A woman called and told me to promise it would work out with her and her boyfriend. She asked for it like she was ordering take-away. This guy said terrible things to her, like it would have been better if you were never born, and stuffed ribbons of paper up her nose until she bled. Still, she insisted. I thought it was paradoxical to call for a second opinion if she was so sure but I didn’t say so. Instead I told her no-one, no helpline, could make her that promise.
I once called J emotionally abusive but he said I was so privileged I didn’t even know what real abuse was. That’s why I started volunteering, so I’d have something to prove the contrary the next time we met, whenever that was. I’d wait years, as long as he wouldn’t get so senile he’d forget he ever said anything in the first place. I had to think ahead and play the ‘long game’, which is what J had sometimes called us taking it slow, and also what Dad said was whatever the Chinese did with their economy. He’d say: That’s a nation that grew up playing chess. I wondered if J grew up like that, teething on rooks and queens. It would explain why I felt he beat me even when he technically didn’t.
One of the first things we got taught at the helpline was that we can’t judge the guy because the woman loves him. Fractured bones, flowers, broken furniture, kicks, gifts. Slurs, rapes, stalking, attention, forced pills, gestures, kisses, revenge porn. It was wrong but I love him. You don’t deserve this but maybe I do.
In between calls I watch trash-TV and eat candy. On Millionaire Matchmaker Patti says there’s only one certain way to get him to marry you and it’s this: break up with him, cut contact entirely, and only agree to ever meet him again if it’s to shop for a ring. Breaking up because you want to get married sounds like another paradox but Patti swears by it. However, this method is unsuitable if you lack self-control. Dad taught me self-control only in theory, which shows since a. J and I are now not married and b. Dad is an alcoholic. Another reason I’m at the helpline is to learn self-control, especially around a phone.
The last time I met J I pressed a sharpie against his palm and wrote I’m sorry, though I’ll never forgive him, thank you, though I wish I’d never met him, and I love you, though why would I? I guess we don’t really know what to do with paradoxes. Some philosophers say if you really think about them, you go crazy.
Sometimes I drunk call the helpline to cry about how I feel like I’ve bent so much inwards from the weight of my privileged non-abuse that when I meet new people I no longer have anything extending out, nothing to reach them with. I talk about how all the men I know are broken, and all the broken women I talk to have been made so by men. Maybe I just want to check to make sure all this is worth something in the end. But she can’t say for sure - no-one can promise a thing like that.