“The mask remover is a myth. The friggin’ adult version of the boogeyman.” Jim defended like he would when the size of his will was in question.
“So you don’t believe the people walking around without a mask? Or are you just blind?” I asked, waving my bacon and winging my eyebrows.
He burst into laughter. “Funny shit, comin’ from you.”
I just nodded, then bit my piece of bacon.
“I’m just saying,” he started, as I heard him snatch up a piece of crispy yumminess from my plate, “they probably have masks, you just can’t see ‘em. That’s all. Hell, these days with the technology there can be fake images, invisible masks, or…”
He took a bite of the bacon and then used the same hand to hit me on the shoulder. I flinched.
“Shit. They have been getting better with the movie-star’s masks. Changin’ them up and junk so they look nothing like the movie stars in real life. They could easily be wearing masks and it just doesn’t look like it. It’s not like there’s a lot of them.”
I shrugged and listened to him chew on the rest of the bacon. I had to slap his hand away before he tried to snatch another piece though.
“I don’t know.” I stated, picking up another piece of my breakfast. “What would be the point of them wearing masks if they look like people’s normal faces?”
He groaned and I felt the wind created from him dropping into a seat next to me at the counter. “Because.” he started, with annoyance in his tone. “We have to wear them, Shy. The government demands it. And who’s ever going to want you as a lover if you don’t even wear a mask? Seriously?”
He pounded a hand on the table. “Oh! Which is another point. Even if the mask remover actually existed, he-”
I cleared my throat.
“Fine. They.” He emphasized. “would be a criminal. A dangerous one, that completely disregards what is right and good, and they’d be a total friggin’ anarchist. They might as well be a rapist or deviant. And you don’t want to associate with those kinds of people.”
I pushed my plate aside and collapsed my body against the counter top to rest, turning my head to look at Jim, even if I wouldn’t actually see anything, like the mask he wore. “Why? For my safety? I mean really, what is actually wrong about not wearing a mask?”
“Are you serious? Hello? Have you not heard me. It’s the right thing. Or do you want me to draw on like the hundreds of reasons why you should be wearing a mask? I mean, number one is the big book says so. Another is all about safety. You don’t want people ogling your assets or judging you on how your face looks.” Jim pounded his hand again on the counter, but I knew it was just to mask the sound of him taking another piece of bacon. I let him anyway though, since I wasn’t feeling as hungry anymore.
I scoffed and turned my head in the other direction, before resting it back on my arms. “Safety. What a joke. People judge you on how cool your mask looks anyway, and the area that most people are ogling puts a little more ass in the assets. But it’s always just safety this and safety that. Or worst of all when someone says ‘think of the children’ it’s like throwing a lion carcass in between three packs of hyenas.”
“Okay, okay.” Jim licked a finger after devouring a piece of bacon. “What about being a social outcast then? No one will want to talk to you. Except other people without masks. You might as well be a leper. No one will care about you, or associate with you. You’ll just be one of those people who took off their mask and then eventually repent for your crime, because you’ll be lonely.”
I lifted my head up and glared at him. “You realize, social or government forced, what you are saying is that we are segregating people just because they don’t care about having to wear some stupid mask all the time? We say it’s to protect people or the kids, and then it becomes a social taboo and then anyone who does it is suddenly segregated like they aren’t a human being anymore.”
“Oh, come on it’s not like that.” Jim interrupted.
“Isn’t it?” I stood up. “Not interacting with someone, just because they do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or fear for your safety doesn’t mean you get a pass. It’s still segregation. Social segregation.”
“But it’s friggin’ illegal. If there’s a damn child rapist in the room that makes you feel uncomfortable or fear for your safety, is it still segregation if you treat them as trash?” He yelled at me, while I heard the plate slide across the counter.
I took a calm breath and said, “Yes.”
“Pfft.” His chair scraped against the wood floor. Clearly he was getting up. “You say that now, but then when it happens. You won’t talk to someone like that. You’ll treat ‘em like trash, because they are.”
I shook my head. “I’d treat them like a human being. Because they are. If more people treated each other as human beings and not monsters, we’d have more actual human beings and less monsters.”
He sighed. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“Doesn’t it?” I scooped up my plate, and felt along the side of the counter toward the sink.
“Obviously. They get treated like monsters cause they act like monsters first!” He continued with more yelling.
I shook my head and turned on the water at the sink. “Most of those people always had shit childhoods. Every one of them comes from broken families or are damaged in some way. Which likely means their entire time growing up was filled with people telling them negative things. And when you get told something enough times, eventually you start believing it.”
I set the dish down after scrubbing it and turned off the water. My hand wiped across my face and I glanced back toward Jim before crossing my arms over my chest. “Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘The first time someone calls you a horse you punch them on the nose. The second time someone calls you a horse you call them a jerk. The third time someone calls you a horse, well it’s time to go shopping for a saddle’?”
“No. What is that a fortune cookie proverb?”
I shook my head and adjusted a strand of loose hair with a finger. “It gives into a social idea. If enough people think you are something, and make you aware of it by saying it to you, then you start to believe they must be right, because clearly other people know you better than you know yourself. It just means the way we treat people, and act towards people has major influence on how that person treats and looks at their selves.”
“Fuuck. That’s heavy.” Jim replied, dropping back into the seat he had used before.
“Yep.” I nodded.
“So then, a bully starts acting like a bully because…”
“… because other people feared them, thought they were cruel, or thought they just looked like a bully. You get enough people who think you look like a bully, and they start treating you like one, eventually you start thinking you’re a bully too and then it becomes part of your identity.” I explained, despite feeling like my example with a bully was really poor. It was the best way I could put it though.
I turned back around and dried off the plate before setting it aside and slapping down the towel.
I could hear Jim chewing on his cheek as he thought. “So if we treated these non-mask people-”
“They prefer being called Facers.” I added
“Okay, if we treated these Facers as if they were someone with a mask then they… would… what?”
“Then eventually they would be accepted into the mainstream. Eventually they would see themselves as people again, and not some kind of criminal or monster. And everyone else would see them as people, which then makes being a Facer a legitimate identity that someone can still have a functional life with. Which leads to more people being open about connecting with a Facer identity more than a Masked one.”
Jim leaned back in his chair, which caused a strange squeaky noise I hadn’t heard from it before. “Which does what? Besides put us down a path of accepting more and more things the big book doesn’t want us doing?”
I let out a soft laugh. “It takes off the mask, Jim. Can’t you see that?”
“What?” He sounded baffled.
My head was shaking. I couldn’t stop laughing. “The mask we call society or the social norm. It removes that mask, and we are left with people being who they are, being who they want to be. Because they are no longer afraid to be who they are. Because, ironically, they feel safer.”
I shook my head again as I pushed off from leaning against the sink and started walking to my bedroom. But I stopped, and turned to look back toward Jim, so he knew I was talking to him. “If there’s anything you should remember, Jim, it’s this: Not everyone feels safe with the mask on. But sometimes we still need a little push to remove it.”
And with that I turned back and walked away.
I had to give him his space, because otherwise he wouldn’t have done what I had been expecting to hear.
A gentle whirring echo told me Jim had just removed his mask, for the first time in thirty years.
And to think, he called me the adult version of the boogeyman.
Maybe he was right.