Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: The difficult intersection of joy and existing in a world with other people.
I’m well acquainted with joy. With the way it bubbles up from deep down inside of me like I’m a champagne bottle offhandedly shaken up. The way it froths out of my mouth, pours and sings out of my skin. Or the way it converts emotion into audible rainbows, turns auras to warmth under my skin. That joy is for me alone though. That joy is standing in kitchen when the perfect song comes on and letting my body drift and turn the way the music moves me instead of how the moves are dictated. That joy is a hot shower at the end of a cold day that cut straight through into my skin, tearing away the old and making me feel new again. It’s the rasp of cold air taken into my lungs when I step into the forest. A flock of birds parting in front of me in a blink as I cast my eyes upon the water. Joy is the effervescence of untouched show. Joy is a quiet hum instead of screaming. Joy is not having to be because there is no one to be for.
My joy isn’t made for other people, with other people. Other people want. They want and they want and they need. They expect and you placate. They seek and you seek back. It’s a call and answer with other people, it’s a game or a fight or a triad. It’s a marathon. It’s a contest. It’s laying at their feet with your stomach bared hoping they don’t notice your insides leaking out. Being with other people is like holding your hand over mouth, willing your poison back inside because people only want parts of you, even when they are kind. People want to carve you up until you are only joy. Or only good. Or only kind. Even when they think they want all of you. Even when they love you.
Joy with others is real but not the same. It’s not a lie either but it’s simpler to call it a lie because instead I think it might be the intersection of truth and its negotiation. It’s something deeper and stranger than a lie, a complication of reality. A construction of itself that is made whole from a thought. A play with one actor. An act with no end.
But joy sneaks out with others. Bursts through. Wild and bold. Honest as a bell. Laughter like bubbles spilling from my mouth as if they were water from a fountain. Kisses on the grass that sing notes. Hands clasped running for the bus. Heartbeats in time with shoes on the ground. Echoes and echoes of smiles. This joy I know too. This loud burst of joy like a shot that barrels out from deep within as real and as unexpected as the alone and quiet joy which I keep to myself. Different but true.
But it’s joy through filter. Though a mask I slip on when I’m with others. An act I’ll call half-truth even when it’s so clearly flesh and bone reality. It’s terrifying how easily I turn from prism down to clear. Hiding all my colors because they twist at the shapes of myself. The mask is an inversion. Good parts screaming out loud, bad parts quietly shoved aside, whispering. Protection for all.
I use the mask everywhere though, it might be realer than reality, especially at a party full of strangers. There’s too many bodies surrounding me to experience anything soft. Anything quietly joyful. They flood and weave and flow and chatter. I love them and I want them in equal measure but their thoughts press against me, squeezing every breath from my body. Their existence stokes the flame of the anxiety that thrums under the surface. The motor of my body. Even in safety under a mask it is there – a constant companion, a co-conspirator. Ready to ruin me at a moments notice (and here it would not hesitate to drown me).
I pull at the edges of my face. Check that my mask is in place. Still holding, calm and cool and sliding easily from body to body. Conversation and charm and flirtation rolling off my tongue. My hips. My laugh. My eyes.
And I have no false notions, everyone here is wearing a mask of their own design. Some cruel and intentional, some soft and accidental. In a crowd like this we remain faceless with our best faces on. In a sea of people we can only hope to chip away at the edges of someone else to see what is really under there.
And I want to see. Everyone is a deep well that I endlessly want to plummet head first into. I want to pry their skin from their body and once naked and alarmed, I want to see the gears all turning inside. I greedily want and ask of people what I won’t give them. Unreasonably I smile instead. And I fix my mask.
“You make it look effortless”
She’s smiling at me and her hair is perfectly coifed ringlets. Makeup and dress and mask nearly perfect on her too but she stares at me like a deer in headlights and a chill runs through me. I feel seen. Cornered and trapped.
It’s not effortless! I want to stomp my feet and yell, it’s all effort. It’s always so much effort! And for what! To not be seen! To not be heard! To only have spills of joy, accidents! To never have all of it! To be held back because you’re too much and too much and too little!
It’s holding on to all of the worst parts of yourself like you’re a dam on the verge of breaking. It’s spreading the thinnest layer of yourself over your entire body so none of your poison leaks. A girdle for your personality. A corset for your humanity. It’s exhaustion for a day after and disconnection for the rest of your life and wondering if you’ll ever be able to feel happiness near someone else when you’re so clearly not happy. But if you take it off you’ll crumble. And you’ll kill. So I fix my mask tighter and smile.
It’s a dead fish heaped up between us. A conversational dead end. But there’s no joy to be had telling someone it’s fake when they know as well as you do. And there’s no discourse to be had without laying it out on the table and make no mistake: I have no use for serving myself up to a stranger tonight.
But I want to.