In this response to our February prompt, a recipe for healing takes us through the process of leaving an abusive relationship and entering a healthy one, step by step. Hagman is excellently balanced between the general and the specific, knowing that the steps laid out are unique to her own experience, but by sharing her story in this format she can speak to the process of healing that all survivors go through in their own individual ways. Playing with ingredients that take years to cook, Hagman delivers a heartwarming recipe that’s well worth the wait.
New Recipe: Healthy Relationship
by Holly Hagman
New Recipe: Healthy Relationship
Preparation Time: Five Years
Cook Time: Two Weeks
Step 1: Think about leaving. Don’t do it yet, but let the thought fester in the back of your brain; let it marinate in the cerebral juices until it becomes tender. Wait until it’s ready to use it.
Step 2: Slap his hand away when he grabs at your chest, not so aggressively that he’ll get angry, but with enough force that it stops him. Hide your growing disgust with a cute smile.
Step 3: Feel guilty when a male coworker compliments your eyes. Blush, and shrug it off, a mixture of cheer and panic bubbling your stomach acid in anticipation. Wonder when the last time he complimented you was; determine it was approximately four years ago.
Step 4: Remember when you had to work until midnight on his birthday, and he was so upset. You bought him a balloon to make up for it and made sure the florist blew it up before she left. You watched it float, the shiny mylar reflecting your smile. You delivered it to his house at five-minutes after twelve. He took it from you and shut the door in your face.
Step 5: Cry in your best friend’s hot tub as you express your guilt. The hum of the water jets drowns out your sobs. Listen as she admits she hates the way he treats you. Wipe your tears on a beach towel. Text your coworker when you get home.
Step 6: Remember the darkened living room. Remember the glow of the television, the shadows it made on the wall while his fingers were inside you. Remember the heaviness of the blanket that covered you, the moving pictures on the screen as the film playing receded into deafening silence. Remember him yelling and looking right into your eyes as tears fell out of them. Remember that didn’t make him stop.
Step 7: Convince yourself you’re still in love with him, and that nothing happened to you. You’ve been with him for almost five years and never said a word. He is your boyfriend, and you loved him when it happened. You have never been bothered by the ass-slaps and the chest grabs. You are flirtatious and sexual. Every time you’ve said “stop” in the past has been in a playful manner. Tell yourself all of this is true.
Step 8: When he bails on your scheduled date night to hang out with other friends, feel surprisingly unbothered. Stay home in your pajamas while watching Dexter and texting your coworker. Find out he loves the show, too, and talk about it for the length of four episodes. Ignore any other incoming messages.
Step 9: Realize you are better than he has made you out to be. This step is very important, and you must not skip it.
Step 10: Pick up cheeseburgers on the way home from work. When you go to eat them, watch as he removes the lettuce, tomato, and onion. Decide it’s time to tell him it’s over. Sit with your back against the front door as he walks outside, gets in his car, and drives away. Cry into your shirtsleeves, then eat the rest of your fries.
Step 11: Laugh when he texts you about the possibility of being friends with benefits. You have no intention of being friends at all. Your coworker laughs when you show him the message, too.
Step 12: When your coworker asks you out for ice cream, go with him. Sit on the bench outside Carvel and share conversation over soft-serve. Invite him to your house to go night swimming with your friends. Invite his friends, too. When he stays to help you clean up after everyone else has gone home, watch a scary movie under a comforter and hold hands. Realize your coworker is more than just a coworker.
Step 13: Wonder if you are a bad person for moving on so quickly.*
Step 14: Move on anyway.
Step 15: Feel confident. Use your voice. Say “no” often. Take care of yourself. Heal. Repeat this step as often as necessary.
*Step 13 optional.
Holly Hagman is a teacher and writer from a small town in New Jersey. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in creative writing and an MAT in secondary education. She is also currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairfield University where she is an assistant editor for the ‘Experiences of Disability’ issue of Brevity and the nonfiction section editor for Causeway Lit. She has taught high school English, Creative Writing, and Mythology and currently works as an Interventionist teacher organizing individual interventions for at-risk students in both ELA and Mathematics.