It’s the easiest thing in the world to seem OK. People ask how are you doing and you answer, yeah, I’m fine; you know, some days are better than others, and they believe you and feel good that they remembered to ask. Which is fine because they’re not responsible for you and have better things to do than sit and listen to how you’re at an all-time low and how some days you can barely muster the motivation to leave the house. And how days you work are best because you’re too busy to dwell but weekends are worst because the only people who check up on you are the new-parent twenty- somethings downstairs who invite you down to have drinks and sit around looking at the baby. Sometimes you go but sometimes you lie and say you have a friend from back home passing through town and then sit on your couch all weekend passively scrolling social media on your phone and witnessing everyone else’s oppressive happiness.

And now the holiday is finally here and everyone is traveling and you’re sitting in a foreign city emptied of people that booms with celebratory fireworks explosions at all hours—not a war zone but like a war zone—because you couldn’t bear to get on a plane to fly back home to other side of the world and face something that’s way too painful to deal with but just as painful to avoid from afar. Boom! Day one, you catch up on some much-needed sleep. Day two, same. Boom! Day three, you venture out for groceries, having run out of takeout leftovers and fill two bags with a random assortment of whatever requires the least amount of effort to prepare. The stores are mostly empty, but you make do. Boom! Day four, you actually do go out and meet a friend for far too many drinks in a bar that’s actually still open and descend by the end of the night into something tearful and embarrassing. Boom! Day five, you clean the apartment and are complete shit at it, but the ayi has gone back home to the countryside for the holiday and the place is coated in an epidermal layer of dust. Boom! Days six and seven, you stockpile sleep as the vacated city booms at regular intervals. You remember hearing once that the fireworks were traditionally used to chase away evil spirits and you fantasize about explosions powerful enough to eradicate everything.

Then it’s the weekend again and your colleagues are returning peppy and energized from tropical beach vacations and transcendent hiking treks and you get a few messages to go out for drinks but you ignore them and people assume you must not be back yet from the trip you lied and said you were going on so they wouldn’t know you were spending the whole week-long break in despair and lethargy. You’ll have to give ambiguous answers about how therapeutic it was to unwind and just sit in your open-air beach bungalow and relax and people will be glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself. You know you’re being melodramatic and pathetic now so you don’t say a word to anyone but you write it all down in a short story and alter the time and place and supporting characters and pretend it’s all just fiction because writing is a good creative outlet that can help you get through all this.

You’re being self-pitying and maybe even vindictive because you had drinks at a place near work two Fridays ago and actually laughed and legitimately enjoyed yourself without just pretending to and your colleagues said they’d message you about going out the next night but then didn’t. One of your colleagues had said every time she gets stressed or upset about life she thinks about how there are people like you who are going through something so much worse and she feels like an asshole because she hasn’t really asked how you’re doing. But on Monday, you hear her at work talking about all the fun she had Saturday at a bar right in your neighborhood while you spent another Saturday night looking at the baby, who makes faces now and says a few words in Chinese and whose proud parents are thoroughly convinced it’s advanced for its age, so you sulk unbeknownst to everyone because you acknowledge their right to go out and have fun without you ruining everything by being morose.

Then the holiday is officially over and it’s Monday morning again and you’re back at work and in one of those excruciating staff meetings. You’re shaken suddenly from the fugue state you’ve assumed by a vigorous round of applause. You sip your coffee. What now? Someone pregnant? Someone getting unnecessary congratulations for just doing his job? Next, there’s a preview of further meetings this week, a meeting agenda point about meetings: a meta-meeting— the most nefariously corporate phenomenon imaginable. Sip. Then, it’s lexical obliteration: matters needing actioning, asks that ask too much, the verbing of nouns and the nouning of verbs. Sip. Finally, excruciatingly specific Q&A affecting maybe two people in the room, the downside of positive consensus building in democratic institutions where everyone gets a voice. Sip. You sit and clap along with everyone else and watch the clock but you wish you were anywhere else, so you take a long scalding, painful gulp and feel nothing.

As you all flow out from the meeting back to your open- concept work spaces a few friendly faces stop and ask how are you doing and you answer, yeah, I’m fine; you know, some days are better than others, and they believe you and feel good that they remembered to ask. And that the week off was just what you needed to unwind and start to feel a little better. Then, a colleague says it’s impressive how you’ve been able to keep it together through everything; you’re really strong—an inspiration, seriously—and you think how it’s the easiest thing in the world to seem OK.

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