20 Tiny Deaths

smiling balloon

The worst feeling in the entire world is when you pretend to be happy and that everything is fine when in reality you are curdling in a puddle of misery. The second worst feeling in the entire world is when someone else pretends everything is happy and fine when they know it isn’t and they know you are dying of misery on the inside, and you find yourself having to—or struggling to—play along. These are the “tiny deaths” of life, small sparks of pure agony, for each of us die a hundred times before the true sleep arrives. Here are some examples of them.

1. When your father, acting particularly jolly, lifts his glass and gives a toast to the New Year while sitting around the table with his family after the divorce has already been announced.

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2. When you’re spending time with people who don’t know the slightest thing about you, and you are forced to laugh along with them, pretending to be someone you’re not, wishing you were anywhere else in that moment but there.

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3.  When someone else gets what you’ve always wanted, and you are forced to congratulate them, the smile stuck to your face like congealed plastic.

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4. Feeling like the world has come apart around you, then having to walk down the street and greet people, pretending that nothing is wrong.

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5. After a violent fight with your husband, nursing your newly-bruised cheek, you pick up your daughter from school and smile and talk to her as if nothing has happened, though you hold her in an embrace for a little longer than usual because she is the only good person left in your life.

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6. You stumble into the wrong room by accident, and catch the person you secretly love embracing and kissing someone else, stumble back out, mumbling apologies, before rushing back down the corridor and throwing yourself into the nearest closest to weep out your agony in private.

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7. After discovering your partner has cheated on you, you are then placed in a public environment where it is imperative you are seen as a happy couple, an inviolate unit, smiling at everyone through gritted teeth as you stand by their side.

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8. When someone tells you something thinking you will take it as good news when in actual fact it’s terrible news, the kind that spears your heart like a slow needle, and you are forced to sit there and gush in appreciation and joy for their sake and to hide your true feelings.

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9. Someone decides to break up with you, and you force yourself to pretend as if you do not care even as your heart shrivels and dies inside your chest with a soft whimper.

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10. Coming back home to an empty house, you smile and dance around, sing to yourself, begin preparing a meal, as though something wonderful has happened and you are extraordinarily cheerful, only to break down crying when you can’t find any cheese in the fridge, because with other people, we can pretend forever, but with ourselves, all of us can only do it for so long.

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11. Having to pretend you like your boyfriend, and to enjoy intercourse with him, when in truth you are in love with another woman but are unable to express your feelings due to societal constraints and denial, and vice-versa.

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12. You have a feeling—call it what you want, a man’s intuition, a woman’s hunch—that your partner is cheating on you, but because you don’t have concrete proof, you are forced to happily accept their kisses, their hugs, and their endearments, the doubt niggling inside you like a miniscule, demonic worm all the while.

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13. Two people secretly love each other but are too proud or stubborn to express their feelings, so they end up partnering up with other people to distract themselves and make the other person jealous, pretending to be madly in love, when in reality they’re both miserable apart from each other.

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14. A father is forced to leave to go to the war and puts up a cheerful front to his children as they cling to him before he leaves, then sheds a few quiet and silent tears in the lavatories at the training camps, away from the eyes of the other soldiers.

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15. A forty-year-old woman, alone and unmarried, bumps into a friend who is out strolling with her husband and children, the husband tall and handsome and loving, the children’s laughter like breaking glass being stuffed down the woman’s throat.

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16. A young woman deludes herself into thinking a young man likes her and is severely disabused of the notion when he asks her to help set him up with her friend—she agrees, of course, smiling as her heart breaks.

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17. A lonely man deludes himself into thinking a woman likes him, obsessing over her for weeks on end, only to end up being introduced to her husband, and having to smile and act friendly.

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18. Pretending to not know that someone is only being friendly and nice because they want something from you, and having to reciprocate the false love.

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19. When an insult, thinly-veiled as a joke, requires one, in order to keep within social norms, to laugh as though it were the funniest thing in the world.

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20. Molding a smile onto your face every second of the day until you wholeheartedly believe it is real, except for that moment before you fall asleep, as you lie in the dark, your face a tomb.

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