“Unlike people with other mental disorders, psychopaths are keenly aware of the impact that their behavior has on others. That’s half the fun for them—watching people suffer.” – Jackson Mackenzie
Fiction. Based on a true holiday.
by Amanda Springob
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Keeping you happy around the holidays meant treading lightly. I thought I’d done pretty well tonight–I ordered the fried fish, but asked for vegetables instead of fries for a side. I ate the salad instead of the bread. And, even though it was New Years, had only water to drink. You seemed happy at dinner, up until I asked the waitress to take our picture. That’s when I saw your eyes change. I smiled for the camera, but the back of my mind said a silent prayer that we’d make it home before you lectured me.
In the car, I could tell you were choking down your annoyance. You talked about the loud waitress, the lousy options in your town for New Years dinner. I drove home slowly, and though you barked at me for going under the speed limit, I knew better than to risk sliding through the snowy streets to appease you.
When we got into your apartment, I asked if there was any dessert. You gave me your are-you-fucking-kidding-me eyes and said no. I settled for the chocolate cereal on top of the fridge, the only treat you allowed me to have these days. I ate a few handfuls as we watched Ryan Seacrest’s special, then put the box back in the kitchen when I could feel you staring at me. Fucking fatass, your eyes glared.
I sat next to you on the floor, our backs against the couch as Mariah Carey performed. It was nice then. I curled my head onto your chest and you slung your arm over my shoulder. I watched you watching the TV, a wry smile forming on your face. I knew what you were thinking but didn’t feel like hearing about how sexy the dancers’ cleavage looked, so I just stayed silent.
For a while we sat like that. It had been a rough couple of weeks with you, but I liked these quiet moments. And it was my first time spending New Years Eve with someone. I’d wanted it to be special. So what if it was a townie bar? You did take me to dinner. You paid too, even though I’d ordered the fried fish.
I wondered if you were coming around on my eating habits. Maybe you were realizing it wasn’t such a big deal. And maybe, if I was promised to get something light and offered to pay, we could try a nicer restaurant for Valentine’s Day, someplace in the city. I felt hopeful. It was going to be a new year, after all–maybe you’d be open to trying new things.
By now, Jason Derulo was riffing away on the TV. You were making fun of the larger people in the audience, who danced with Ryan Seacrest in front of the stage. “Jesus, what an ugly bitch,” you interjected about a middle-aged black woman doing the Dougie.
“Tyler, don’t talk like that.”
You huffed but said nothing else. When your attention was back on the screen, I snuck my phone off the coffee table to peek at the picture the waitress had taken of us.
The picture was mediocre. The lighting was imbalanced and sure enough, like you always loved to tell me, my poor posture made me look dumpy. You wore a forced smile. Still, it wasn’t the worst picture. I’d hoped for something nice to post on Instagram on New Years Eve, which I knew you hated, but I couldn’t resist. Instagram was my happy place. I tried to keep my posts lighthearted and fun. Even if we were fighting, I could scroll through my pictures with you–perfectly captured kisses, funny faces, interlaced hands–all cleverly captioned and heavily liked. December had been extremely difficult with you, but my feed didn’t show that. Instead, people commented on photos of you carrying me princess-style in my cap and gown, the two of us smiling in front of the giant Christmas tree in downtown, making gingerbread houses. Rereading their comments now almost made me forget the nights I’d spent crying quietly in my apartment after a bad phone call with you.
In my reverie, I decided to post the picture from the restaurant. As I applied a filter and upped the highlights, caption options ran through my brain: New year, same guy. Too unoriginal. My resolution is to stay close to things I love–like this guy. Too wordy.
Then it hit me–something more aloof. No need for resolutions when life’s already this good. Cute, original, spunky. I typed it out in the caption box.
“What are you doing?”
I looked at you and was met with an edgy stare.
Tread lightly, I thought. “I just wanted to post the picture of us at dinner.”
You pulled my hand toward you to see my phone. I waited for your expression as you read the caption I was about to post. “Bette,” there was already gravel in your voice. “Why do you do this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you post this bullshit? Why do you lie to people?”
I resisted the lump in my throat. “I just wanted a nice picture of us on New Years. I won’t post it if it bothers you.”
“You shouldn’t even be on your fucking phone when you’re with me. Why do you do that? You’re supposed to be spending time with me.”
“I’m sorry, Tyler, I’ll put it away.”
“No, Bette, you don’t fucking understand!” You stood now as a tear fell down my cheek. Here we go.
“Why do you post every goddamn moment of your life online? We ate at a shitty restaurant, so what? Why do you tell me you want to eat healthier and then you order shitty food? Why do you do this Bette?! You’re so full of bullshit sometimes, I can’t be around you.”
My body radiated heat from inside out. I tried to speak, but only scared squeaks came out. “Tyler, I thought we had a nice night. Please don’t–”
“You’re just like everyone else, Bette. All you care about is looking good for your followers.”
“Tyler, that’s not true.” It wasn’t. I loved social media–but it was more about making myself happy than impressing other people. I liked pretty pictures. What was so wrong with that? “I just wanted to share a nice picture with my boyfriend on New Years. That’s all.”
You looked around aimlessly, tossing your hands up. “I just don’t know with you sometimes. You don’t work out. You drive like a grandma. You eat trash. We don’t have any of the same hobbies. What am I supposed to do?”
“I told you, we can try working out together, I–”
“But when you do things with me, you only do it because you have to, you’re not trying to get into the things I like.”
“Tyler, I try to be interested in your interests, I really do, but you aren’t patient with me. I just don’t enjoy some things, I’m sorry.”
You were crying now too, with that paper-bag-crinkly face. I knew it was beginning–as soon as tears came with you, the fit started and there was no going back.
“Sometimes I just think we’re too different for each other, Bette. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up like I did, with people believing you’re stupid.”
“I never graduated high school!”
There it was. The bomb had been dropped for the evening. I’d seen you do this a few times, when you weren’t sure what you were angry about but still needed attention. I tried to stay calm. “Okay,” I kept my tone even. “That’s okay. That doesn’t make me think of you differently.”
“You’re never going to know what that’s like! Nobody knows what that’s like! You’ve had this perfect fucking life with your college education and your grandparents that are still alive and your fucking father who pays for every goddamn thing you want!”
The yell came out of me before I could stop it. But that was my limit–I could listen to you hurl insults at me and spew issues at me for hours, but I would not listen to you slander my family with things that weren’t even true. The silence hung in the air.
I had folded all 110 pounds of me into a sweaty, teary position on the couch. All I could see was the outline of your shoulders.
“Tyler, I don’t understand why you’re so upset,” I spoke in crackly huffs, as evenly as I could muster.
“You wanna know why I’m upset, Bette?” You were crying too, sob-shouting as you spoke. “It’s because you say you want to be healthy, and then you order the fried fish at dinner. It’s because you tell me you want to work out with me, but you are incapable of doing anything physical. Your posture is always fucked up. You put out this perfect image for your stupid Instagram posts, but you’re going to be just like everyone else when you get older, useless and fat.”
The word “fat” latched itself around my chest and clung there like a heavy brick. “Tyler, please don’t say that. I’m sorry,” I didn’t know what I was sorry for.
“Whatever,” you said, turning into the bedroom. I heard you fall into bed and knew that the evening was over.
Maybe some of it was my fault. These things you pointed out to me had never seemed like flaws to me before. I’d been thin all my life. I liked social media, and tried to post my favorite moments and inspirational ideas. I worked sixty hours a week and paid every bill on time. I had good relationships with my family. I was thankful for it all. But it all felt villainous now. How could one person make me question everything I thought was true and good about my life in one emotional outburst? How did you manage to make me feel guilty when I’d done nothing wrong? I wasn’t trying to play games with you–so why did you always need to win?
I wanted to leave. But leaving meant braving the icy December roads at 11:57 on New Years Eve, when drunks (maybe your old buddies) roamed the highways. How did this happen again? You had trapped me into one of your fits when you knew I couldn’t go anywhere. I would have to sleep next to you tonight, though I wanted nothing more than to be as far from you as possible. Another holiday ruined.
As I stifled my huffing, tear-strained breaths on the couch, I turned back to the TV. Ryan Seacrest and the rest of New York City cheered loudly.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…HAPPY NEW YEAR!”