Sometimes I call knowing that you have call display and that you’ll never pick up, just so I can hear your voice on the outgoing message. The times when I call a few times in a row and it forces you to turn your phone off are my favourite. Because then it starts going straight to voicemail and I can call as many times as I want after that and you’ll never know if it was just once more or a thousand more. I know I could just record your outgoing message and listen to it whenever I feel like it, but that would take away the thrill that maybe, just maybe, this time you’ll actually answer.

I was in a fuck buddy agreement that always had an end. It was nice. Maybe a bit of the girlfriend/boyfriend experience involved, but it always had an end date because someone will invariably catch the feels. And when it ended, the next day was as if we never shared anything together. It hurt. I plead to remain friends. He remains cold. During that argument I saw a side of him that was so callous, it couldn’t possibly be the same guy that was intimate with me the day before.

Then he says your name.

I get defensive. I was already in so much pain, why bring up another man who has crushed me. He told me to call you. I lie and say I don’t have your number anymore.

“I have it.”

But how? You guys had never met. Turns out when he borrowed my phone the other day because his was dead, he saw I had seventeen outgoing calls to a number saved as “Him.” He thought I was cheating so he called you himself. Did you have a full-blown conversation? Or was it just an awkward chess game of trying to figure out who each other was and why you’re both on the phone with each other? He told me he hung up after you said your name, a name he had heard me mention in the obligatory love life backstory that comes out when you’re intimate with someone for a while. I’m jealous he got to talk to you in real time.

Again he tells me to call you. So I do.

“Hey, you’ve reached [Boy’s Name], I can’t come to the phone right now, but–”

I hang up.

I plead to him for an explanation. He tells me to call again but I don’t want to. I don’t want to hear the beep, because then it’s not just us talking, but instead a pre-recorded message that you never intended me to hear. I refuse. He gets more angry, insisting. Can this really be the same guy who was twirling my hair and kissing my cheek as I fell asleep last night? I dial again. He tells me not to hang up.

“Hey, you’ve reached [Boy’s Name]…”

As you rhyme off the same message I’ve heard a thousand times, I think of the possible things I could say. Do I explain that I’m being forced into this? That my former fuck buddy who you are now acquainted with is putting me through some perverted game and I’m scared to disobey his request?

“… I can’t come to the phone right now…”

I could stay silent. You already know who it is. And you know I never leave a message. Maybe my silence would trigger you? Maybe you’d wonder if something was actually wrong and that I needed help in some way and despite the myriad of people I could have called for help, you’re still the only person I want at my side when things aren’t going well. Maybe you’d call me back. It’s those ‘maybes’ that do the most damage, and even though I know it’s stupid to think ‘just maybe,’ I can’t fuckin’ help myself.

“… but I wanted to tell you that even though what we had is over, I don’t look back on it in a bad way…”

What?

“The hours spent in my van on Gladwin. The movies. The shitty movies. Leaving work when that douche sent you that email. Croaking contests. Card games. Better man. We had a badass past and no one, not even you and these incessant calls, can fuck with that…

…I just played air guitar…

Bye Rebecca.”

I crumple to the floor in a heap of tears. He watches. His face isn’t angry or forceful anymore, it’s pity. But I don’t care. I dial again. I listen. He leaves.

I had a dream about you that was so damn real and in that dream you showed a modicum of sympathy because you acknowledged my existence.

That’s how I knew it was a dream.

According to google dictionary, of which I am not sponsored, to gaslight is to, “manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Up until a week ago, I was not familiar with this term though it was an experience with which I was all too familiar.

My ex was a master of manipulation. It would start off by me making some completely reasonable statement like, “I’m just going to go relax in a bath.” Next it would become unfair of me to have alone time when there was nowhere he could go to get away from me. I’d offer options, “go for a walk, go to the gym, have a bath of your own” to which I would be told that I’m not understanding his point. Am I crazy? His point was that he had nowhere to go to be alone, wasn’t it? He then clarified that he didn’t want to go for a walk, the gym isn’t relaxing for him, and he didn’t like taking baths. Okay…? I wasn’t sure how to solve his problem because I couldn’t find what the problem was anymore. That’s when he would let it come out, “the problem is that you shouldn’t have to need alone time.” But everyone needs time alone. He would counter by saying that he didn’t need time away from me. But WAIT! That’s not what I was saying, I wasn’t saying “I need time away from you specifically, I was saying I need time to myself.” Then all of a sudden, I was told I was being selfish. And I’d struggle to find anything that proved otherwise. I would stand there in a moment of confusion as the reality of who I had believed myself to be my whole life was being dismantled. Then after a long moment of silence, “you can come with me?” Posed as a question because I was grasping at straws to figure out what he wanted. I’m not selfish and I wanted him to know he was loved. He’d run over and kiss me. Ten minutes later I’d find myself in a cramped bath that was anything but relaxing, telling the man squished up against me “I love you” while the woman in my head screamed and banged against the walls of my skull for someone to save her.

When he wasn’t in the mood for a bath, he’d come in and sit on the toilet while I took one. And if it wasn’t the bath, then it was drinks with coworkers, which then morphed into drinks with friends, which eventually became doing anything at all without him. In hindsight it is so easy to see that what he was doing was wrong. But in the moment, all you can do against the psychological attacks on your character is come to the conclusion that this is what compromise looks like. That is until the day you look in the mirror and all the changes he skillfully forced upon you don’t look like compromise, but actually look like abuse.

I was lucky enough to get out of that relationship, made possible in part by two friends who could hear the screams from inside my skull. If not for them, I would not have found the courage to stand up for myself. If not for them, all understanding of who I am and what makes me unique would be long gone. And here’s the hardest truth: if not for them, I don’t know if I’d still be alive.

An ex of mine was a bit of a self-proclaimed renaissance man. Sometimes it was fascinating like when he could accurately predict if a person’s parents were still together based off a few random questions. Times like those, it was like dating Sherlock Holmes. But other times, like when he’d correct my pronunciation? That’s when it was like dating Ben Stein (just in case that’s appealing to anyone, no judgment, but I meant it in a bad way). Those are the times when I would clench my teeth so hard, two veins would protrude from my neck. I’d be thankful I wasn’t born with Cyclops’ optic blast ability otherwise I’d be taking the stand pleading “your honour, I didn’t mean to kill him, my protective glasses just FELL off.” And then I’d tell the jury that though they couldn’t see it through my lenses, I was definitely batting my lashes in a cute and totally innocent way.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed but many people, at least in Toronto, have dropped the “c” out of the word “picture.” So when I ask, “hey babe, can you take my picture?” I sound as if I am asking my boyfriend to grab a pitcher of something (probably wine ’cause that’s how I roll). “PIC-ture. PIC-ture. PIC. There’s a c,” he would say. You know what else there is? A pedantic man making his girlfriend feel stupid for no reason other than to make himself feel better. Was my dropped “c” hurting anyone? No. Did it make me stand out from the crowd or make me seem of a lower level I.Q.? Hell no. Did it give me a complex and make me want to speak less around him? Absolutely.

There’s a famous anonymous quote, “never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word, it means they learned it by reading.” If I was a betting gal, I’d say I probably learned the word “picture” in grade school from a teacher and not from reading. And somewhere along the way, much like the second “t” in Toronto (re: Turonno), the “c” just dropped out. But the lesson still stands: don’t be a pronunciation bitch. It doesn’t make you look smart, it makes you look like literally the worst person ever. PLEASE stop talking, then go die.

But seriously it’s ba-gel. Like BAY-gel. Not bag-el. You idiot.