We all wear masks…
Today I am thinking about all of the people who I will walk by on the streets this morning. I am thinking about all the people I walk by daily. I am thinking about everyone in my life, those people I have just met, the people I may never get to meet, the girls last night who got into a fist fight on the bus right in front of me and my daughter—who just one minute before they started throwing blows at each other smiled at me, or the couple last night who were cursing each other out outside my window as she was threatening to leave his ass telling him she would have him thrown in jail and him calling her terrible names all while I was on the phone checking in on my pops.
We’re all just people in survival mode, who are just doing what we do, living how we live, many of us–most of us constantly at the masquerade ball.
The masks we wear pretending to be happy in our failed relationships, hoping that the person (our significant other) who we will blame for our unhappiness holding onto this idea that they will change… that it will get better… that if we only love them more… if we just stick by them at all costs… if we take all there shit… maybe just maybe we will have the life we want!
The masks we wear of prayer…
Praying that they will stop cheating on us or abusing us (physically, emotionally, or verbally). We will hold on to the faith that love really does conquer all and that they will see the errors of their ways and somehow miraculously see that “our love is deep and maybe they’ll stop hurting us.”
The mask we wear day to day hoping to be noticed, that our potential will be recognized and acknowledged, WE the undiscovered talent, wearing our false confidence mask. Those of us who demand to be respected (but we would never dare bring that power home and speak up to the people we really need to speak up to). Those of us who wear the mask of “the real tough guy!!!” Who will go off on someone putting them in their place… that someone being a woman, a child, the cashier or manager at Popeye’s, KFC or McDonalds. These are the same masks that would never dare raise our voices to our bosses or someone we perceive to be more superior to us.
We wear a mask pretending to be COMPLETE people. But some people are really broken inside with real problems and no idea how to fix them.
In my “Keep it Moving” blog – I mentioned that I stopped writing after November 4th 2003.
Here’s what happened to someone I respect, admire and love:
She always wore a mask. But this time she wore a special kind of MASK for an entire year. This time she was fully aware she was wearing this mask. She was a zombie, a machine, the walking, talking, breathing dead. She went to the same office building for 12 months. Six of which she relived that horrible moment over and over and over again every single day. And every day she would step into that office even after he left.
The simple act of opening a door changed her life completely.
Whenever she went to open any door it would send chills up her spine. She dreaded waking up for work every day. But she did get up! Not because she wanted to. Not because she was happy to be alive. But because she had no choice but to go on living and do all the necessary things she did to get by in her mediocre life… and going back to that office was the responsible thing to do.
Before November 4, 2003, she was happy, she loved where she worked. It was one of the largest magazine publishing companies and she worked with an amazing man. His name was KB. He was incredibly brilliant and just a vibrant human being. She started her career as a temp. She had just returned to NYC and had much to prove and tons to learn.
So she put on her mask of: “super modelesque… I have no problems in the world… I can hold it down… I have it all under control… like I got money in the bank… I will be all smiles all the time…” this was the mask she was rockin’. She would have you believe that she was no nonsense, no joke and had her shit together.
Meanwhile, back in the room she was living in, where she slept on a twin bed with her child and prayed every night. This mask was not her reality. She lit candles hoping she would get hired. Its funny how when shit really gets rough all of sudden people find God… in hopes that she/he will come in and save the day.
So she prayed…
She prayed faithfully. She prayed everyday in the morning when she woke. She prayed in the shower. She prayed as she walked to the train and during her train ride. She prayed on the elevator to her job and during the day while she worked. She prayed during dinner and while she ate. And she prayed through her tears at night right before she put her head on her pillow. She had to pray. She had to believe. She prayed and prayed. She prayed she would get hired permanently because she was so very desperate for money and living in NYC wasn’t cheap and she had tuition to pay for her child who was going to private school.
She wore her mask well. She had everyone fooled.
Her temp assignment was about to end and there were no positions available. She invited KB to lunch one day, which took balls because its not customary for executives to dine with the help! She wanted to express her gratitude and her passion for the job and share with him her desire to work for him one day and her eagerness to be apart of his team.
He said to her, “Don’t worry! I think you’re fabulous. You’re not going anywhere. Even if you have to sit in the bathroom all day everyday until I find you a spot you’re not going anywhere!”
And she just smiled because she knew he was a man of his word.
True to his word she sure did end up spending some time in the bathroom and hiding out in conference rooms where he gave her small projects to keep her around. She was hired permanently a couple months later becoming his assistant in addition to supporting a VP.
All she could think about was how fabulous her boss KB was. He would show up to the office with the fiercest outfits and his diva strut. He was always well put together and smiled every time he walked by her.
His door was locked this particular day which was normal for him as he would often lock his door so he could eat in peace, quietly and without interruptions. The only exception for her bothering him was if he was running late for a meeting. This would the only time she would buzz him.
It was 3:30pm; he needed to be at an important meeting so she buzzed his line. There was no answer. She knocked on his door and still no answer. When she didn’t get an answer she called out his name. She did this a few more times and still got no response. She thought to herself perhaps he stepped out and closed his door.
She went to her desk to retrieve her spare key, knocked one final time on the door and unlocked it. She opened the door slowly and there he was… sitting at his desk with his head down. She thought he was sleeping. She called out for him Kevin, Kevin… wake up you have a meeting. She thought he might be sleeping or had a headache because his arms were crossed folded, and gently placed on his arms. To her he must be sleeping.
So she went behind him to wake him. She touched his shoulder. “Kevin wake up!” She nudged him. She shook him a little. Still no movement. She touched his neck. There was no pulse. She touched his face. It was ice cold. She ran. She ran as fast as she could for help. She interrupted a meeting and told them that Kevin wouldn’t wake up that something was wrong.
They ran to him.
She just stood by her desk pacing, a mess, scared out of her mind, worried, crying, hoping that he would be ok and not understanding what had happened. Someone called 911 because paramedics arrived to the office. She never left her cubicle. When they finished doing whatever it was they were doing inside his office they opened the door.
Kevin was dead.
She couldn’t watch them take him away on that stretcher, covered with that sheet. She refused to leave her desk. In fact, she was so scared that she was hiding under her desk the entire time because this moment was unbelievable to her. Still today it is unbelievable.
I stopped writing when Kevin died on November 4, 2003 after I found him.
It was the most horrible, devastating, and incredibly traumatic experience I had ever encountered. I went to work the very next day and did this every day for so many months. I never mourned his loss I just kept going back to this building. I had to go back into his office every day when Kevin’s replacement started. I had no choice but to open that door again and again. And every single time I was devastated.
When Kevin died as is the case for anyone we lose the stories that we tell each other to console one another come pouring in and this time it was no different.
My Kevin stories are few but absolutely amazing.
In August 2003 during the NYC blackout I was at the office and was scared because we thought that perhaps it was another September 11th situation (my daughter was out of town thank God) but he asked me if I had anywhere to go. I told him I didn’t know what I was going to do. He invited me to go to his house and stay with him for the night. We went searching for water and flashlights. The man only had gold fish to eat, some olives, nuts and vodka no real food… he dined out a lot.
His best friend joined us and we stayed up all night talking for hours.
He took me to lunch several times and shared with me his dreams and goals. He boasted about how he was going to be big and shared how he had already achieved greatness on so many levels.
The week before he died he gave me a gift certificate which I didn’t open until after he died.
One day when I was on the phone taking a message he just shoved it in front of me and said and whispered, “Here this is for you. Enjoy! You probably can only get a pair of earrings with this. But enjoy it.” It sort of got lost in the shuffle until I found it.
When I opened the envelope after he died I found a $500 gift certificate to MaxMara which is sort of like one of those stores on 5th Avenue where they serve you champagne and give you the star like treatment.
I later received an email from a coworker who wrote, “you know Kevin told me he was giving you a gift certificate. He asked me, “Can someone buy something really nice with this?” Of course I told him. When he told me who the gift certificate was for that he was giving it to Alicia… I said wow that’s really nice of you. And he responded, she’s really nice to me.”
You just don’t forget people like him.
But he too wore a mask.
He pretended to be happy at a job that no longer was bringing him the joy it once had. He too had a story that no one knew – – and these are the things that made him beautiful.
Oh yeah very important detail… November 4th is my father’s birthday. Kevin Michael Belden died on my dad’s birthday. I truly believe its so I never forget. And I never will forget him.
The masks I’ve worn:
I wore a mask when I left Florida summer 2002 when I pretended that all was right in my world.
I wore a mask when I started working at a new job – pretending I could hold it down.
I wore a mask for my daughter that we were ok – when we were one step away from being homeless.
I wore a mask after my boss died (and he was the best boss EVA) as I was left dealing with finding him and pretending to be OK and that I could still do my job while pretending to like the people I was working with.
I wore a mask when I went to work for the worse boss and human being I have ever encountered.
So when we walk by people on the street we must remember that they matter. People are important in this world. People are valuable. My mentor Kevin Belden taught me that. He didn’t have to care for me, or about my life, or about my child but he did.
Its important to care what happens to the people around us. Its so important to connect with people. Everyone has a story. We have no idea why they where the masks they wear. But once we take the time to know someone, reach out to them and touch them we may find that they’re less likely to wear a mask while with you.
To Kevin Belden…I dedicate my first publication in 2007…we’ll meet again!
To my father…Happy Birthday!