top of page

"Man Turns Forty (Throws Pity Party)" by Benjamin Drevlow

Content Warning for references to suicide, child abuse, and self harm.

My wife tried to arrange an escape room for my fortieth birthday and I ruined it.

I refused to escape my locked bathroom.

Why do you hate me? she kept saying.

Why do you hate me? I kept saying.

We’d both been drinking.

She said I was getting meaner every year.

What else do you want from me? I shouted.

I was already going to therapy twice a week.

Taking my Risperdone, Trazadone, Lorazepam, Escilatopram, Clonazapam, Cilatopram.

Pretty much all the dones, pams, and prams.

I was doing my workbooks about CBTs and ACTs and DBTs and TMs.

I was listening to audiobooks about school shooters and serial killers.

All these sociopathic hetero-cis-white guys taking the same mood stabilizers I was.

But all I ever wanted was to kill myself.

But instead of trying to kill myself, I’d taken to punching myself in the eye.

For my wife’s sake.

It was my go to move whenever I’d be losing an argument.

Why do you hate me?

Eye punch-eye punch-eye punch-rip my shirt off like Hulk Hogan.

My therapist says I have abandonment issues.

But all I’ve ever done push people away, I tell her.

My whole life I’ve been scheming to kill myself in good conscience.

Without crying.

Or hurting anyone.

My therapist says I don’t understand what fear of abandonment means.

That’s my whole problem, I say.

Nobody ever understands anything I try to tell them.

My therapist says, Let’s unpack that, shall we?

I used to think therapy was where you went to talk about masturbation and death dreams.

None of my therapists have ever asked me about masturbation.

I do fantasize about dying.

But I don’t dream about it.

It’s been over thirty years since my brother killed himself.

I was twelve. He was a day shy of eighteen.

And here I am still whining about it.

My therapist thinks I have PTSD.

I say, That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think? Even for me.

My brother was just one asshole who died one typical death for a guy his age.

It’s not like I witnessed genocide.

And I don’t remember anything traumatizing from that night other than what I don’t remember.

My therapist says people like me with trauma at such a young age will repress it.

For thirty years?

Sometimes a whole lifetime.

Honestly I never liked him that much.

He was mostly a bully.

He’d call me a crybaby, a candyass, a pansy, a pussy, et al.

Whaa, whaa, whaa, whittle Bennyboy, he’d say. Why don’t you go cry to Mommy?

How often was your brother abusive to you? my therapist asks.

She doesn’t say sexually.

But there’s a tone.

It’s not like he molested me, I say.

My therapist nods, says mm-hmm, scribbles things in his notepad.

These aren’t all the same therapist, my therapists.

I’ve had five over the last four years.

It’s feels like dating on Tinder.

Which I’ve never actually done, but I’ve heard things from people who have.

But when I imagine dating on Tinder, it feels like what it’s like to try to find a decent therapist.

My first psychologist was a child psychologist.

I’d just drafted my very own first suicide note.

It was an extended poker metaphor.

I plagiarized multiple lyrics from the Gambler by Kenny Rogers.

The psychologist asked me if my brother had ever touched me.

I started sobbing and said no no no.

I never went back.

For thirty years.

For some reason my mother was okay with that.

My last therapist before my current therapist said I should write a story about her.

So I’m writing this story about her.

She liked to tell me about her other patients.

How crazy, how needy, how stressful.

She said they were going to kill her one day.

So far as I know she didn’t get murdered by one of her patients.

She had a mental breakdown and quit.

Or got fired.

If I had abandonment issues, I think that would’ve really fucked me up.

My therapist asks how my mother feels about all this.

I say, She emails me often to tell me how proud of me she is.

And how proud my father is even if he’d never say it.

And to fact check all my stories.

It wasn’t always that bad, she likes to remind me.

Your brother loved you so much.

Your father loved you so much.

I tried so hard.

We all did.

I just wish you could keep that in mind when you write all your sad stories.

Which is the theme of every story I’ve ever written.

All the people who’ve tried so hard to love me.

And how I’ve failed them at loving me.

My therapist says, Don’t you think that’s a very solipsistic way to look at things.

Yeah, I want to say, but isn’t that what I’m paying you for?

Instead, I nod and start to cry, start looking for a new therapist.

It’s like I always say: No one can abandon you if you abandon them first.

If you can’t escape your escape room, you can run off your friends and your wife, hang up on your mother, continue not talking to your father.

You can buy yourself your own birthday cake and forty candles, a sad little party horn.

You can light up an empty house.

Sing to yourself: I… am… a… man…. I… am… a… man….

As you punch yourself in the eye.

As you rip your shirt off.

Did that make you happy? your new therapist will ask you later.

Which then you’ll have to explain this was all a fantasy.

Explain that this is the wish you were wishing for when finally came out of the bathroom and acted surprised when your wife and all her friends who are also your friends cried Surprise!

And you went about escaping from all of them anyway out of guilt and obligation.

Drevlow is the managing editor of BULL, a lit mag exploring toxic masculinity and the author of Ina-Baby: A Love Story in Reverse (Cowboy Jamboree, 2019) and A Good Ram is Hard to Find (Cowboy Jamboree, 2021) as well as Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father (New Rivers Press, 2008), which won the 2006 Many Voices Project. You can find these and other works linked at or on Twitter @thedrevlow.

bottom of page