My face is wrinkled.  Especially around my eyes.  I don’t know how it happened.  Or when.  But there are tiny creases around my lips and across my forehead, as if someone randomly carved them while I slept.  I don’t remember when they first appeared.   I awoke one day to find them there.  As if my nightmares bled into reality.  And never dissipated.

I struggle to believe how much time has passed; that I’m old enough to have these lines and creases and crinkles.  I never had an opportunity to be young and carefree, so it seems unfair that I have already grown old and am showing signs of decay.  It seems unjust that my hair is turning gray and must be colored.  That my skin is no longer firm and flaps like a flag when I move.  That I have small jowls.  That joints sometimes creak when I rise.  How did I suddenly leap from childhood to this wretched state…without noticing?  I must have fallen asleep – into a deep, coma-like, dark sleep – only to awake an old woman with lines upon my face.  There is no other logical explanation. 

Though I am old, wisdom eludes me.  I don’t understand so very many things.  I don’t yet know how to live my life.  Still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  Or who I should be.  I haven’t recovered from the abuse of my childhood.  I’m still in pieces.  I swear, I was supposed to be fixed by now; healed and normal.  But here I am.  Forever trying to find my way through a life that completely overwhelms and escapes me.  Lost.  Broken.   Old.

My body used to be firm.  My thoughts used to be clear.  I used to be able to feel.  I used to have dreams.

Now, now that I am wrinkled, everything is dull and foggy.  I repressed my emotions for such a long time, I no longer feel much of anything at all.  I had to do it.  Numb everything.  Because when I did feel, it was overwhelming.    Deadened emotions have become my inescapable reality.  Things hurt, but as if from a great distance.  All is muted.  Filtered.  Wrapped in layer after layer of cotton to protect me from sharp edges. 

I long for sharp edges.  Even though they are painful.  At least when I hurt, I knew I was alive.  And when I was alive, there was hope.

I learned early that I was not acceptable.  And because I am not and have never been acceptable, I must wear a mask.  The mask has become another inescapable reality.  The mask stole my identity.  The mask consumed me. The mask became me and I ceased to exist. 

When I ceased to exist, dying behind the mask,  I lost hope.  Without hope, my dreams slowly withered and died.  Now, I no longer dream.  Even when I sleep.  All I see is darkness.  Nothingness.

I look in the mirror at the unfamiliar woman who returns my stare.  I wonder how she became what she is.  Such a sad creature.  I wonder why she was never able to escape her past, find goodness in life, have happy crinkles painted on her face instead of weary lines and furrows.  I wonder when she lost her smile.  When the twinkle fell from her eye and her gaze became empty and dull.  I wonder when she became a zombie.  Hollow.  Dead.

I wonder why she was never loved.  Why she is so alone and without nurture.  It has always been that way.  As a child, abused, neglected, she was nothing more than an object used to fulfill others.  As a young bride, she was judged and found unacceptable, spending years trying to be what was expected of her, but never able to earn more than tolerance.  And then, even tolerance was asking for too much.  Her partner left, she was estranged from her family, and friends faded away.  Isolation claimed her, held her, married her.  Imprisoned her.

Love was always out of reach.  Asking for love was asking too much.  She was never good enough and could never do enough to earn it.  I am fairly certain being unloved and unwanted carved some of those wrinkles upon her face when she wasn’t looking.  It probably also stole the light from her eyes.

Honestly, I don’t especially want to associate with her either.  I have rejected her, just as others have rejected her.  I believed their assessments of her failings and accepted that she wasn’t worth loving.  I tried to divorce her from myself, to split her off and throw her away.  To become someone new and wonderful.  But she has always come with me wherever I’ve gone, hanging back, living in the background, watching my feeble attempts to evade her.  She knew.  We are reluctant twins, fused in our soul.  We share too many vital organs to be separated.

There was a time when I wanted to know her.  Back when we were much younger.  I believed I could save her.  But as we both grew older, I grew more and more weary of her and the effort it took to fight for our survival.

I reached a point where I wondered if surviving was worth the battle.

I trace the lines of her face with my finger.  I see the sadness in her eyes and turn from her, refusing to accept the woman she has become.  The woman I am.  I walk away from the mirror, makeup and mask in place, pretending I am someone else.  Someone who can still be saved.  Someone who has a reason to live.  Someone who can be loved.  Even though I don’t believe it, I pretend.  It’s the only way I can keep moving forward.  I pretend as if my life depends on it…because it does. 

Yes, I pretend I am someone with a future.  Someone who has worth.  Someone with a life ahead of her.  Someone who has purpose. Someone who is wanted.  And acceptable. 

I pretend the lies are real and reality is a lie.  I do it, as I always have, to survive.  I pretend that I am someone without wrinkles carved upon my face and in my soul.  I try hard to forget the wrinkles.

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