Portraits

“There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.”

Vincent VanGough

Sometimes I feel lonely. Lonely in a crowded house, lonely in a crowded mind.
When my soul is on fire, my heart is burning and my body tries to return to its ashes, I plaster on a smile worthy of an Oscar and a red balloon and flood the cavernous hole of lost potential inside of me with unwept tears of grief for what might have been.

When the dam begins to burst upon my pseudo face I allow my understudy to take centre stage and as our eyes begin to sparkle once again, we continue to lie to the world around us.

We saw a Van Gough exhibition recently. I am sure that we will have plenty to say about it as the experience sinks through us all for it touched us far more deeply than we could ever have expected. For me his self portrait collection spoke from his soul, I felt his heartbreak, his strength and his grief as he tried so desperately to be seen.

My mother randomly commented yesterday on how wonderfully I am doing, how far I’ve come from “that incident”. That incident, the day we exited stage left, made our final curtain call and the whole cast gave up and walked away.

“You’re a totally different person now!” She remarked, the irony of her statement lost under her well worn lumpy rugs of denial.

When my mother looks at me she sees only my mask, whatever the flavour of the day, and she hears only the words I choose to speak aloud. That’s okay with me. She wouldn’t recognise my real face anyway, she’s never seen it, not really. It would terrify her, worry her, break her… and so my mask stays firmly in place.

When M looks at me she sees the monsters behind the mask, she hears the words I don’t say, the ones I can’t say. She doesn’t run, she isn’t afraid, she doesn’t yell or scream or cry – even when I know she’s disappointed.

Yesterday morning we told M something very difficult. It was difficult because we are scared of losing her, scared of rejection, scared that the person we trust the most to look behind the mask may realise we are far too broken to try.

When we cross our moral boundaries it fills us with shame, it fills ME with shame. I don’t want to admit my shortcomings, at least not the ones I have control over, all the bad choices, all the self sabotage, all the pointless backwards steps.

M listened. She started her reply with“thank you for telling me”. She knew how hard it was to say, she saw my face under the layers, she heard the pain in my silences.

I don’t know what her face said, I couldn’t bear to look her in the eye. We were on video chat and I couldn’t feel her emotions through the screen as I can in her office but my own shame echoing around me in the car was stifling enough.

She then said she wasn’t angry. I don’t remember much else, just that she wants me to be okay and that she isn’t going to give up on me. Then I hung up the call, adjusted my mask and we went out for lunch with our mother, we laughed and smiled and said all the right things at all the right times while she gushed over how wonderful we looked and how far we had come.

In that moment a little part of us finally began to grieve in the knowledge that our mother would never really see us, never really hear us and never really know us at all.

And I watched this spectacle from afar, above the clinking of coffee cups & sweet aroma of chai, seeking refuge from the madness of a real world cafe, hiding instead within Van Gough’s eyes, an image etched forever in my mind and reflected by my heart.

Catherine.

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