Imagine you visit a friend one day for coffee. Maybe at a coffee shop, maybe with their children or pet. Now imagine that as you sit down to have your coffee and muffin, your friend also sits down to her coffee but has to text their partner to make sure they put the right amount of sugar substitute and cream in the coffee. They get out their measuring spoon and add the extras. You’re just sitting there waiting, wanting to ask how they’re doing or share some exciting news. As you take a bite of your muffin and a sip of your coffee, your friend gets a call from their partner and informs them they can order a muffin too, but it has to be banana nut, not chocolate. She leaves to order the muffin and her coffee cools. When she finally returns, her partner has FaceTimed her, and is going to watch her peel the paper off the muffin, making sure she does it right. The partner stays on, focused on how perfectly your friend eats her muffin, leaving over half on her plate “for later.” She might say a few words to you, but she’s distracted the whole time by her partner looking at her over FaceTime. When she’s done with the muffin, the call is over so she hangs up. You try to start a conversation, “how have you been?” And she loosens up for a minute, responding, “you know, life.” She doesn’t return your pleasantry because right then her phone lights up with a text. You try not to snoop but can see from the avatar that it’s her partner. She gathers her purse and mumbles, “I’ll be right back,” and heads to the bathroom. She’s gone longer than one would expect. At this point the puppy she brought with her is getting restless, and you’re not a dog person so you’re not really sure what to do. When she returns from the bathroom she seems strangely peaceful despite looking a little disheveled. Her coffee is now gone completely cold and she sits down and asks, “would you like to come back to my house? Partner is gone and I’d love to show you my new project I’ve been working on.” You’re a little taken aback but this is the most normal thing your friend has done since the morning started so you agree. She doesn’t live far so after a quick drive, you arrive at her home, parking on the street a bit down from her house. She rushes in frantically. You walk thru the front door and everything is spotless, everything in its place. No dishes in the sink, no clutter on the countertops. On her fridge are motivational sayings like “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” and “no rest days” and "if you bite it, write it" and pictures of her at different stages of life. In her partner’s handwriting is written next to a pic of her holding her newborn baby, “Before.” A picture of her now has, in her partner’s script, “After.” On the wall is a menu plan for the week, also in her partner’s handwriting. Next to the menu plan are a collection of booklets her partner set out about how to be healthy, how to thrive. You notice your friend is gone again, and you just wait in the kitchen until you hear her soft footsteps descending the stairs. She has changed into exercise clothes and says, “Today’s leg day, Partner always says I need to do legs on Thursdays, especially after having a muffin.” Your friend says, “You should probably go, Partner will be home soon and I have things I need to do.” You think that’s strange because you just arrived but then say, “I’ll just use the restroom before I leave.” You isolate in the bathroom, locking the door out of habit from having toddlers at home. As you sit down to pee, you hear the side door violently open, and angry footsteps stomp thru the hall outside. Immediately you know it’s Partner. Then the yelling begins.
“What did I tell you about following the plan?! We mapped out the plan last night. I made it very simple for you—you’re so stupid to not just do the plan. Why did you do that? I can’t believe after all this time you won’t trust me. You are allowed all these things but you can’t be happy with it. You listen to other things and obey other things, and that just gets in the way of our plan. You better be good until our meeting next week!! One slip up and I’ll know. Oh I’ll know. Then you’ll see. You’re such a stupid bitch! You never do anything right. No wonder no one likes you. No wonder you’re all alone. I’m your only friend. You need me. You’re nothing without me. If you stay with me, it’ll all be better for you.”
It just goes on and on. You can hear your friend crying, pleading for forgiveness. You can hear her frustration, her shame. You hear a loud thump. No more waiting.
You crack the bathroom door, heading left toward the fray. Partner stops their yelling, surprised to see you standing there. Partner looks a little taken aback, takes a step, straightening their body. They turn toward you, back to Friend. Behind them she looks relieved that someone is there to see her, even perhaps save her. You can see her hair has been messed with. Marks on her face from scratches.
You know what this is. This is a woman tortured. Oppressed. Scared. Controlled. Manipulated. Alone.
Calmly you walk over to your friend, past Partner's glare at your audacity. Softly but sternly you grab her hand, turning to leave.
“Let’s go back to the coffee shop and have that muffin. I’ll sit with you. You’re safe with me."
"See ya Ed."