He pauses to study his face in the mirror, to see what others see when they look at him.
A huge mass of flesh balloons from the left side of his face. The main body of tissue, laced with blue veins, swells in a dome from sideburn level to chin. The mass draws his left eye into a slit, warps his mouth into a small inverted half-moon. It looks as though someone had slapped three pounds of wet clay onto his face, where it clings, burying the boy inside.
But his right eye is clear and perfectly formed. His ris is a deep, penetrating brown, and one third of his face surrounding this normal eye gives the impression of a normal teenager. Sam’s close-cropped hair is shaped carefully, trimmed neatly behind his delicate right ear. His right cheek glows with the blushing good health that the rest of his face has obscured.
There is the mask.
And there is the boy behind the mask.
The last school bell rings, and students crowd out of classrooms and jam the halls. They gather in front of lockers to talk, they shout and make plans for the afternoon. Sam slips through them unnoticed and heads home on a winding street.
When reaching home, he goes upstairs directly. He walks along the hall to the door with the toy license plate announcing “Sam.” In his room he fiddles with a laptop, leafs through a motorcycle magazine, and plays with a foam basketball.
He sits on the bed and tosses the ball across the room, hitting a poster on the wall. His mother made that poster, assembling family photographs and documents and then laminating them. They are the remnants of a fading childhood.
In the middle of the poster is a questionnaire Sam filled out when he was eight. He had been asked to list his three greatest wishes. First, he said, he wanted $1 million. Next, a dog. On the third line, he doodled three question marks——back then, he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted or needed. If he could be granted one wish now, it would be to look better. Not perfect. Not like a model. Sam just wants to look a little more normal. He wants people to see beyond his face.