You just want to get drunk and play videogames.”
I know he said it, but I don’t know when. I can guess the context because it was always the same: I was behind on something, he’d made some last-minute change, or our time lines didn’t match.
I feel like I need to remember exactly when it happened because if I can’t give every detail then it means I made it up. He doesn’t have to be here to say “I never said that;” he trained me well enough to do it to myself. I’m pretty sure it happened, somewhere along the way, but the fear’s already there. That’s the thing about abuse, right; these little pieces of you get chipped off and fall away, and suddenly you turn around and think, Shit, where did all these pieces come from? and you can say to yourself before the other person even has to, Stop staring like an idiot and get a dustpan. Why are you always such a mess?
For the record, we didn’t date. When I finally Googled abusive relationships — I think this was after we’d had a brief misunderstanding and he ordered me out of a car in the middle of the night a couple miles from my house, and I called a friend to ask if I was sick because I couldn’t stop shaking, and my friend had to convince me that maybe I was upset because something bad had happened and I answered, “No, no, I must have done something, what do you think it was?” — all the signs and advice are about romantic partners, so that couldn’t have been what this was. We had been artistic collaborators and best friends for 14 years, since we’d met in college and subsequently transitioned together.
We’d made a lot of art — a bunch of plays, a two-week festival for international trans playwrights, a few essays, some workshops. A few years ago we started a small press focused on trans fiction. We won several awards and published a few books you’ve probably read if you’re trans. We got told we were changing the world and our work was life-saving and all of that stuff that it feels good to hear about your work and yourself, but, even though the work was important to me, even though it was probably the most important work of my life, it never felt good.
Working together on projects that required daily attention intensified long-standing patterns of behavior that grew less and less excusable as time went on. At the height of it, I would stay up late watching behind-the-scenes clips from TV shows and movies I liked because the actors all seemed so happy to be working together. I wanted that so badly I would cry. I wanted to make things I loved with people who loved me; I wanted my work to have joy in it, but it didn’t matter what I wanted — there was work to do.
Work was a weapon as much as it was the glue that held us together. It was the thing he could always insult me with, the thing he could always take away, the thing that excused everything else. It was always work: going out with friends turned into badgering them to write novels, nights watching TV turned into penning screeds or political live-tweeting, even women he dated were quickly promised publishing contracts or positions that inevitably went south. Work was this onslaught I couldn’t stem, this thing I had to constantly be doing to justify my worth and existence in his eyes and it didn’t help that I was always somehow doing it wrong.
So yeah, sometimes I wanted to get drunk and play videogames. You can’t work all the time, no matter how fulfilling that work is.