"You’re doing better, yeah? You seem to be better now," he says encouragingly.
I consider being honest. I almost let the words “I’ve just gotten better at putting on the face” fall carelessly from my mouth.
Instead, I say, “Yeah.” I use a warm, reassuring tone that’s so convincing it surprises me to hear it, and he seems satisfied with this simple answer.
Simple answers are nice. Simplicity is nice. We have this desire for things to be simple, to fit neatly in boxes, to fall wholly into categories. We want everything to have definition. Definite beginnings and endings. A linear trail of cause and effect and reason we can follow. Simple helps us understand. It helps us cope.
But simple isn’t always right. It almost never is, really.
I can’t bring myself to let on how deep this runs. It’s complex, but we’ve just established that we like simple. And I’ve delved into it before, with past friends. I’ve talked about my feelings and complications at length. I find that people grow weary much faster than they imagine. I can see it in their sad eyes and hear it in their tired voices. I recognise the slumped body language of defeat, even while listening to them talk with empty hope, their words hanging awkwardly in a purgatory in the room for what they imagine is my benefit, and it’s as if the words themselves are confused as to why they were spoken and what their purpose is. Eventually, I notice when my friends approach the limits of their attention spans. I can almost see their brains hurt as they struggle not to fidget, try not to check the time or play with their phones or talk about something else. It never seems to matter how much the person cares for me, how deeply the person loves me. It always ends the same, in a quiet space filled with the not knowing what to do and being sad and sorry about it. We are only human, after all.
It’s easy to see why saying “yeah” is preferable to a futile and ultimately pointless attempt at explaining myself. We’re always trying to fix things and we can’t bear it when a solution doesn’t exist. It’s cruel to put people through that kind of frustration, like leading someone down a long and arduous path just to have them find an anticlimactic dead end when you knew all along that’s all it was ever going to be.
"I’m sorry," I want to say. "It’s not fair to anyone who’s ever known me." There’s no way for them to make it better, for themselves or for me. It’s only a burden for them to know how I carry one. It’s best to keep it to myself.
I put on The Face. I hold onto it for dear life as I join a sea of smiles belonging to people who must never know I can’t swim.