Happy Mask

Whenever she wants to hurt me, she chides me about how I’m emotionless, how I can’t be hurt. She does this unironically, and it does, in fact, hurt me.

“That’s not true,” I say honestly, in a way she won’t believe.

The truth is she wouldn’t understand the truth. Between pretty pictures and inspirational quotes and brunches at hotel pools, she’s convinced that everyone feels everything the same, or at least they should.

Happy. But not real happy. Just that kind they describe in self-help books. The kind you can achieve by telling yourself over and over that you’re happy. The simple sort of greeting card happiness. When did the goal and the wish for the goal become the same?

She tries to corner me. They all do. They want to understand, and when they can’t understand, they want to change what they’re looking at until they do. Box me, mould me, filter me, until they ‘get it’. But they don’t get it.

The cold stare and unaffected demeanor isn’t a mask or an act. It wasn’t described in The Secret or in The Power of Now. I’m not the exception that proves the rule. I’m just an exception. And there is no rule.

But that’s not clean and pretty and who wants to deal with that?

“You think you want me for more than this, but you don’t. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that,” I explained. I’ve said it before. It’s rehearsed. I’m good at saying it. I say it with every bit of sincerity I can muster, but it’s hard to seem genuine anytime you’ve said the same thing enough times.

“What if I do?”

“You won’t. I promise you won’t. Everyone thinks they do. Because it’s different and it seems…different. But that’s the problem. You don’t want different. You want the same things everyone else wants,” I said.

“And what’s that? How do you think you know what I want?”

“Because I know. You tell me every time you get mad that I can’t hang out or when you think I’m not texting you enough.”

She rolled away, onto her back. She stared at the ceiling. She sighed. It was faint. It sounded familiar. It was the sound she made at the end of her sixth orgasm last night. It all made sense.

“Honestly, you don’t even know me. Not really. You just know what you see. And I don’t even know what that is. You just like that I make you come and that you can’t figure me out. That’s not a relationship.”

She turned back toward me. “Is this fun for you?”

“Fun? Is what fun?” I climbed out of bed, pulling on boxer briefs and walking out of the room. She sat up as I walked out and I could hear her bounce into the mattress as she slammed herself back down in frustration.

“Come on!” she yelled from the bedroom.

I was pissing and I pretended I couldn’t hear her.

“What?” I flushed.

“Nevermind. I think I’m going to go.”

“Okay,” I said.

She got out of bed while I separated cheap coffee filters that always come out two at a time even though no one ever needs two coffee filters and they should’ve done a better job with their production process. I rinse yesterday’s coffee out of the pot, or maybe the day before’s. I pour Trader Joe’s ground coffee into the machine, but it goes everywhere through the ripped opening. Their coffee is average at best and the packaging is shit, but if I wanted something else I’d have to go to a second grocery store and I can’t even comprehend the anxiety level I’d have to endure in those circumstances.

“Are you making coffee?” she asked, as she walked into the kitchen, wearing nothing but expensive looking lingerie. I wasn’t sure if it was expensive or not. She seemed like the sort of girl who would wear Agent Provocateur, but not ever buy it. So it was either Agent Provocateur or Forever 21, I guessed, though it didn’t matter and I didn’t care and the only question worth asking was why she wasn’t wearing more clothes and leaving like she said she was going to. I didn’t have anything important to do today, but she didn’t know that.

I stared at her. What other reaction could you have when someone asks if you’re making coffee while you’re very obviously making coffee? I knew she’d go back to telling me how unnecessarily asshole-ish I was being so I reveresed course and smiled. “Yes. Want a cup?”

“I really should get out of here.” She paused, leaning against the counter, adjusting her stance in increasingly seductive ways.

“I’ll wa –“

“But what the hell? I’ll have a cup. I need to wake up. Lots to do today.” She stretched over the counter and began to dig through the cupboards for a cup. “You don’t mind do you?”

Hiphugger panties turned into a thong along her perfectly tanned ass and it became irresistible. I pressed ‘brew’ and walked toward her, slinking up along her side, behind her. Her hair smelled like a field I ran through as a child and I felt like I was home or somewhere safe even as a cold shock passed through my nervous system, reminding me I was nowhere close.

“They’re right here.” I pulled a cup down. It was from Urban Outfitters and an ex bought it for me years ago. I kept it because, fuck it. A small piece of ceramic can’t hurt me. Memories don’t fade in trash cans or dumpsters or landfills. There’s a scrap heap in my soul where a thousand coffee cups lie broken. Just leave them, I knew. They’re of you. They are you.

You can’t run from your own shadow, I thought, as she pressed her ass into my crotch. My hands traced the hard curvature along the top of her pelvic bones, up to her breasts. My right hand pulled her left bra strap down, passing her elbow. I discarded it and cupped her underneath her bra. She grabbed my hand and pirouetted, moving it between her legs. She was gasping before my finger even slid inside her. She spun another one-eighty, bending slightly over the kitchen counter, hands gripping the bottom shelf of the open cabinet. Reaching back with both hands, she slid my boxers down before tugging her lingerie past her hips until they decorated the dirty tile.

She pressed her hips back, reaching between her legs, behind her, to pull me inside. She rocked into me. It was slow but hard, like she was trying to have me dig a different path out of her.

“Fuck me,” she screeched.

This is a mistake, I knew, as she tightened, coming hard.

“Come with me.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t feel anything.” But I kept going.

Her hand moved from the shelf into the cabinet, gripping a coffee mug.

“You never feel anything,” hissed out between disjointed gasps for air. Mug in hand, she backed me off, turning quickly and shattering the hard ceramic across my left cheek.

I staggered. “What the fuck?” My fingers passed over my cheek, a gash opened, brailing the word ‘wound’. “Burning rage”. The words shot through my mind in a pulsing red light, signaling a time-bomb, about to explode. I disarmed it. She’s a woman, what can I do? Besides, I couldn’t allow her to win. Not like that.

The coffee maker beeped repeatedly, telling me that it was finished brewing.

“Say something,” she screamed.

“I’d like it if you left.” I pulled a broom from the pantry and began to sweep mug shards from the tiled floor. I was meticulous and focused, still naked and half-hard.

“I’m sorry.” She pulled her bra and underwear back on. “I don’t know why I did that.”

“Yeah.”

“Come on. I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” She put her hand on my shoulder, I shrugged it off and kept sweeping. She walked out of the room. I put my boxers back on, grabbed a dustpan, and swept the broken coffee mug up. The pieces clinked together, falling into the trash can below the sink.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and walked to the balcony. I lit an American Spirit from a pack that she had left out the night before. I stood with my back to everything inside, smoking and sipping coffee. Behind me, she was dressing, making sure she had everything. She must know, I thought, that she’ll never be here again. There was some small satisfaction in that.

She came to the sliding door. “Hey.”

I smoked. She sighed. I didn’t turn around.

“Are those mine?”

I palmed the pack of Spirits and turned, handing them over. I turned back.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and walked away. She stopped. “Why don’t you care about me? Why am I just nothing to you?”

I exhaled a plume of smoke. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

She left.

The ability to hurt someone is a strange desire for someone so concerned with happiness.

She did it though. My swelling cheek throbbed and burned. My pride was in a pile of unswept shards on the floor. My dick even hurt. Congratulations.

The truth she couldn’t know was that I’d already hurt too much. The truth she couldn’t know was that I wasn’t insensitive. I was hypersensitive and I could never trust her enough to tell her that. I’d hurt more in recent memory than she’d hurt in her lifetime, or at least as far as she was aware. That’s the danger of the happy mask. Everything sad or dark or painful gets pushed away while pretending to be grateful for whatever you get. More gruel, please, sir.

Everything I felt was too sharp and too overwhelming to share with anyone, least of all someone with such a glaring inability to handle it. My therapist had told me again and again not to spend time with her.

Now I knew why.