Just as packing my suitcase or making the seven-hour drive to Northern New York is a part of the ritual of visiting my grandfather, so too is donning my mask. My mask is deceptively lovely. It has a mouth that is contorted into an empty smile. My masked self has been told so many times “to smile more” that it can no longer remember how to do anything else. Above its mouth, my mask has eyes that see everything and ears that hear everything but lips that refuse to comment. My masked self has learned time and time again that its opinions mean nothing when they fall on deaf ears.
Attached to my mask, by strings similar to that of a marionette, are tightly fitted gloves. These gloves are stained with spaghetti sauce from last night’s dinner and soap from last night’s dishes. These gloves are trained to pick tomatoes from the garden or help my grandfather to change the channel from Wheel of Fortune to Fox News and then back again. When not occupied, these gloves sit patiently folded in my lap.
While at my grandfather’s, visiting relatives often look at my mother and I’s faces and comment on the striking resemblance. We have the same distinctive bump in our noses, the same dimpled cheeks and the same friendly crinkles that form at the corners of our eyes when we laugh. Our faces, however, are not where the similarities between us end, for our masks are where the true resemblance lies. While I wear the mask and gloves of a dutiful granddaughter, my mother wears those of a devoted daughter. Together we cook, clean, listen and hold our tongues until August is over at last.
On the car ride home, we shed our masks and find solace in one another’s true faces. We peel off our gloves and grasp one another’s bare hands. Opinions, objections and simple truths rip free from our once-speechless mouths as we fly down the highway away from my grandfather’s house. It will be another year until we have to dawn our masks and gloves once more, and until then, we plan to savor every liberated moment.