Halloween is quickly approaching. The day we celebrate putting on masks. I find this kind of funny, quite honestly. We put on masks every day. Seems the day we take them off should be a better occasion to celebrate.
Traumatic brain injury is the most clever of masks. It parades us out there as normal people. Many of us look no different than we did before we were hurt. We keep hearing, “You look great!”
But it hides a darker reality.
Most of the masks you see on Halloween are just the opposite. They ARE the darker reality. Vampires and ghouls and witches concealing the innocent young faces of our excited youngsters wound up on pillowcases full of sugar.
But, make no mistake, most of us are hiding. We are trying not to be seen, to be caught, to be recognized, to be revealed, to be uncovered.
For the brain injured, we hide symptoms which society frowns upon. Which our employers and friends, neighbors and family members all whisper about. We are a handful of not-so-pleasant things that people without injuries keep forgetting are caused by injury and not the fault of failed characters.
Endless comparisons of who we were and how we were and, in most instances, we now fail to pass muster. Sometimes we feel like we should be on the Island of Misfit Toys.
But I took off my mask years ago. I was exhausted by it. I had lied and covered up for a long time early on. Months, maybe a year even, after I was hurt.
I didn’t want people to know I had lost track of what they were saying. I didn’t want them to know I had just fallen in their bathroom. I didn’t want them to know I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember their name.
I didn’t report when I’d get lost or when I’d become confused or frustrated or scared. It was easier to wear the mask then. Easier not to alarm them or embarrass them or disturb them or make them uncomfortable.
But, like the mask I wore when I was six, it gets hot under there. Sweaty. You can’t see well. The elastic gets caught in your hair. The plastic cracks.
At some point you just can’t wait to take it off.
And so I did.
It was reported this past week that hundreds of millions of tons of garbage from Japan’s tsunami and earthquake last March are slowly floating towards our shores. All the remnants of a disaster. From refrigerators to flip flops and plastic bottles and anything else that can float.
It all comes ashore eventually. All the remnants of disaster.
When I was a kid, I would come home and dump out all my candy and separate it into piles. I kept the good stuff. Milk Duds and Fudgies and caramels…
The broken Pixie Stix and all the colored powder went in another pile. The awful Black Crows, Clark Bars, black Chuckles and things I didn’t like went into a pile for my parents.
I took off my mask back then and made piles out of all that I had. I separated them into things I liked and wanted to keep and things I didn’t like and wanted to give away.
Maybe we were all smarter at six.
After brain injury, our lives…our debris….comes crashing into shore inevitably. It’s out there all right. Out there, sure enough.
It’s coming. The remnants of disaster.
At some point we have to deal with the debris. To go through it and find anything left to save. Anything worth salvaging.
But then, like black Chuckles and Black Crows, we have to give away what we no longer want and can no longer use. If you leave the broken Pixie Stix in there, everything will be covered in sticky powder.
We gotta look at the remnants of our lives before we were hurt. We have to realize what we don’t even miss, what we have already replaced, what, perhaps, we have grown out of.
Often we are surprised to find that we have already moved on in more ways than we feared we might have to.
I’m going to go and celebrate Halloween with my nephew and niece who are now seven and almost five. I can’t wait to see how delighted and excited they are by the holiday.
But I won’t wear a mask this Halloween. Never again. It’s hot and sticky and the elastic gets caught in my hair.
I’ll be me. With all my stumbles and mumbles and bumbles, I’ll just be me. That’s going to have to be good enough and, thank God, I’ve realized it already is.