Just a note: I am well aware that some of the grammar in this piece is unusual, it's for effect, not grammatical accuracy.

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Reality Unmasked

I have spent many years searching for something, something substantial, something material, something real. A reality which does not exist. Normality.

I have never been teased, only mocked from a far. Laughing whispers, hidden glances. At first, when I was just a little girl, I did not notice. I was oblivious to myself being different from the world. Then it all began. A loose observation, forgotten in an instant, nothing important. Except for me.

'You're a bit weird, aren't you?'. The words shot through me like a gun. 'WEIRD'. This was not lies. This was not sugar-coated. This was truth.

Then I began to see it. The stares. The jokes. The loneliness. They too were real. The pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell together. The years of feeling wrong, feeling out of place, out of sync. The rest of the world followed a different rhythm. a steady one, a controlled one. Mine was erratic, sometimes still and calm, and sometimes wild and crazed like a hive of angry bees.

More often than not it was twirling, ascending, grabbing.

I tried to ignore it, pretend that it was all a dream. Pretend that I could do what everyone else did, be how everyone else was, think what everyone else thought.

But I could not.

Yet I tried and tried. The world could see my futile attempts, see how I watched the others, the perfect ones. See how I mimicked the way they spoke, the way they walked, the way they were. So I became a misfit, trying to wear a mask that was too small for me. Always I wanted to run, to leap to scream, to love.

That was the greatest flaw in my make-up, I wanted love. My mother loved me. My brothers loved me. My father loved me. but I wanted more. I wanted the world to love me. I needed the world to love me. I wanted to soak up all the good feelings, all the love the world had to offer and bathe in it.

But the world cannot love a freak. The world loved clones. The world loved perfection. Any smile, any praise, anything resembling love made me feel a little more real, a little more a part of the world. A little more normal.

Then I found what I needed. I found my drug, my substitute. Laughter. Not the cruel, taunting laughter I knew. Entertained laughter, happy laughter, loving laughter? No. There was amusement, there was happiness, but no love. I pretended there was. I found I could create laughter with incredible ease. A stretched face. A cynical remark. This was all I needed to set off a flow of fake love, what I wanted to be love. But was not.

And so I became a clown. I was a performing monkey. Fitting in no longer mattered, I could be the oddball and no one would care. No one cared about me, just what I gave them. Happiness. Indeed, it is good to give happiness. But I needed more, I pretended I could survive on happiness alone. But this was only the happiness of others. I had no happiness to call my own.

Then she came along. Her tanned skin. Her floating chocolate hair. Her liquid eyes. Her cheeky freckles. Her musical laughter. Her total confidence. Her normality. She was perfect, she was everything I had wished to be. And she made me want it again. She danced into my life and I knew that she could dance straight out of it whenever she pleased. I was always scared, scared she would get bored of me, find someone new, someone more normal. So I did all that I could to be normal, to be like her. I was always scared, always on edge, worried that she would get bored, and toss me to the curb, like so many others had.

But once I recovered from my disbelief, I saw it. I could see it in her eyes, her face, everything about her told her story. Just as I wanted what she had, she wanted what I had. I could see how she watched my exaggerated movements, how she cracked jokes I had told two days before. Of course she didn't want to BE me. Simply wanted to be able to do what I could do. To her I was free, not trapped in a cage like a frightened sparrow as she was, not restricted by the expectations of others.

If only she knew.

Yet we stayed together, our funny mixture. Different and yet alike. Distant and yet together.

And she loved me. Not forced love. Not compulsory love. And most importantly. Not fake love.

So we stayed together, her and me. She was mine and I was hers. We were bound to be together forever.

I wept the day we parted. I cried and cried until I thought my eyes would shrivel in their sockets. She cried too, our tears fell together. They collided and intertwined. So our souls are forever linked together.

I saw her three times after that, then. Nothing. Until a few days ago. I wrote her a letter. She wrote back. And I found out something that made me smile. My little sparrow had flown away.

Soon I was bombarded with new names, new faces, new people. And I had a new cast to fit into. A different breed. This breed was intelligent. This breed was upper-class. This breed had its head shoved so far up its own arse that it was blind to the rest of the world. Yet join it I must. That was what I thought.

Although everything else had changed, uniformity had not. Still everyone looked the same, acted the same, were the same.

But this time there was something different. They accepted me. They ACCEPTED ME. As I was. I could see their mistrust and scepticism, but they did not brush me off, they gave me a chance. And for a time I was happy.

History repeats itself. My happiness quickly wore off, and I started to realise that my world was not so picture perfect as I had been led to believe. There was an undercurrent. Almost undetectable. A laughter so faint it was barely heard. But it was there. Again I was an outcast. They thought nothing had changed, why wouldn't they? But there was difference now, for I knew their real feelings, I knew what they really thought, I knew.

Then I found another escape, this time not human. A pencil. Whatever God they may be blessed me with something indispensable. My pride, my hope, my joy, my escape. Art.

Every spare moment I spent drawing, creating, shifting and shaping. With the help of my pencil I could hide away from the actual world and create a world of my own. A new and beautiful world just for me. A world which was to me far more real than reality.

It was when I had to leave that world and return to the false smiles and forced laughter that I felt the sting of my abnormality. It was at these times that I would long for my same old goal. More than ever. I would alter the way I spoke, dressed, ate, laughed, sat, stood, walked, listened, watched, smiled. Until the real me could barely remember who it was. Until I put pencil to paper and felt the satisfying scrape of the lead across the grain, reminding me of the girl I knew. Myself.

It was nothing, a quick glance over the shoulder, something people do in every country all over the world every second. But it changed my life forever. She was hunched over, her slightly lop-sided glasses slipping down her nose as she gracefully and carefully crafted each line. She was drawing. She probably saw the picture as clumsy and incorrect, but to me it was gold. It was so beautiful. As I looked through her pictures, which she grudgingly handed to me when I requested, the quick sketches, the hurried doodles, I saw myself in each one. Not my fake self. The real me.

Then I spoke to her, and I saw myself even more. Her mannerisms, her eyes, her experiences, her thoughts. She was me, though she did not know it.

At first she refused me, blocked me out, but I worked and worked, because I knew that I needed her. I knew she held secrets about me that I needed to know. It took a long time. A very long time. But I did it. Eventually. I did it.

Then I got jealous. For as similar as I was to her. It was not similar enough. She thought us opposites, incompatible. Totally different. But she had another. Another who was so much like her that sometimes I mistook one for the other. I do not know whether inside they are the same. But on the outside they are identical.

I lost her. Or she lost me, I do not know which. I called after her one day. I smiled and waved and she ran away. She didn't come back for a long time.

Until I swallowed my pride, my silly selfish pride, and apologised. And to my disbelief. She forgave me.

Since then I feel I have grown into her, as she has to me.

But even her huge support and friendship was not enough, for so long I had told myself that I was inferior. the words were stamped on my mind. Then, as things very often do, it all changed.

Today I watched as a man screamed and shouted. He didn't care. He ran and laughed and danced and sang. He stripped bare his soul and showed himself to the world. And yet. . .

The world loved him.

If I screamed, if I shouted, if I ran and laughed and danced and sang, would the world love me? And suddenly

I didn't care.

I can be who I want to be. Who I AM. No more hiding. No more pretending. No more imitating. I am me. People can call me weird, they can call me anything they want. Because as long as I am happy, I do not need to look for approval in others. If they love me then they love me, and if they hate me then they hate me. but at least they are hating me. Not a pantomime character, not a charade. But me. Stripped. Open. Bare.

And for the first time in my life since those many years ago, when the world was new and I did not know my abnormality, I am happy. Truly happy.

'You're a bit weird, aren't you?'

Yes. I am.