Alphonse and the Peanut Butter Gaslighting

Men really don’t understand just how precisely women keep track of things. Particularly the things they love. In Desirée’s case, that thing was peanut butter. From the moment she tried the American version on one of her visits to the U.S., she was completely and utterly hooked. It was étonnant, incroyable, invraisemblabletout ça. All because it wasn’t natural, she knew that. And she accepted it. That’s why she was willing to pay the premium prices for it once she returned to Paris, where the “cheapest” price was usually upwards of cinq euros et cinquante centimes. Anyone else might have said, “5,50? For some processed American death in a jar? No fucking thanks!” But not Desirée, who had always been very in touch with her “American side,” even if it wasn’t legitimate. For it was a “side” that resulted from where her French father ended up moving after divorcing from her French mother when she was just seven years old. A formative year for any child. Yet Desirée was surprisingly “elated” by the news. For it meant she would have more opportunity to be away from her mother—three months out of the year, to be exact. For it was always “Daddy” who bore the lesser burden of child care, which is why it was so easy for the children of divorced parents to vilify their mothers: they were around them more.

It was during those three summer months of freedom from maternal oppression that Desirée tapped into what would be a lifelong passion for peanut butter—one that she never imagined she would have to defend so fiercely as a result of being in a “domestic partnership.” For, as most who have made the transition from single to “boo’d up” know, there tend to be some palpable shifts in “resource guarding.” What once felt like a safe space (i.e., the home you inhabited alone) subsequently becomes a cutthroat battleground where leaving behind anything you hold dear could turn out to be a fatal mistake. Which it indeed was for Desirée that early January she decided to take a trip to see her father, still living in San Francisco after all these years (read: all that city’s price increases). No longer a child, she wasn’t hemmed in by the previous regulations of a custody agreement. And they both preferred her January visits to all the pressure that came with other times of the year, namely Christmas.

In the decades that had passed since her back and forth between continents, she noticed that the price of peanut butter—true ersatz peanut butter like Skippy as opposed to the “real,” natural kind—had not improved. She would have thought that, because of how small the world had become, the price of something so mass produced in America might have improved with the onset of post-fall- of-the-Berlin-Wall globalization. But no, Skippy peanut butter had remained steadfastly expensive in France. And while, sure, she could have tried to stock up on her supply by purchasing a few jars while “at the source,” who the fuck wanted to waste suitcase room on that—or make it impossible not to check a bag in so doing?

Thus, Desirée had no great “scheme” for stockpiling peanut butter despite her frequent enough trips to the U.S. She simply had to deal with taking it up the ass on price if she wanted to keep herself “accommodated.” Which she had no problem doing… until Alphonse came along. At first, he appeared to have no interest in what Desirée called “gold.” He balked at it as being yet another prime example of shitty American “cuisine,” certain to say that word in a manner that sounded like it had quotes around it. And yet, by and by, he started to ask more frequently if he could use it on his toast in the morning. Toast! Something he never would have had for breakfast in the past were it not for Desirée’s influence. Nonetheless, Desirée had been foolish enough to believe she could trust a practically full jar of peanut butter alone in the apartment with Alphonse while she went away for a month to visit her father. After all, Desirée couldn’t help but remember part of the reason she had been attracted to Alphonse in the first place was his confirmation of a disdain for peanut butter on their first date, which ensured no conflicts over “competition” for it in the future.

That was to be a grave misapprehension on Desirée’s part, she would come to find after returning to the abode they shared in the ninth arrondissement that mid-February, when she thought she would be able to open her cabinet (without a single worry) to discover her jar of peanut butter was still largely intact. But no, on that first morning back, Desirée was shocked to find that when she unscrewed the lid of her chunky peanut butter jar to delight in spreading it on her English muffin (no pornographic imagery intended), almost two-thirds of it had “magically” disappeared.

And then Desirée remembered a particular phone conversation she had with Alphonse while away in San Francisco. One in which he had confessed to getting high after having a friend over that he wouldn’t ordinarily invite to the apartment while Desirée was there, because he knew that she hated him. In fact, mostly because he was a fucking stoner and Desirée had no patience for such ilk and their dumb reverie paraded as “tapping into the universe” or some such bullshit. But Alphonse liked Raphaël because he was a pothead, and only too happy to share his supply with anyone who offered a place for him to graze for most of the day. It was undoubtedly during these hours of Alphonse’s Raphaël-induced highness that he had the gall to raid her peanut butter jar, eating from it by the spoonful like some sort of rabid animal. And maybe, like so many men fond of the gaslighting practice that had served and safeguarded them for centuries, he assumed that he could talk Desirée into believing that she had actually consumed that much peanut butter before she left—as if she, obsessed with the product as she was, would believe his attempt to dissuade her from reality. He should have known better though, for she would never have forgotten how much of it she ate, monitoring the rate of the jar’s emptying for the purposes of intuiting how soon she would again have to pay premium for another at the grocery store.

So it was that on that first morning back, she wasn’t just appalled by the peanut butter’s near-total absence, but also even more so by Alphonse’s disgusting attempt at making her believe it was “like that already.” No, cheri, it certainly was not, she had to declare as he persisted in the male-honored tradition of denial, denial, denial. A practice that might have worked once upon a time, but really hadn’t been all that effective since the days of Bill Clinton insisting, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” Yet still, Alphonse was foolish enough, male enough to genuinely believe that Desirée would capitulate to his “word” over hers. It was as though he didn’t know her at all. And that made her even angrier—that he could ever believe she would just “bend over” to his insistence over an altered “truth.” One that suited his needs, his evasion of responsibility. And, in this case, he was responsible for stealing her peanut-y lifeblood. He would not relent in his resolve to keep assuring her that it was “all in her head,” that she really did drain the jar that much before her departure.

Perhaps, like Shakira with the jam jar, Desirée should have had the foresight to make a subtle line marking where the original starting point was before she left. However, at the very least, she could emulate the Colombian pop star by choosing to leave the person who had so flagrantly betrayed her trust.

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