Burnt toast seems an odd name for a blog about abusive relationships. For most people, burnt toast merely conjures up an image in their minds of just that . . . a black and crispy, carcinogenic piece of toast, a failure so bad that even butter can’t fix it. They may even have a memory of once in their lives trying to eat a piece of burnt toast. The charred portions of the bread resembling a roasted marshmallow that ended up too roasted. But unlike the overly roasted marshmallow still containing a gooey sweet center, the burnt toast is hard throughout with no sugary or soft middle. No redeeming quality. The memory that comes to mind for me when I hear the phrase “burnt toast,” is not of the food itself but of an incident between me and my abusive ex.
He mockingly called me his sous chef. My duties in the kitchen involved doing what I was told. I mostly chopped and diced and minced. Whatever was required and whatever was barked at me. He liked to cook, especially for those he “loved.” When we first started dating, he cooked for me without complaint. He claimed he enjoyed it. I had a hard time believing that because I rarely enjoyed cooking. I still only enjoy it in small, sporadic bursts. But he had attended a few cooking courses in college and he was a resident doctor, health conscious and fit. So he prided himself in cooking with fresh ingredients. After awhile, however, he began to resent cooking for me. He wanted me to cook for him. He began training me. I learned how to cook his way. Everything was about him. I needed to go exercise with him, not because it was healthy for me, but because he didn’t like going to the gym alone. I hate gyms.
I mean . . . I f*%#ing HATE gyms.
My body image issues and social anxieties are not a good combination for exercising in public. Plus, I think gyms are gross. They stink, smelling of plastic, rubber, socks and the horrifying stench of fighting off death. I never know how to work the equipment and inevitably make an idiot of myself in front of strangers. But I pushed all of that hatred to the back of my mind and reluctantly went to a few gyms with him. I eventually refused to go to any more and after that he blamed me for his weight gain. I was used to an insane metabolism and had lived a life of blind caloric intake, suffering no consequences besides remaining stick thin. I love cheese and wine and bread. So you can imagine how boring it was being a sous chef for someone who didn’t want a lot of cheese in his diet.
While he was “training” me to be his obedient little sous chef, our time in the kitchen together played out much like an episode of Hell’s Kitchen with the head chef going insane, super serious style, like sautéing some asparagus was the equivalent to performing open-heart surgery. Life and death hung in the balance. I once made the mistake of burning some garlic. I know. I was so bad I could burn garlic. He had been exercising like a good little doctor. When he returned, it was to me frantically trying to fan away the smoke. He rushed over after opening a window, glared at me and yelled, “What are you doing?!” He fanned away the smoke and turned to me with a steely gaze, saying, “Not in this house.” I felt like a child being berated by a parent, sorry, Dad, it’ll never happen again.
There are moments in that toxic relationship that I travel back to in my head and play out the scenario differently. The night I burnt toast is one of them. It wasn’t exactly toast, it was more like cut up slices of a French baguette in a toaster oven. Fancy toast. As sous chef, I was in charge of watching the bread and making sure it achieved just the right amount of toastedness. When I saw it was ready to be removed from the oven, I turned around to grab a pair of tongs out of a kitchen drawer. Just as I turned around, he yelled, “Hurry up! It’ll burn!” Shocked and totally taken aback, since nothing about his mood from earlier indicated he would suddenly explode on me over a few slices of bread, I stood frozen with the tongs. I tried to fight back and defensively retorted, “I’m getting the tongs so I can get the bread out, how else do you expect me to get it?” He ignored this tiny bit of logic and yelled, “You turn your back for one second and it burns!”
Flabbergasted, I pulled the bread out and placed the not burnt slices on a plate and left the kitchen. I was confused. What had I done wrong? Everything had been going so smoothly. And then he yelled at me for grabbing something to pull the bread out of the toaster oven. After I thought through what just happened, I returned to the kitchen and asked him, “What the hell was that about?” At first, he went through the usual defense of blaming me for being careless and not paying attention. When I refused to give in to his bullying and threatened to leave, he played the victim card, whining about being yelled at by other doctors at work. He said it was common at his job because people’s lives were on the line. Frustrated, I pointed out the fact that we were not in a hospital and I was not a lowly minion paid to take the abuse of upper staff, but his girlfriend.
The rest of the details about that argument are hazy. In my mind, I fantasize about just leaving the bread in the oven, grabbing my shit, and getting the hell out of there, leaving him with no explanation because he deserved no explanation. But that’s not what happened. I left that apartment so many times and came back so many times. The memories are like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that I don’t care to put together. I do remember agreeing to eat that dinner with him.
Biting into the unburned toast, he laughed and said, “It actually turned out just right!”