I don’t know who I am,
and that’s the truth.
It’s as true as the blemishes on my skin
and the weariness of my hands.
I’m the figure enshrouded in mist,
a small stone statue of Hercules, thriving in silence,
fragile, yet broken from labour,
slowly dying of a lonely heart.
It is the mask I wear,
a veil hiding my lost soul,
a fallen angel
seeking its way back to paradise.
For every empty hope and promise,
falls a feather from my wings of wax,
like rose petals on a wilting flower,
my innocence – my beauty – is lost.
Broken, I wander in the wake of a wasteful world,
Waltzing and spinning through life like it’s a masquerade,
a sea of empty faces and emptier souls in a world of gluttons and drunkards,
dancing hopelessly into oblivion.
Like the fool I am, I wear the mask,
seen as I’m not, afraid to be seen as I am.
But why should I be afraid, when we’re all the same?
I am, like you, a desperate soul,
wearing the mask I have forged for myself
and the one the world has sealed upon my face.
Is it because of the pain?
The pain in knowing that instead of the Hercules I wear on my face,
I am Quasimodo, disfigured and unloved,
desperately ringing the bells to drown out the sound of the throbbing pain in my heart?
Yet, I know, as you know, that an aching heart is the only way you know you’ve loved,
wistfully longing for a love you know can never be yours;
I can’t do anything but listen to the footsteps going out of my life as quickly as they come,
all the while cursing Cupid’s stupid arrow,
angry that the world I love does not feel the same way.
Do you know how it feels,
when the girl who has ravished your heart tells you that she cannot, and will not, love you,
because you are a foot too short, five inches, two?
Or that the world is not looking for the ones who thrive in silence,
but those who can outroar even the mighty lion from its throne?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been searching for the wrong thing too long,
weaving in and out of the grove of sycamores,
avoiding the harsh glare of the sun,
hiding in the shadows pining for Rosaline when I should’ve been looking for Juliet.
I am a lonely pilgrim,
a hell-bound traveller seeking my way back to paradise,
a love born in a masquerade and built on the kisses of two palmers,
searching for the divine among the mundane.
Those simple glimpses of ethereal beauty,
dancing whispers on silver-gilded winds,
are the remnants of the carefree childhood I long to live once again,
a Neverland built on the dust of fairies and the clinking of pirate coins.
Yet, the way of the world is always so different,
and I, tasting its assaults for the first time,
was only a child, drowned slowly in papers and heavy books,
its stiff words forcing their way into my mouth, down my throat, and into my lungs.
Now, the world thinks I do not know what fun is,
but only because it was the world who stifled my dreams and forced a mask upon my face,
I am a loser for love, a phantom soul suffering from a broken heart,
but not from the shards of shattered dreams.
I don’t know who I am,
and that’s the truth,
but simply because I can only define myself in worldly terms,
when I know, full well, that this is not where I belong.
I don’t know who I am,
and that’s the truth.
Souls and façades are simply two different languages telling the same story. They may look different, their curves and edges flowing in opposite directions, their words gliding off one’s tongue in different melodies. However, in the end, both play a vital part in telling one of the greatest stories the world has ever known: the mystery of the human individual.
The problem is that many of us have differing ideas regarding who we are. Some believe we are simply the amalgamation of the influences that surround us, while others think that our façades are mere canvases painted by the ideas of other people, hiding the individual originality that lies still within the soul. These thoughts suggest the solution to the mystery is rooted in discovering ourselves, but since truth can never contradict truth, as of this moment, the only truth I know is that I do not know who I am.
I am given inklings, however, of my identity. From the passions that boil angrily from the depths of my soul, to a persona as plastic as an empty bottle, the things that I feel and the things that I see serve as imperfect guideposts leading me on an uncertain road to the truth I seek.
My façade tells the story of an individual shying away from the disdainful eyes of the world, veiled underneath an exterior of false confidence. Using the small stone statue of Hercules as a symbol of my façade, I project a distorted impression of who I am to those who happen to set their eyes on me. Like stone, I am strong. Like stone, I am confident. Like stone, I am rigid. Hercules, the Greek character of ancient myth marvelled for his great strength, is who others think I am, but only because that is who I want them to see. In the end, though, the truth in the character of Hercules lies not in his appearance, but in the cares and worries of his heart. According to Greek myth, Hercules, a father to two children and husband of a beautiful princess, was driven insane by Hera, a goddess who despised him since he was the offspring of her husband, Zeus, and Alcmene, a mortal woman. In his fit of madness, he killed his wife and children. Gravely remorseful for his actions, Hercules had to undergo twelve labours as penance — difficult and dangerous tasks that were seemingly impossible. Despite his godly physical strength, Hercules had the human tendency to be weak. His weakness was hidden in the curves of his muscular physique, his brokenness coursed through the rivers in his veins. I am like him. Like stone, I am impressionable. Like stone, I am erosible. Like stone, I am fragile.
My soul tells the story of imperfection, an individual torn asunder by sin and the desire for redemption. My soul unveils hidden longings and a beautiful ugliness inherent in my humanness. Underneath the beautiful Hellenic façade is the hideous, disfigured form of Quasimodo, the bell-ringer in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Though he was kind at heart, he was despised for his severe hunchback and a giant wart on his left eye that left him deformed. Due to his grotesque appearance, he was hated for his whole life: he was replaced by his parents for a physically healthy baby girl, abandoned as an unwanted orphan on a bed in Notre Dame, looked upon as a monster by the rest of Paris, and rejected by the girl who ravished his heart. After Esmeralda, the girl who Quasimodo loved, was hanged for attempted murder and witchcraft, Quasimodo left his cathedral to lie down next to her lifeless body, his skeleton intertwining with hers after eventually dying of starvation. In life, Quasimodo’s inner beauty was clouded by the judgements of a cold and prejudiced world. In death, he found the love the world could not give. Likewise, I have felt the pangs of unrequited love from a world that does not love me back, and that is why I feel I do not belong here. In many ways, I do not and cannot live up to its expectations, my most painful insecurity being my short height. While I cannot feign ignorance of more troubling insecurities or the more painful agonies of others, there is no denying that I feel rejected by the world around me because of it. In a world that says taller men are more successful, in a world that says taller men are better leaders, in a world that says taller men are more attractive, in a world that says taller men always get the girl, it’s no wonder, then, that I feel I don’t fit in. It’s no wonder I feel that I don’t belong.
Another story that is alluded to in the poem is William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. It begins as another tale of unrequited love, with the young Romeo expressing his anguish for the unloving Rosaline, the girl with whom he finds himself deeply enamoured. However, on the night he attends a party where he knows Rosaline will be, he meets another girl by the name of Juliet. At that moment, Rosaline loses her charm in Romeo’s eyes, merely becoming the fading memory of a foolish dream. Upon seeing Juliet’s beauty, Romeo takes her by the hand and proceeds to woo her by evoking religious imagery, emphasizing the ardour of pilgrims in their pursuit of spiritual ecstasy. The use of religious symbolism throughout the poem not only pays homage to Shakespeare’s literary brilliance, but also reflects my own spiritual beliefs. In my faith, I find a source of strength, comfort, and inspiration that the world is unable to provide. By using the images of fallen angels and hell-bound travellers, I confess to my own sinfulness, while expressing my desire to live a life guided by virtue and goodwill. Through Shakespeare’s words, I find the realization of my belief that I, too, am merely a pilgrim on a narrow path strewn with thorns and sharp rocks, my heart in pursuit of the happiness the world cannot satisfy. In a way, Rosaline is the world, whose charms seduce the masses and whose expectations are way beyond mortal reach; in stretching one’s arms to grab for her, they meet an untimely downfall. On the other hand, Juliet is the place of supreme bliss – some call it Heaven, others Paradise – whose charms are quieter, overshadowed by the world’s grandeur, yet they harbour more power. She is the divine among the mundane, the place of sanctuary I seek in the chaos of my life. Being human, I crave for the world’s attention, I desire material wealth, I long to be deemed attractive. However, feeling rejected and despised by society, I have grown to learn that true happiness comes not from chasing transient pleasures, but from setting my sights on my faith, one that promises me life. Real life – painless, gratifying, everlasting. It comforts me to know that the reason why I feel I don’t belong in the world is because I was never meant to fit it in the first place, this world being but a pale shadow of what my faith, and therefore Heaven, offers. However, just as Romeo and Juliet’s love could only find peace in death, I may only find what I seek when I finally learn to ignore societal expectations and break free from the world’s poisonous influence.
I think it was in my desire to compensate for what I lacked vertically that I began to adopt a serious demeanour. Associating harshness with adulthood, I wanted to stray away from things people considered childish, finally finding maturity in reading books and studying, all day and all night. When it dawned upon me that I would have to live with the possibility of remaining as tall as short child forever, I began to muffle the laughter of the child within me. I began to despise words like “cute” or “adorable,” regardless of the speaker’s intentions, for who wanted to be reminded of something one remembered everyday? Amidst the rush to grow up, my serious façade often covered the child nestled snugly in my soul, tightly enwrapped in its soft, warm folds. I like to think that I am a child at heart, but while many of my peers dreamed of Peter Pan, and Neverland, and they dreaded growing up, I found myself longing for the opposite: I wanted to grow up, though I dreaded the possibility that I never would. In the poem, I utilize the imagery of Neverland to illustrate the innocence I lost because of my desire to fit the world’s expectations. I describe my longing for the childhood I never truly lived, one without worry or care. The imagery of books and stiff words that follows it expresses my regrets in desiring to woo a world that would never love me back. In wanting to grow up, I made my studies a priority; as a result, I forgot about the importance of family and personal pleasure, and I watched my childhood eventually slip away like water running through my fingers. In loving, I lost. I became a loser for love.
The title of the poem pays homage to another work associated with the loss of childhood, namely, Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel It. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of watching an adaptation of It in the glory of the silver screen. While watching, I fell deeply, madly, hopelessly in love with the characters, especially the seven members of the so-called “Losers’ Club.” As a gang of bullied social misfits who were ostracized by their peers for many different reasons – religion, race, weight, socioeconomic status, just to name a few – I could not help but feel as if I was a part of them. I felt as if they knew what I was feeling. I felt as if they understood me. From their weakness, they found a common strength. In their struggle to survive in a world that did not love them, they discovered a bond that gave them the power to fight an evil entity (which they called “It”), when no one else could. Their weakness gave them the ability to face their fears, insecurities fueled by the cruel world in which they lived. In many ways, I am just like them. If I had a trait that I think would cast me as a member of the Losers’ Club, it would be my height; it has often left me feeling despised, rejected, and ridiculed, whether by my peers or the adults in my life. We are all influenced by the world’s ideals, but those of us who find ourselves left in the margins often have a more painful longing to gain acceptance and recognition. However, this weakness has taught me to be strong. It has taught me to never give up. It has taught me to accept my weakness as a source of pride. After all, if it means I have to fit in with the world’s expectations to be perceived as a winner, I think I’d rather be a loser.
I don’t know who I am, but simply because I can only define myself in worldly terms, when I know, full well, that this is not where I belong. In shedding his mortality, Hercules won his immortal place amongst the Olympian gods. In abandoning the confines of the world, Quasimodo found sanctuary in a broken love made whole by death. In laying down his life, Romeo found eternal bliss in a love the world did not accept. In leaving the world’s cares behind, Peter Pan gained the happiness of eternal youth. In using their weakness in the eyes of a world that did not love them, the Losers’ Club discovered the strength to face their fears. It makes me wonder if my place truly isn’t here at all; perhaps the only reason that I feel like I do not belong on Earth is because I was always meant to shine among the stars.