My Grandmother’s Face

Who do we become when our idealized identities conflict with our irreconcilable needs?

Each morning, my grandmother put on her face. 

I watched as she painted lips, shaped eyes. From her brush bloomed brows. Her nose, like clay, sculpted. From the mirror, she smiled. The ritual was complete. My grandmother had a face. 

“Can I try?” I had asked. 

But my grandmother had simply laughed. “You are too young!” 

But when my grandmother left, I climbed her vanity. I grabbed one of her tools. I attempted to create a different face, but my image became distorted in the mirror. Color was smeared. My grandmother returned and shouted. 

I was in trouble. 

She fixed my face with water. 

I was restored. 

This is a memory of when I had a face. I don’t remember losing it. It is not like a pencil, rolling off of a desk. It is not like keys, temporarily misplaced.

I’ve tried retracing my steps, but it has been too long since my face disappeared. I will never find it again.

So, like all of us, I must put on my face every morning. I paint the lips, I sculpt the nose, I craft the eyes. 

Then, I see me behind the mirror and I know I have a face. I can go on to the streets without blindly stumbling. I would not want to be faceless on the street. I want to be seen. 

Let me be seen.

The faceless ones are the invisible ones. We see them, obviously, but they aren’t discernible. They are blank canvases of nothingness. They are indistinguishable. They are ugly in their sameness. 

This is what I thought because this is what I was taught. 

It wasn’t until I met her that she showed me. She did not have a face, the woman I love. But I know her. In a crowd of a billion and one, I see her. She is, to me, the most recognizable human being on the planet. She has marked me with her love and I have marked her in return. We do not need faces to see one another. 

She introduces me to others who are faceless. There are so many. 

I did not know. 

I admit my ignorance to her, afraid that she will shun me. But she understands. She forgives. 

She tells me that all is beautiful. The faces are lovely and so are the faceless. She tells me that there is no right or wrong. She tells me that the standard is only what is accepted by the many. She tells me that it is okay to be accepted by the few. 

I go forward into streets without a face, defiant. I will join the revolution. A martyr of this cause. 

But she tells me that this is not a reason to be faceless. She tells me that facelessness is a choice, just as it is to be faced. It is not a decision to be made lightly. 

I tell her that I want to be like her; she tells me that admiration and love are not the same thing. 

“Your facelessness must be your own,” she says. 

“But if we’re all the same, why can’t I be yours?” 

She lets me go. She tells me to be me. 

I rebel against that faceless woman. I wake up. I paint the lips, I sculpt the nose, I craft the eyes: I am seen. They see me. They look at me. 

Look at me. 

They look at me with empty, hollow shells of eyes, created by their own hands. 

Their looks are not what I see. They are not what I feel. I am afraid, on the street. They see me, but they do not see me. 

I run into the rain and let the water return me to me. My face is melted into puddles. 

I call her in a phone booth on the corner. She does not answer.  

I refuse to leave my home. My grandmother never left the house without her face. I do not have the strength to put on my face. Nor do I have the strength to be faceless. I am at an impasse with myself. There is no way forward. 

What sort of creature am I? I pity me. 

I call her again. She does not reply. 

I call her on the landline, at the bar where she works. She is forced to answer. 

“I don’t know what to do.” 

She hangs up. 

I walk into the street and become absorbed in the sea of flesh: Some of the faces are molded, some are not. I want to be part of them. I want to be apart from them. This contradiction makes no sense. 

I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to be or not be. I have no sculpted eyes, but I see my reflection in a passing storefront. I see myself, younger. The face of my childhood. I see my grandmother’s face. I see her grandmother’s face. 

I have no face. I move between city streets, unseen. Invisible. Nameless, faceless. 

But I am here. 

I am here. 

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Kellene O'Hara

Kellene O'Hara

Kellene O’Hara has been published in The Fourth River, Marathon Literary Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her story, "Words for a Puppet," has been published in Intermissions, an anthology from Grattan Street Press. She has an MFA in Fiction from The New School. Find her on Twitter @KelleneOHara and online at

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