"Do you want me to cover your nose or your mouth?
We leave only one open so you can breathe."
Crap. I hadn't thought that far ahead. Momentarily, I panic. Please don't take away my voice. If she covers my mouth I will feel like I have no voice. If she covers my nose I might hyperventilate. Uncertain, I ask what other people have done. She tells me they usually choose to have their mouth covered. I breathe deep and tell her okay, cover my mouth then. God, this takes trust. I am truly at her mercy. I hadn't thought that far ahead, either.
And so my therapist begins. Gently she wipes my whole face down with Vaseline, making sure my eyebrows, eyelashes, and the hither and yon wiry hairs that grow above my upper lip, are covered. Neither of us wishes to turn this into an impromptu waxing session although I've always thought it might be nice to have my eyebrows done. Satisfied that every bit of skin is covered she then cuts strips of plaster. I watch as the powdery mesh piles up on her lap.
Next she dips a strip of mesh into water and starts placing it on my Vaseline caressed skin. First a strip across my forehead, then one along my jawline. One down the center of my nose. One by one she lifts the wet strips and places them on my face. Before too long I sense my expression becoming fixed. Just before she places a strip over my mouth she warns me. We grin at each other, for we both know how I love to talk. I feel my cheeks move up against the plaster as I smile and I tell her she will have to push the wet strips back in place. She works deftly, fingers smoothing out the roughness, as she places layer upoon layer of wet plaster on my face, working quickly before it sets.
She tells me she is going to do my eyes now. Oh, so that's why my eyelashes needed to be Vaselined. I had imagined a mask with eyes open and mouth free. How else can I see the world around me? How else can I know what's going to happen next? Down go my eyelids and as the wet mesh covers first one eye, and then the other, my world becomes dark.
I decide that the only thing to do is go inward, so I sit quietly. I feel the weight of the mask on my face. It does not escape me, the irony of how heavy a mask truly is. I notice how unmovable my face is becoming, my expression set. A swirl of thoughts runs through my mind as soothing Celtic music plays in the background. I sense my therapist's fingers smoothing and touching my mask. Some bits of the mask are thin and soft, her fingers could easily penetrate the shell. Others places are thick and hard already and it would take a lot for either of us to break the protective covering.
I think on these things.
My mind wanders back to my first session with Fr. Charlie. "Do you wear masks?" he asks me. "Oh, no, not me," I proudly tell him, "wearing masks is what other people do". He sat quietly then, leaving my words to hang in the air. Before too many sessions had passed we both knew I wore layers upon layers of masks. I told him that if I had my way, I'd wear sunglasses year round, because then I could let down my guard. Wearing masks took energy.
The Celtic music rises above my meandering thoughts and it reminds me of my favourite movie. I think about William Wallace and his fight for freedom. I love his passion. His determination. His fierceness. I love his freedom. My body relaxes as I let the music wash over me.
I think about what I might feel when my mask is removed.
My face will be smooth because of the vaseline.
Will I feel reborn?
Breaking through my thoughts comes the phrase,
"You have been set free."
Over and over, like a record stuck on a warp,
the phrase repeats itself,
drowning out everything else.
Slowly, it fades.
Next comes a phrase Fr. Charlie has told me countless times:
"You shall know the truth
and the truth shall set you free."
I picture William Wallace
looking at me as he cries, "Freeeedommmmm."
Goosebumps rise on my arms.
Fr. Charlie and my therapist have never met.
It feels like a hop, skip and jump kind of journey,
one leading me to the other though.
And now, in this session,
the one where I am masked and then unmasked,
the two have merged, both so pivotal
in my quest
for inner freedom.
The mask dries.
I move my face,
first my lips
and then my cheeks
and lastly my eyes.
As I do so, the mask separates from my skin.
Gently my therapist pries the mask
off the last strongholds.
I blink in the daylight
and smile at the mask.
The mask that is