"The Mask Of Fear"

M. J. Deskovic 1

In a perfect society, we would all come out unscathed. The trials and tribulations we face would roll off our backs like a spring rain and nothing would deter us from our potential. Sadly, this is not the case and often times we are dealt a hand that has nothing to do with our decisions but the decisions of those who have gone before us. I faced such a situation at a young age and as I grew I found myself standing on the cusp of a decision. Do I allow this revelation to continue to feast on my future, or do I dig into it, removing it from my life forever?

I was 5 when I met the face of fear. With its mangled teeth and sharpened claws it bore into my soul. A parasite building itself a home constructed of my DNA it moved into the neighborhood yet no one knew it was there. Hidden under layers of subconscious thought it cowered in the corner whispering from the face of every stranger. I was not shy- I was scared.

This monster haunted every dream, every thought in the back of my mind. It made my decisions…should I walk home or run? All it took was one look at his house and I would charge forward fueled by this anxiety rendering me a marionette in the palm of its hand. Alone, safe in my home I would see from my window as he walked down the street and I would lock the doors, shut the curtains and cower in my closet hoping he wouldn’t see me. Praying I would be hidden in the shadows behind old books and discarded dolls.

At night, my eyes betrayed my senses as I struggled to see past the black figures that stood by my doorway. Fear made manifest as every breath was a struggle until the dawn but even the light held its own ghosts.

“People who hate others go to hell.” This was my understanding so my fate was sealed before my life was lived.

A frantic knock on the door changed everything. Her words became a life raft to a drowning child. “They think he’s dead.” Urged to call upon our faith for the best possible outcome I ran to my room, folded my hands and prayed it was true.  Guilt and fear wrestled like Jacob and the Archangel and I couldn’t move until I knew the outcome. Glued to the floor putting all my money on the one that would take this fear from my mind as I felt the flames of hell reach up from my floor to claim what was theirs, but I cared not for the fire for the burn would be a welcome relief from the empty void that filled my soul.

I cried at his funeral but not for him. I cried for the loss felt by others for even as a child I felt their sorrow. Their heartache was palpable but not for reasons my young mind could comprehend, for they knew the monster that laid in the casket and each tear they shed was a silent prayer that his sins would be forgiven.

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As I grew, my fear grew with me although its face changed form. From fear to anxiety my subconscious protected me from the vileness of parasitic infection as memories faded with every breath but the scars of torment tore open with every fresh worry or concern. I was being cut from the inside but had no idea who held the razor. An invisible source so much a part of me as my own flesh. Memories convoluted and broken. Two stories looped in my mind. One happy and smiling, with blonde hair shining in the southern summer sun as the warmth of the day sent beads of sweat down my brow. We climbed and laughed and played until the fireflies made lanterns out of mason jars. The other a dark story told to an audience of one. It must be my imagination.

I clung to my family. Their protection and love was all I needed. The four walls of our home was the safest place…until it wasn’t.  

18 years doesn’t seem like enough time but it was all I was allowed. Your covering, your protection was stolen from me and like a thief in the night it ripped my soul in two. Again, I hit my knees and cried out to the skies that you would come back. Like Jesus calling out for Lazarus I waited yet the stone did not move. All but abandoned on the verge of adulthood I stood drowning once again only this time there were no life rafts, no breaths of fresh air to save me

The next few days were a blur of emotion only a few details remain locked in my mind but there is one scene that plays out before me. Maybe it was the night air, maybe it was the sudden loss but I can still hear the words in my head, the bittersweet confession that reached into my subconscious and pulled from the depths the memories that were haunting my every decision. A death scene of my childhood as your face came back to haunt me. It was real- and I wasn’t crazy….and everyone knew but me.

The parasitic narrative that feasted on my life was full grown and ready to consume what was left of it.

Survival was all that was left. Shutting down was the only option. The next 18 years would be my wilderness journey. Running from the past never works for we must all face our demons if we are to overcome them but I had no energy to fight and the fear and anxiety that has been my companion has grown into a depression that wears a mask of anger and every living thing I touched from that point forward felt its sting.

There were moments of happiness. Snapshots of amazing times with amazing people but like my childhood the truth lay behind the smile at the teeth clenching so hard they break under the weight of memory. Everything was infected. My eyes could not see any good in myself for the mask of abuse shielded me from a clear view. The worst part of it was there was nothing that could be done. My abuser died while I was still young and the one person I wanted to talk to about all of it, the one person who did what he knew to protect me from it was now gone so I am left alone with the knowledge and scars of stories I cannot erase. I am left sitting in the rumbles of a war, left on my own to rebuild a city I never knew I lived in.

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They say time heals all things but that is not entirely true for there is a big difference between healing and allowing time to numb the pain. For something to heal you must first recognize the source and work from there to find a solution. Anger, anxiety, fear and depression are mere symptoms of larger problems. We are all born with potential into a world of obstacles but it’s our reaction to these obstacles that defines us and realization is just the first step in a long difficult process. To ignore them in hopes they go away is to deceive yourself and it can slowly and systematically ruin your life and the life of those around you for everything you do will be subconsciously affected by these seeds of destruction. We must all look in the mirror and face the same choice…do we control the narrative of our lives or allow it to be stolen from our grasp. It’s about accepting your role in the narrative, knowing you are not the bad guy but also knowing that you have to take control even in the simplest of decisions and as the famed actress Jennifer Lewis once said, “Love yourself so love will not be a stranger when it comes.”

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For some this is not as simple as it seems but you can learn. It’s not a lesson comprised of one and done it’s broken down into small moments of every day. For me, it’s confronting the panic I feel when someone hugs me, it’s defying the depression and acknowledging it when it hits telling myself this too shall pass and calling the anxiety out for what it is and demanding it has no place in the here and now.

Writing has helped me with the process of acceptance but that is my medium of choice. Look towards what brings you joy and run towards it with unbridled passion.  And when you find yourself there, on the other side of healing, share your story so that others who are in the dark can be directed towards the light. 

- M. J. Deskovic

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Watch my video response to "The Mask of Fear" below