I woke up early one morning and stared at a masked stranger who I once loved. I looked deep into her eyes and all I saw was pain. I leaned forward and wondered what had happened to her—she was so pale. I realized that I had caused her pain. I was the reason her eyes reflected hurt. I wanted to hold her tight and tell her just how sorry I was. I wanted to fix that mess; I wanted to see her beautiful smile again.
I was the reason for her nightmares. At midnight, she would abruptly wake up and stare at the darkness of her room. Then, she would begin to scream. She needed help and consolation, but she found none. She desperately cried and sought a friend, for someone to care. This was what I had done to her. I turned her into this creature who could not trust anyone and who constantly lived in fear.
I never meant for things to turn out the way they did but how could I explain that to her? Each time the clock struck midnight, her moans got worse, she screamed, and no one came to her rescue. Who could I have blamed, though? It was midnight: all those bodies and souls were at rest. The more she screamed, the louder their snoring got. She was unheard.
All those heartbreaks I caused her—I needed validation from outside sources. I led her from one relationship to the next without letting her heal. Then I ran off seeking approval from people she did not need. They brought with them such confusion and unwise counsel, filling her head with garbage. She had no filter. She did everything I told her without realizing that it was hurting her and she was me.
Now here was the monster I created. She kept the screams alive deep within herself. I never allowed her to cry and she was hurting, she was cut, she was broken. The broken pieces in her cut her deep and anyone who ever got close to her. The burden had become unbearable. She needed someone other than me since I made her life the chaos it was. She was so scared to let anyone close because everyone I had introduced her to left her bleeding or she gave them a reason to bleed.
Now she wore this mask which hid all the pain and disappointment. Everyone thought she was the happiest person on the earth. She had fought through so many tears and questions, through so much pain. She wanted to let go and be comforted. She was so scared to have anyone come close. So she hid behind the mask I forced on her. No one saw her unveiled face and she was not sure if anyone would stay after seeing her naked face with all its scars.
Every morning she woke up, smiled at the world, but at midnight she was in the world of her own. A world filled with raging cries and violent screams burning inside her. No one ever heard her; she was breaking apart piece by piece. How much brokenness could that mask I gave her cover? I remembered how she looked at me, pleading, “Stop hurting me. I cannot do this anymore.” I always thought I knew better, so I caged her in for her safety.
She wanted everyone to accept her, but I never did. She did not know what it meant to let go, to trust, to not be perfect. I tattooed perfection in her brain; it was the standard. So every time she made a mistake, I gave her a hard time and she hid because that was what she knew best. I condemned her for all her flaws. I would always tell her that her legs were too skinny, she was not pretty enough, her waist was too big, she was not smart enough. She was never good enough.
I did not know how to fix her. I had created a life that was unendurable for her. She was covered behind the mask of perfection. Finally, I got the courage to face her and I sat her down. As I looked in the mirror, I looked straight into her hurting eyes and I understood she did not like me. So I told her she needed to put the mask down; I apologized to her and I told her that it was okay not to be perfect because I loved her and I finally accepted her. I did not want to see her hurting anymore. I took responsibility for all my actions and all the accumulated pain I caused her over the years.
Suddenly, for the first time in her life, she broke down and wept uncontrollably. She screamed loudly and it was not even midnight. I asked her for forgiveness and I let her know that I was there to make things different. We talked to the right people, befriended those who had stuck with us. We were in this together. She did not need to hide anymore. It was all over. We are one.
Now, I no longer scream at night. I wake up and look at my face and see no mask. Bitterness was lifted and the mask was destroyed. When people saw the scarred face behind the mask, most of them left but others stayed. I call the scars on my face “battle marks” because I have battled and I have prevailed. I take pride in not being perfect. I cry when it hurts, ask when I am confused, and love like I have never been hurt. I forgive myself for all my shortcomings and failures. All the midnight cries and silent screams have disappeared. I have a very strong foundation now. She is me and I am her, and together we are unstoppable.
Rumpus original art by Luna Adler.