On a Halloween evening many years past, I was walking home from the local market with a grocer's bag tucked under each arm when I spotted a group of masked folks coming towards me. They looked too big to be childeren, so I assumed that they were college kids on the way to a party or something similar.
When they got closer, they stopped and one of them, wearing a Yoda mask, asked me for directions to a nearby street. My hands were full, so I nodded my head in the direction of the requested street.
The next thing I knew, I was lying face-down on the sidewalk, my groceries spilled and broken all around me. I spit up a mouthful of blood and a tooth...there was blood everywhere- it looked like someone had been in a serious fight.
Above me, I heard a window open, followed by a woman's voice.
"Are you alright?", she asked.
I tried to stand up. My head felt like a tornado of barbed wire was passing through it...I vomited blood and fell down.
"No." I looked down at myself. I was covered with blood, puke and dirt. Best costume ever, I thought, crazily.
I asked the woman if I could use her phone to call for help, but she said, no, she had already called the police and they were on the way. Then I passed out.
I was in hospital hours later when I heard the whole story from the police officer who came to interview me. The woman had seen the group of masked persons surround and question me and watched as one of them drew a pistol out of his jacket. She thought he was going to shoot me in the back of the head, but instead, he used it to bludgeon me , knocking me down with one blow.
I don't remember any of it, but she said I struggled quite a bit but quickly lost, the "fight" ended with me curled up , hands over my skull as my attackers kicked me in the head, face and body until I stopped moving. Then they grabbed my beer and ran away.
The officer said I was one of several victims of what he thought were the same thugs who were on a rampage that evening- they, he thought, were participating in a gang-based activity called "wilding"- fledgling gang-bangers would be instructed by their gang leaders to "go fuck some people up" in order to get gangster "cred". Charming.
As he was explaining this, an ambulance crew was hustling another stretcher into the ER, the man on it seemed to have four or five elbows on his left arm-I have never seen an arm as broken as that one, before or since. Another officer briefly spoke with the one assigned to me.
"Looks like they got another one", my cop told me, surveying the twisted carnage on the other stretcher, " I hate to say this, but you got off pretty easy compared to that guy."
I didn't know it then, but "that guy" had been shot as well as beaten.
It took over a dozen stitches to put my face back together. I see those scars in my mirror every morning.
Since then, I have been extremely uncomfortable around anyone wearing a mask. The idea of actually wearing one myself fills me with dread by association. I don't want anything to do with masks, period. I did sound recently for a musician who wears a mask when he performs, but I didn't have to look at him, just listen, so that was OK, although it lent his music a sinister quality that no one else seemed to pick up on.
Avoiding masks normally isn't a big deal- I mean, it's pretty easy to not wear a mask, right? In a literal sense, I mean.
Well, I just got an invitation to a party I really want to attend. All of my friends will be there and , presently, I'm in an emotional place where I badly need some friendly company...the party sounds like a blast, just the sort of thing I need right now.
The party is a masquerade ball. Wearing a mask or a disguise is mandatory.
I know my fear isn't a rational one and that there will be friendly faces behind all those masks, but that knowledge doesn't help. I know that I won't last ten minutes in a room full of masks. I'll break down into a quivering panic attack.
Last night, I re-lived that long-ago beatdown over and over in my nightmares, so I know the fear is still there.
I'm sure my friends would allow me to attend sans mask, but it would be absurd to expect other people to eschew their costumes just because I'm a scared little boy who pisses himself when he sees trick-or-treaters.
I really want to go to the party but I don't want to have to explain my feelings and fears all night long- or for the 10 minutes or so before my anxiety takes over and I am compelled to leave- how do I explain that I am not the slightest bit afraid of ghosts , but that I am terrified of people dressed as ghosts?