Sitting cross-legged in the door jamb to the outdoor balcony of my apartment had become my go-to place during a fight. As I carefully unwrapped a fresh pack of Virginia Slim menthols, I leaned forward to see if my neighbors were anywhere in sight. They weren’t, thank god. What I was about to do broke the apartment complex rules, so naturally, I had to see if anyone was looking as I lit the end of the cig and sharply inhaled. I began puffing away the pain. It was September 9, 2016. I was 43.
After two years of birthday fights, you’d think I’d be used to this by now. Every event or holiday that meant something to me was thrashed by the very man who said he loved me. It was a pattern even he noticed yet still perpetuated. His fighting was electric in every sense—he cut me to the core with the touch of his keyboard all the while igniting a flood of stress hormones into my system making me feel high. We weren’t even fighting in person because he was back East visiting his kids, but I still felt tethered to his rapid-fire assault. I couldn’t just let my phone be and walk away.
Carefully, I put out the last of the cig in a small water-filled cup and reached for another. Just then, my phone rang. It was Scott. Wiping tears from eyes, I cleared my throat before I answered his call.
“Happy Birthday, Kiersten.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that. Is everything okay with the kids?”
“Yeah, they’re both busy and good. I just wanted to see if I could drop off a little present for you. From Grace. And another little something.”
In that moment, I felt both happiness and dread. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel both emotions at the same time. I knew what would happen if he learned that Scott was popping by.
“Yes, of course, thank you.”
About twenty minutes later, there was a knock on my apartment door.
“Hey, so, happy birthday, again. I wanted to bring you a few things. One is from Grace. I know you’re seeing the kids for your birthday tomorrow but she asked me to bring it by.”
“That’s so sweet, come on in.”
We walked to living room area when I started choking up. “Hey, so can we run upstairs to the balcony for a second? I could really use a smoke.”
“You and your rebel ways,” he said grinning. “Of course…Wanna open these upstairs?”
We climbed the stairs to the smoking spot. Scott wasn’t a smoker although when he was in a play in his twenties, his character smoked. He could pick it up and put it down. I thought I was that way, too, until I wasn’t. I’d been living with a two-pack a day smoker for the last six months. One who thought it was okay to light up inside the apartment. Eventually, I gave in, too. I’d lost the battle in many ways.
Lighting cigs while sitting cross-legged near the open door, we took a few puffs off our menthol-flavored cancer sticks. Then Scott handed me two bags: one with Grace’s sweet homemade gift and the other with a bottle of gin, a Cosmopolitan magazine, and a happy birthday card.
Feeling the burning sensation in the back of my throat that would quickly be followed by a flood of tears, I tried to suck the emotion back down. It didn’t work.
The one I thought I loved was still assaulting me on text, although I hadn’t looked in the ten minutes Scott popped by. I could hear the faint alert that yet another dagger had arrived.
The one that loved me, whom I’d hurt so terribly two years prior, was sitting opposite me offering kindness and compassion. He knew what was happening. It wasn’t hard to decode yet he never said a word about it.
Instead, Scott made me laugh through tears, telling me about how he almost got kicked out of a Scottsdale karaoke bar for defending his date. When there was nothing left to chat about, he simply sat with me, cigarette dangling from between his fingers.
His kindness cloaked my weary, strung out body with a blanket of ease. The kind of ease that comes with eighteen years of marriage and two kids. The kind of ease that eventually helped save me from a lifetime of abuse.
Today, as I was thinking about my upcoming 47th birthday, I thought back to that day. To his kindness and unwavering faith in me that I’d eventually claw my way out of the abuse. To his willingness to just sit with me, smoke a terrible cigarette, and remind me that I was born to give and receive kindness…and be more than someone’s punching bag.
** I quit smoking after I got out of the abusive relationship in 2017, and reunited with Scott. It was easy to do since I wasn’t on the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse anymore. If you’re dealing with narcissistic/sociopathic abuse, I hope you have someone like Scott in your life to remind you that love shouldn’t hurt.
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