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The Double-Layer Mask

Keys. ID. My bag.

I pace in the doorway of my dorm room. What else am I forgetting?


I wear a mask everywhere I go. With the current pandemic, most of us don’t enter the outside world without a piece of fabric covering our faces, revealing only our eyes and nothing more.

My first semester at Harvard College was a memorable one, regardless of how far from “normal” it was. I met new people, made new friends, took challenging courses, traveled to new places, and found a home on a campus far away from the life I had left behind. It took me one semester of college to realize, however, that I wore a mask long before the pandemic had started.


I wore a mask when I spoke to a professor, my demeanor professional and polite while maintaining eye contact and trying desperately to understand her words, hiding the feelings of confusion and helplessness.

I wore a mask when I spoke to my mother, smiling through the fatigue and stress, reassuring her that I am doing okay and that I had not skipped dinner that night as I stared at my unfinished work and untouched meal.

I wore a mask when I spoke to my friends, laughing and joking around carelessly, burying the emptiness and sense of alienation in the back of my mind, so I could temporarily forget how alone I truly feel.

I wore a mask when I stepped into the outside world because I was — and in some ways, still am — unsure of who I am and where I belong. I drifted from crowd to crowd, memories slowly fading into a blur, experiences becoming just split-second encounters, just another name and face and piece of information that takes a place in the vast archive within my mind.

My mask was more than just the piece of fabric I now pull over my face every day. It was a facade that I had built, a disguise that not only concealed my outward appearance but my identity, my emotions, my thoughts. The real me.

But I am tired of wearing this mask. And it took me time to realize that I can remove my mask because I am the one who decides to put it on. I can deconstruct this disguise because I am the one who built it and only I know the pieces that must be disassembled.

So now, when I speak to a professor, I let my voice waver and my hesitation show. I take off my mask and expose my distress and sense of misdirection, and she guides me, leading me back to the right path.

When I speak to my mother, I let my smile disappear and my exhaustion overwhelm me. I take off my mask and reveal that I am drained, and she comforts me, encouraging me to move forward and reminding me of my goals and aspirations.

When I speak to my friends, I allow my emotions to be known — the happiness, the sadness, and the in-betweens. I take off my mask and they still accept me, concerned for my well-being and making certain that alone is the last thing I feel.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the process of creating these masks that we don’t realize the harm we inflict on ourselves: casualties of a never-ending battle to hide while struggling to be seen and heard at the same time.

By stripping off my mask, I have gained an appreciation for the complexities and subtleties of my identity. I’ve realized the value of self-expression as I continue to connect with the world around me, and as I learn who I really am and what I am capable of.

We all wear our own masks. But sometimes it takes wearing an actual, physical mask to realize that maybe it's okay to take off the masks that are less visible.

Alaha A. Nasari ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Cabot House.

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