It’s my abuser’s birthday and I am pissed. I’m pissed that I married a manipulative, lying shitbag who ruined my life. I’m pissed that I’m still struggling with the many, varied and terrible repercussions of living with and loving a person who figured my worth lay in propping up his fragile self-esteem. I’m pissed at the big hit my own self-esteem has taken, and I’m pissed that my best efforts haven’t yet led me out of it.
I’m lying in a hammock at an empty camp site. I was jubilant briefly upon setting up my new 8 man tent by myself, until I registered how that means there’s nobody to share the moment with. Because I married a terrible person who hurt me. And it’s his fucking birthday. So I’m pissed again.
When I go camping, I make marshmallows. I use Alton Brown’s recipe. It takes some times but they’re glorious. My friend Sara loaned me her stand mixer—mine is in storage. I was happy puttering in the kitchen with it, cooking the sugar while it roiled and foamed. Next, dusting a cake pan with powdered sugar and corn starch while Sara’s stand mixer whirred away on the gelatin and liquid sugar. It spun into a great puffy white goo, which I manhandled into the cake pan and allowed to rest.
When I went to cut it I was furious. As I pressed my knife blade into the giant sheet of set marshmallows, I remembered his last birthday before I left. I finally understood why he’d hated his birthday all these years, why it felt unimportant and disappointing. This time, I would make it better. Weeks before, I’d comissioned a friend to make a custom mala. I didn’t tell her it was for my husband. I described the secret person hiding in that disguise, and she would never guess who I was talking about. If I showed it to anyone, they wouldn’t understand how it could be a gift to the man I married. That mala weighed a thousand pounds, imbued as it was with the secret.
My breathing is shallow and ragged. I’m lying in my hammock, my tent is just beyond some trees. My handwriting changes to a childish scribble. I’m pissed about that secret, the one he absolutely should have told me before we were married. I’m pissed that without the courage to show his whole self, he showed some parts to me, some to Eiden. (Eiden is the person he had an affair with shortly after marrying me. They were 17 at the time.)
in my mind’s eye, I see the screenshot Eiden sent me from the online fetish site where they met. In his profile picture, the neck of my abuser is unmistakable though he wears a black leather hood over his face. I scowl thinking of it. SadisticPleasure85, his screen name, disgusts me. In the conversation, he divulges plans kept secret from me. He asks them questions. He’s grooming them so he can pretend to be who they want. So he can show them the parts of himself they’ll find appealing.
A plane roars overhead and a bug bites my inner thigh. I’m still pissed.
Making the marshmallows reminded me of that last birthday cake. I found the recipe from Amy’s Bread in NY; a black and white cake. His favorite—at least that’s what he told me. I bought new cake pans and cake decorating supplies. Organic food coloring made from plants. Silver cake rounds. If it were perfect, maybe my spouse would finally be happy. While he’s away at a coffee shop he wants to visit alone, I am barefoot in the kitchen. I’ve wrapped the mala and several other presents nobody would believe were for my husband. I’ve cut roses and gladiolus and lavender from my garden. The bouquet is perfect. I use my new cake decorating knife to apply a perfect crumb coat. I cover it evenly in white buttercream I’ve whipped in my old stand mixer that belonged to my mother before me. In just a few places, the black chocolate peers through; otherwise it looks perfect. Just like at a bakery. I know what to do; I mix red food coloring into the remaining buttercream until it is the delicate pink of spring roses. I place my rose pin, peer one more time at a diagram I’ve studied on piping roses, and go to town. My first rose is perfect. I smile to myself and apply it to the cake over an imperfect spot. I repeat this a few more times, and then I notice another black ridge on the side of the cake. Confident, I pipe shells and pinwheels and rosettes until the cake has more flowers than the birthday bouquet. When I finish, it is stunning; a masterpiece.
It didn’t make him happy, of course. Nothing could make him happy. Not me, not Eiden, not the perfect birthday or a beautiful home or the slow destruction of my spirit. I’m pissed today at all the ways I tried and failed to help him—but moreso at how I failed myself along the way. I’m pissed that I kept staring down that bottomless hole of ingratitude, willing it to change while I destroyed myself.
I’m pissed that I’m alone—and not just today with my anger and shitty memories. I’m pissed that my desire for actual love and partnership have been crushed. I’m pissed about the possibilities my abuser stole from me by deforming my capacities for trust and intimacy.
Last year at this time I was at the beach with friends, and during a solo beach run I struggled with wanting to honor the soul of the person I married. I wanted to find forgiveness. That isn’t something I’ll spare emotional energy on today. To be fair, I do fundamentally believe that somewhere under the toxic masculinity costume, my abuser has a soul. It is pure and beautiful, and I maybe even saw it a couple of times. The thing is, I don’t give a shit right now. I’ve maybe repaired my self-respect just enough to see that I’m the one whose soul needs healing, I’m the one worthy of my forgiveness, and I’m the one going through a kind of hell most people can’t imagine.
Last year I faced this day with the support of friends. This year people were busy and I didn’t have it in me to hear no again—so I’m out here by myself. The campground is quiet but for the argument of some squirrels. My tent is avocado flesh green and the table cover is checkered white and candy apple red. The sun filters through the trees and speckles the ground with a thousand pools of sunshine. I don’t feel hope, but I want to. I’m tired and angry and full of existential dread—but the woods are beautiful. I will rest here.