The White Mask

I wasn’t the type of person who went to many parties in college. If I had to guess, I probably went to only one a week, or maybe every two weeks, depending on my mood. I just didn’t really like the atmosphere. The loud music, the alcohol, the smell of pot and sweat — it was exciting, but only for a little while. Then I would get tired of it and leave.

My friend Corinthia liked to hold themed parties once she got bored of just having people over to drink and listen to music. She had one where everyone dressed in exaggerated 80s style, and one where we were supposed to dress up as the opposite gender. People didn’t always follow the themes, which annoyed Corinthia, but enough people usually went along with it that it added some extra spice to the party.

She held one party that was supposed to be a masquerade. I say “supposed to be,” because I feel like the word “masquerade” conjures up classy images of people in nice clothes and fancy masks, dancing classical dances in a ballroom. This was not that. We were poor college students attending a party in Corinthia’s apartment.

There were a few girls in dresses, and maybe, like, one guy in a suit, but for the most part everyone just wore their regular clothes. Some of them wore their “nice” outfits, but still, a polo and shorts isn’t what one pictures when one thinks of a masquerade. I wore a thigh-length dress, in dark burgundy, and a white mask, trimmed in gold and black, which covered my eyes. I’d bought it ahead of time, online, because Corinthia had told me about her party well in advance.

I was excited for this party in part because I thought it was one of the more interesting themes Corinthia had chosen, but also because there was a boy who’d promised to attend that had, shall I say, caught my interest. His name was Archer. He was a few inches taller than me, with dark, thick hair and brown eyes that, in the right light, seemed almost golden.

I have to admit, here, that I didn’t know Archer all that well. My attraction to him was completely superficial. I was entranced by his looks and his muscles, to which he had obviously given a lot of time and effort. I had only spoken a few words to him, mostly in passing, in the one class that we shared. I was a shallow person, in college. All I really had hopes for with him was a hookup.

I was several drinks in when he arrived. Like most of the people at the party, he didn’t have what I would have called a “proper” masquerade mask. Some people had creepy halloween masks. Others had masks they’d obviously made, out of cardboard or papier-mâché. His was even more removed from what I would have thought of, reading Corinthia’s description of the party. It was one of those skin-tight spandex masks, the kind that covers the whole head and sort of blanks all of your features.

I recognized him by his height and build, and by the fact that, when he saw me, he walked right up to me. “Hey,” he said.

I was the one who invited him to the party. I don’t know who else he knew, but apparently, he didn’t know anyone better than he knew me. “Hi,” I said, flushing. Yeah. He was very attractive.

I feel like I’ve set myself up to keep relaying our conversation, but frankly, I don’t remember anything we said after that. I don’t remember whether we really talked at all. Like I said, I’d already had a significant amount to drink, and I kept drinking once he got there. The night is kind of a blur.

I do remember dancing together, in the middle of Corinthia’s floor and in the middle of a group of people who were also quite drunk. If any of us had been sober, it would have been super awkward. The music was so loud I had a hard time hearing anything he said, which is why I don’t think we talked much at all.

I remember being in Corinthia’s room with him, in her bed, assuring him it was okay because she was my friend and she would understand. I remember making out, and him pushing my dress further up my thighs. He had his mask rolled up just beneath his nose, so that only his lips and chin were visible. I wasn’t really looking at them. I was more concerned with how to meet his lips with my own.

I also remember, very clearly, the door opening after we’d gone back downstairs. He excused himself to go to the restroom. I sat down in a plastic chair, yet another drink in my hand, and looked across the room at the person who was entering. Archer, in a mask not unlike my own, and instantly recognizable because of it. He waved when he saw me, and I waved weakly back, disoriented. Archer paused to talk to some other people he knew.

I looked around the room wildly, searching for the guy in the white latex mask who, I now realized, was most definitely NOT who I thought he was. I didn’t see him again that night, though he probably could have dodged me just by taking off his mask, since I couldn’t remember what the rest of his outfit had looked like.

In fact, I never found out who he was, or why he approached me, or why he let me think he was Archer. I remember sort of beating myself up over and feeling disgusted that I hadn’t recognized the difference. Now I’m past that, and I just look back on it with bemusement and amusement. It’s just become one of the stories that I tell.

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