As I looked at her face I realised that she didn’t know me at all. How could she? I was good at playing roles because I had no idea who I was and who I had been before her, before them all. I twisted myself, tried on different shapes, voices and grimaces, everything hurt and nothing stuck. I almost don’t recognise myself in old photographs. I was taught well by pretence. The artificial and effortless smile despite anger, frustration or disappointment.
My audience never seemed to be baffled or irritated. They had bought it, the show. It took hours to construct the face, the persona, the overcoming of myself. I had silenced myself. Buried everything that I had cherished about myself. I had been attacked for it and I learned that I needed to change and adapt myself to everyone else’s unholy expectations. I became deformed and mute.
Leave me alone. Yes, but did I want to be alone? As I eradicated everything that was real there seemed to be nothing left; it hadn’t dared to come forward even when I was alone, such a self-destructive monster I had become. For years, waiting on sidewalks. Thinking about others, their perspectives, their wishes, putting them all ahead of me, for free.
I had rendered myself worthless and so I was treated in response. And once in a while, I could see the crack on people’s faces that revealed to me that they didn’t know me at all, that I was laughing even though nothing had been funny and I was disappointed that they kept buying it. That they were satisfied by lies and artifice. Then it dawned on me: if I could do it so well and constantly, and everything felt so fake and stiff, had I been the only one doing it? If everything feels false, then maybe it is. Maybe everyone was playing with everyone’s expectations, fulfilling projections and idealisations and had been as unhappy as I was and as released as I was to finally go home, alone, without an audience.
“Portrait of Beatrice Hastings” by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)