What Do You Hide Behind Your Mask?

Designed by Zawar Ahmed

I

Attraction is half imagination. I realized this with my friend over McDonald’s. When I told her I fell in love with my new dentist, she scoffed.

“He had a mask on?” she asked, stuffing another french fry into her mouth. “I bet he was busted underneath it.”

Even after I talked about the milky eyes, the movie-star hair, the enigmatic voice, she remained unconvinced. 

“If you’re so in love with him, what’s his name?” she asked. “Let’s Google him.”

My friend and I got down to business, busily tapping through our french fry–greased phones, trying to find the dentist who had taken (and still has) my heart. Twenty minutes later, we both came up with nothing. To this day, I am convinced that the dentist, who had seen every disgusting crevice of my mouth, is the love of my life. To this day, my friend remains skeptical.

The next week, my friend had an acne break-out. Definitely McDonald’s french fry–induced. She later confided in me that she appreciated the masks. She appreciated that she could hide. From what? I wanted to ask. But I understood. 

II

I have been told I have a youthful face. Old women have told me that this is a blessing. Perhaps I will understand this blessing when I am an old man. As a young man, I am angry at the fact that I will never pass as twenty-one. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been growing a mustache. Someone I knew only loved mustached men. But I did not grow my mustache for her. I did not grow my mustache for any particular reason other than laziness. However, I noticed that without shaving, I looked older. The type of older that made being youthful feel embarrassing. Quietly, I grew my measly mustache. As the weeks passed, I could feel my blue disposable mask scratch my upper lip.

When I took off my mask to drink water, it seemed like my entire Korean class gasped.

“What?” I said.

“You look like a whole man,” my classmate said. 

“What did I look like before?” I asked.

“Like a boy,” my classmate said. “That’s a good thing.”

After class, we all raced outside. As we walked to our next classes, we observed each other. Maskless, I felt naked. 

“You look… different from what I thought.” “Who looks the most different?”

“You do!”

“Did you have those birthmarks there?”

“I like your smile.”

“I like yours too.”

Then, we all went our separate ways. Slipping my mask back on, I became a boy again and walked a few buildings over. As a boy, I listened to my philosophy professor talk about Plato. As a boy, I looked at my classmates who also looked like children. As a boy, I remembered what it felt like to be a man just a few minutes ago.

III

The following is a conversation I had with a friend about Orville Peck. Orville Peck is a queer country singer. He wears a fringed mask. Only his blue eyes and a faint silhouette of a mouth are visible.

“Do you think Orville Peck is hot?”

“I don’t know. Let me see a picture.”

“Look. The one who’s not Harry Styles.”

“Nah.”

“Wait. Let me show you another picture.”

“Oh. Yeah. He’s hot.”

After this conversation, we listened to Peck’s song “Roses Are Falling.” Listening to his voice, I couldn’t help but move. He sang “You know darling…” and I imagined he was talking to me. A tall cowboy called me “darling” but I cannot remember his face. I could not even see his face. It did not feel strange. These days, that is the way it is. 

IV

I am not entirely sure what I hide behind my mask. I have my three birthmarks in the shape of a triangle. My cheeks are tomato-red. A pitiful lining of hair dresses my upper lip. I wonder if people expect that. I wonder if people are regularly surprised. Maybe surprise is the one good thing we get out of the masks. Like that game where you fold a piece of paper and draw the head on one side. And you give it to your friend and she draws the body on the other side. And you both open the paper, surprised by the unique thing that stares back at you.

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