Alabaster Smiles

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You wait. The world seems to be moving faster than usual. Everyone passing by has a purpose: somewhere to go, someone to go to, something to look forward to, to fill all those empty spaces in their lives. The only things you have to look forward to are whatever planned, almost formal appointments you manage to awkwardly initiate. You try telling yourself that spur-of-the-moment just isn’t your style. But why fool yourself?

You’re still waiting. You must look lonely, and in a way, you are. Fifteen minutes later, someone walks up to you and says hello. It is the person you’ve been waiting for. They don’t apologize for being late, but they do you the favor of walking into the building with you. Sometimes you’re under the impression that you’re the only one who has anything to apologize for these days. For everyone else, apologies are implied. Maybe you missed the party where everyone tattooed the words I’m Sorry on their foreheads. It wouldn’t be surprising if you had.

The two of you sit across from each other at a table meant for four people. The space between you is almost as unbearable as the silence. You can’t think of anything to say. Scratch that—you can think of plenty of things to say. You would like to mention what your cat did this morning, what you dreamed last night, what books you are reading. But none of them seem worthwhile to bring up. You don’t want to be called a bore. How do people think of that perfect thing to say? It must be a secret. Some Guru of Social Interaction must have told everyone while you were elsewhere. Maybe it was at that I’m-Sorry-Forehead-Tattoo party...

Your friend starts talking about something, and you feign interest. It seems like something you do often—pretend to be interested, in the hopes that it will make people like you better. Suddenly you’re wondering how many people have made a habit out of pretending, just like you. How many people in this world are only pretending to be interested, or smart, or happy? How many people are secretly wishing they were someone else? Who else puts on a grim smile every day—alabaster, decorative and fake—and prays that, in time, it will become genuine? Who else is afraid to show the world their secret passions—their secret feelings—their secret self?

Your friend is still talking, and you find yourself nodding in all the right places. You are totally uninterested in everything they’re saying. You’re thinking that, when it comes down to it, secrets are everything. People—all people—are forced to choose between the secret of social acceptance and their secret self. To be accepted, or be who they truly are. You wonder exactly when in life people stand at that crossroads and choose which path they will take. You wonder when you did. You wonder why you chose what you chose, and if you’re truly happy. You wonder if it’s not too late to go back and choose again.





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