’t been a very happy one so far. There were several deaths, abandonment, and separations that marred my journey, and not being the bravest person I know, I used denial to cope with these situations. If I didn’t believe these things were real, they wouldn’t affect me, right? I think that’s how I lost touch with my own reality, while still being aware of all the bad stuff that happened. I know I often make myself sound like a victim in these articles I write, but that is no more true. To win against all the evil, I became it. Over the course of the last two decades, I have hurt people deeply. I have abandoned and I have separated from people. All that’s left to do is die - then I will be even with the universe. Anyway, I digress.

As I was saying, my motivation for doing morally questionable stuff has always been a sense of survival - I broke hearts because I was afraid to have a broken heart myself, I left because I was afraid of being left, and so on. This reminds me of that thing they say about villains - the greatest villains are those who believe they are doing good. We all justify our wrongdoings - but I think if a person identifies as a bad guy, it is indicative of a feeling of guilt. And I don’t think that makes for a great villain. I can’t even be a great villain in my own story. Well, this is my story - how do I know it? I know it from the fact that my eyes are attached to my body and everything I see, I am compelled to identify as others vs me. However much I try, I can’t suspend the perception of “myself” and hence, it is my story.

The next question that perplexes me is - Am I a good character? By ‘good’, I don’t mean morally - I mean as a source of entertainment. I have stopped worrying about the former, as evident by the earlier paragraph. But the latter matters to me. I am a writer and most characters I write are a reflection of myself at some level and if the source of inspiration is drab, what hope is there for the end product? We established that I have a sense of ‘self’ but I don’t think I have a good idea of who I really am. That enables me to be different than myself - sometimes crueler, sometimes kinder, and sometimes indifferent. But the person inside is often an empty shell. Just the other day, watching a dog die of old age in a movie brought me to tears - I sobbed uncontrollably, unable to understand why that piece of fiction had that effect on me, especially when I had survived the death of three family members without shedding any tears. 

Could it be the real me seeping out from that faceless nobody I believe myself to be - you know the one that wears all the faces? The faces are fascinating by the way - they are great shields that have helped weather a lot of tough times. But what they fail at is making real connections. They are masks after all. I have talked about my beginning before, how the self-loathing set in pretty early on. These faces also were a result of the same thing I guess. “You have to have a brave face on,” some unknown person had once told me. That is how I survived my first ordeal. And eventually, these tools of self-preservation began acting like weapons. And the real me, whoever it was, got lost somewhere behind these faces. For a long time, I believed that everybody hated themselves. Then I met someone who was completely opposite to that notion. They loved themselves and in the extension of that self-assurance, everybody loved them. I was envious.

One of the most viewed blog pieces on this page is the one about Kritika, my college girlfriend. People who knew me in college must remember the altercations Kritika and I got into in the final year. I often say that I had sabotaged that relationship myself. It was really on and off towards the end, where she started flirting with a family friend and I started trying to get over my emotional dependence by being harsh and rude. And in all that, there would be times when I would feel like it wasn’t me orchestrating the whole thing, but this face I was wearing. It acted a certain way, misbehaved, and drove that person away - but behind that face, I was someone else, maybe someone who did not like to behave that way.

Similarly in another instance, I was terrible to this girl I was seeing for several years and I just abandoned her at a very crucial time. I felt bad about it obviously but I also felt like the person who did this wasn’t really me. And I know it sounds like I might be just trying to absolve myself of the consequences or the guilt of all the bad things I have done by pretending someone else was driving me, but that’s not the case. Even at other times when life was totally normal and I went about my daily routine during school, I felt like I was wearing a mask that I just couldn’t take off. I acted like a clown in school, even though I was the same dark-minded cynic that I later came out as - but I couldn’t show that part of me to anyone then. And later, the cynic also felt like a face I wore and not the real me. There was a distinct disconnect between who I felt like I was inside and who I was outside.

I think at some fundamental level, people could sense this about me. I was nice to everyone at school but I still did not have a lot of friends. There were guys in my class who outright hated me without ever having really interacted with me much. My friend Anjaneya (who is one of the handfuls of friends I have ever had in life) once said this to me, “I don’t understand why all the guys dislike you so much. You don’t do anything to invoke that reaction.” It perplexed me for a long time and eventually, I just stopped trying to have friends, or at least deeper connections. I did make friends later in life, but most of them accepted me with all the quirks and unpredictability that was the flavor of that time. Thankfully, we were all quickly growing up by that age and the change in personality was easily explainable. 

It was not until a major life event that I really started thinking about it once more. I soon realized that I was lost somewhere in all those faces I wore. In trying to be a certain way, likable, amiable, dependable, I lost track of who I was inside all this. I had not been myself in ages. I had been the person I thought I needed to be - there were aspects of myself in there, don’t get me wrong, but they were still disguises. And for a while, I didn’t know where to look for the real me. In that pursuit, I put on a few more faces - trying to find the right fit for myself. Each of these identities was close to who I really was, just like several others before them, but they were not me. And as soon as I discovered this, I would doom these faces by making them real unredeemable villains, leading to several horrible ends to relationships. I know this all sounds very abstract, but the people who have dealt with me in the past few years might relate it to how our relationships ended. 

At some level, I think all of us have masks on. All of us pretend to be a certain way to please someone or to project an image of confidence. But losing oneself completely to these disguises can be risky, as I have found out the hard way - by actually doing it. My journey of self-discovery is just starting now - I have peeled off all the masks and am trying to be the person who I was born as. I am taking cues from how I used to behave when I was alone with dogs earlier - because that was the closest thing to myself I ever was. Most of my reactions today are unfiltered. I do carry a lot of guilt from my earlier life, but I know those are not going anywhere. I won’t try to redeem myself with people I have fallen out with, because that’s futile. Instead, I will try to be myself so that I can avoid hurting people, and even if I do, it would be as myself.


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