When Father died, I had twenty-seven dollars and twelve cents exactly until the next paycheck, and that was after a fortuitous win of ten dollars at a slot machine in Blackhawk, which I should not have played in the first place, but then it turned out to be a windfall, so I forgave myself for the silly indulgence.
We cooked a lot of pea soup and lentil soup those days, and I couldn't go to Father's funeral. I didn't want to ask my older sister Barbara for the money either, because the loan would have come complete with an elaborate lecture, and it would have to be repaid at some point all the same. When was I going to have the money in the future that I didn't have now? Maman was out of the question as well. For the most part I tried to keep my pathetic financial situation vague enough so that she wouldn't worry about me. Besides, she was frightened enough about her own future. And Derek, my little brother, didn't even come into the equation. If anything, he probably would have tried to borrow half of my twenty-seven dollars and twelve cents for some urgent enterprise of his own.
Maman probably thought that I was either callous, or peculiar at best, for not making it to Father's funeral, but I tried not to think of that. Besides, it simply couldn't be helped. Everybody would just have to think what they would.
A few weeks earlier, Mark and I had closed our dance studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and we had literally fled town. You could have almost called us fly-by-nights, except it was actually break of dawn when we left in our two beat-up Volkswagen beetles in our respective favorite colors, mine green, his yellow.
I considered us lucky for finding a new place to rent before my credit rating took its anticipated nosedive, which happened shortly thereafter. And that was only the credit card debts.
I allegedly still owed rent for the next two and a half years on the studio we had used in Albuquerque. Why? Because the contract said so, never mind that Mark had found a new tenant for the landlord. This particular contract, however, was one I was determined not to honor. Double rent for the landlord, just because we had had the misfortune of going out of business?
For a while I tried to find the actual owner of the premises in order to take this up in person, by phone or correspondence. I was willing to humble myself and beg. But he was safely sheltered behind his local agents who would not give out his New York address. I didn't believe for a minute that they ever forwarded my letter to him. Therefore I decided to do nothing further, and most particularly not to pay the rent owed per contract notwithstanding that somebody else was actually paying it.
Yes, the contract did specifically state that we, and in particular I, were liable for rent, regardless of new tenants. However, it didn't spell out either that we needed to pay rent on the property even if somebody else did so as well. Why had I signed the lease in the first place? Because at the time Mark had been so keen on getting the space, so excited. I can vividly remember the moment of signing. My stomach was clenched, wanting to protest this commitment. I knew we should wait, think it over, maybe negotiate some more, consult one of the attorneys I had worked for, and in any event get that clause stricken from the lease.
But I also wanted to make it happen, for Mark even more than for myself. My whole body went numb and felt alien with its acid warning signs. Mark was excited beside me, pungent with anxiety, even whining a bit in that half greedy, half lusty way he had, about how it would be a shame to lose this opportunity to get the new studio space—everything would be so perfect. Obviously the landlord's rental agency had done its job to make our mouths water, if not outright drool. So I decided to do it anyway, never mind prudence and niggling misgivings, and I signed. And now I was hell-bent on not honoring my signature. So much for being an upstanding and honorable citizen. But I felt, vehemently, that it was unjust to make us pay, even after we had made provisions so that the landlord would not suffer any losses at all. Had I had the money to take it to court, my personal sense of justice might well have prevailed. But that's just the thing, you have to pay a gladiator to fight for your justice; or else you meekly pay what is asked; or else you quietly slink away, which was the option I took.
Eddie, our beloved ballet teacher from whom we took lessons to improve our dance technique generally—and mine in particular, albeit belatedly—had agreed to buy our stunning wall-to-wall mirrors at half price, eight hundred dollars, instead of the one thousand and six hundred they had originally cost us. At the time of the sale, Eddie was only able to give us half of the agreed price, with the remainder promised by check on the first of the following month. The first four hundred dollars went quickly, and getting the second installment turned out to be problematic.
Eddie was a breathtaking woman. One of my favorite memories of her is in a pair of wide-legged high-waisted chiffon polka dot pants standing by her studio desk, telling me that she hoped I'd help her one day with the little kids after I had learned just a little more of the basics of ballet.
"You'd be really good with the little ones," she said and assured me I didn't really have to know all that much technique to teach them. They mostly needed to learn how to move with confidence, and so I'd simply have to keep them moving until they lost all self-consciousness. No problem. Then she complimented me on my grace, which made it my favorite day on earth so far.
Eddie's real name was Adoracion. First Adoracion had become Ady, then Eddie.
"It's easier," she explained.
The reality was, it was more English, and English was chic in the Hispanic world when Eddie adopted her nickname. Having a man's name was chic, too, somehow. I sounded sporty and spunky and tomboyish. This didn't entirely clash with Eddie's deportment. She was brave and spunky, and full of a dancer's good health. But she was also all softness and a hundred percent femininity. She even had a gap tooth, which, Mark explained to me once, meant that she must be very good in bed—apparently this was common knowledge, though it was the first I ever heard of it.
Needless to say, I checked my own mouth at the first ensuing private opportunity. But my front teeth were closely spaced, upright. Not unattractive, but no gap.
Eddie's face looked exceptionally angelic with lush lips, incredibly long eyelashes—her own, not the fake ones I would later wear for competitions—and smiling brown eyes. And she always moved in a mist of Chanel No. 5.
Privately I always preferred to think of Eddie as Adoracion, for the obvious reason that I adored her. Less obviously, I also loved savoring the whisper and kiss of that name. Adoracion. In some ways she reminded me of Maman, who was not quite as soft and beautiful as Eddie, but who also always wore Chanel No. 5.
On the day of Father's funeral, memories of thousands of days spent on earth swept over me. I took a bus to a reservoir and walked there by myself from sunrise to sunset. Wild roses grew on the edge of the water. These were Maman's favorite flowers, and I had inherited her preference. Lizards flashed across the hot sand. They in turn reminded me of Father, sponsor of frogs and lizards and geckos in hand-made terrariums whose glass sides were glued together with white paste and then the whole thing was covered with wire mesh.
I thought also of Eddie, who, I had just learned, had lost her beloved wealthy attorney husband just three weeks after Mark and I left town, and one week before Father died. Naturally I hadn't wanted to bother Eddie about the remaining four hundred dollars just then, and maybe they wouldn't have been enough for an airplane ticket anyway. Besides, half of the money was rightfully Mark's, although he would probably have given it all to me so I could get to Father's funeral.
As I walked around the reservoir countless times that day, I imagined Eddie sitting in her beautiful home, numb and listless with grief. She probably wouldn't want to do anything at all. Not move, not eat, and not even get up off the armchair by the window with the lovely chintz curtains over lace.
This man, Eddie's husband, had made her whole life possible and worthwhile. He had been her everything. I later found out that, indeed, Eddie didn't return to work for several months after her husband's death. Her grown daughter, from an alleged prior marriage to a ballet dancer who had gone on to become quite famous without Eddie and the burden of a child in tow, managed to keep the dance studio going until Eddie was finally able to face teaching young children again.
Mark and I moved into a tiny one bedroom apartment. I would have settled for efficiency, but Mark insisted on at least one bedroom. Wisely so, I had to concede. It was on the second floor of a starter home apartment complex that, astonishingly, had an outdoor swimming pool as well as a sauna, but unfortunately also a few cockroaches and the occasional rat. But there was undeveloped beautiful woodland just at the edge the apartment complex. What more could a person ask for? Most importantly, though, the apartment was cheap, and they let us rent it despite my teetering credit. That was the main thing.
We slept on the floor or on a futon, which was, however, not large enough to accommodate both of us at the same time, so we took turns on it. I can't remember exactly now, but judging from how Mark usually treated me, I probably ended up with considerably more futon time than he did. Even on occasions when we both slept on the floor, we claimed it was far more comfortable this way anyway than sleeping on some lumpy mattress, not to mention better for our backs. Everybody knew that. The only thing better than a firm mattress surely had to be a firm floor. It was carpeted, too.
As expected, my credit plummeted. Mark had never had had a credit history in his own name in the first place.
Soon creditors began to call me. Mark and I each earned one hundred and seventy-five dollars a week as dance instructors at a chain studio. This was before taxes, and even that was only guaranteed for the first two months. After that, we were expected to earn our keep by means of hustling up commissions. Unfortunately, both Mark and I hated sales, which was presumably why our own studio had gone out of business.
I had spent some time reading books on small business management, and especially motivational books. I remember being resentful that Mark didn't go out and do more sales and related drumming up of business. Nor did he bother reading motivational books to the same extent that I did. Although he did do his share of listening to some motivational tapes that one of our former students had given us as a present.
I really did try. I memorized and recited segments of Napoleon Hill on a daily basis, somewhat like prayer beads or meditations. I adored Og Mandino for a while, but could never quite get myself to give half of my profits away—perhaps that was my problem. Sometimes I really thought so. If I only had the guts to do that—then this miracle would happen. Those $87.50 I would give away each week while I was still only earning $175 in the first place, would miraculously turn into a palace for me. In the end I didn't trust that scheme. It reminded me too much of multiplying my winnings at the slot machine in Black Hawk or Las Vegas, whichever was more convenient at any given time. And I didn't trust that system either. In the end I always held on to the $87.50 that should have been given to the poor and I made sure that I didn't get further in arrears with the credit card people to whom I already owed so much. The $87.50 that I begrudged the universe went a long ways toward buying our two weekly Thursday night $2.99 steak dinner specials at the country western bar, and the all you can eat pizza parlor in the strip mall next to our apartment complex.
Besides, all my extensive reading was in the end only a sort of elaborate excuse for not hustling up the requisite sales myself. It gave me a teeny advantage on the moral highroad, as I was doing the intellectual groundwork here. But reading did not make me an expert in business. It made me no more equipped than Mark to succeed as a sales person or to drum up business from my end. It only made me feel as though I was doing my job. As far as effectiveness was concerned, I might as well have watched TV with Mark every night, or read fairy tales, which latter I would at least have thoroughly enjoyed. As it happened, we both kept hoping and hoping that the other one would take up the slack in this rope we both hated fiercely.
All that was now over and done with. At present we sat in our tiny apartment with just a few more weeks of guaranteed income to look forward to. Routinely I took deliberately humiliating calls from creditors, while my credit kept evaporating. Finally I decided it was time to write to Eddie to remind her that she still owed us the four hundred dollars.
Mark cautioned against it. But Mark notoriously had more tolerance for living in debt that I did. Moreover, those chest-inflaming creditors never called him, for the very good reason that all of the credit cards we had used were always in my name. So I sat down to write to Eddie and conjured up memories to reassure me that I was doing the right thing in my hunger for a few hundred dollars worth of relief.
Once upon a time, in an effort to hold our world together, and quite some time before skipping town and abandoning our studio, I had worked as a secretary in a law office that dealt, among other things, with collections in small claims court. Among all the other routine work that a secretary in that office got to do, I had dutifully drafted the appropriate second, third, and final notices to Eddie's studio when it happened to be indebted to one of the preeminent folk art stores in town. Between the first and second notice, I had talked to my boss as well, telling him that this wasn't a claim worth pursuing. Wouldn't it cost almost more in legal fees to pursue it than it would cost to just drop it?
"But what am I supposed to tell my client about that?" my boss asked, making a very good point.
Still, when it came to actually filing the complaint in court, I somehow managed to misplace the paperwork. Actually, I remembered until the end of my working days for that law firm exactly where those papers were, and I left them there, undestroyed, toward the back of a wrong file folder. Now it was up to the universe to protect Eddie or not protect her, as it saw fit in what Albert Camus might call its tender indifference. Besides, I had already once given my boss a clue that something was going on, so if the prosecution of this particular claim of his client was crucial, my boss would remember this in a timely fashion and ask me, or even search for himself. My philosophy already included the realization, though not yet crystallized into words, that everything one does affects someone else. The folk art store owner, who just happened to also be one of Mark's wealthier private dance students, was, in my unofficial but well-informed judgment, better able to forfeit a few hundred dollars. He and his wood carvings, his colorful rugs, and his ceramics, gorgeous though they were, didn't justify dragging enchanting Eddie into court.
Those were the days when Eddie was a beautiful soft-glowing flame in all of our lives. Despite her offer to turn over the youngest kids to me at some future time, she personally always preferred teaching the little ones herself. She was the kind of woman who inspired dads to hand roses to their tiny daughters after their first recital, huge pink blooms for tiny girls in snowflake tutus or black leotards. I can still also picture her with her tall husband at Friday or Saturday night dances where we sometimes met. Fred Castle couldn't dance a lick. Nevertheless he stepped out onto the dance floor with his lovely dancer wife, who had been a renowned flamenco dancer until she became Mrs. Castle and owner and director of the Castle Studio, where she now taught mostly ballet, since the market for flamenco dancers was—surprisingly for a town like Albuquerque—practically nil. Perhaps the even more famous Maria Benitez, who shuttled between Santa Fe and New York in those days, already taught the few flamenco students that did exist in greater New Mexico. Who knows.
Mr. and Mrs. Castle would step out onto the dance floor, where they then proceeded to hardly move at all. The point here was not to dance. He was, if not exactly a klutz, quite burly and at least fifteen years older than Eddie in the first place, in short, not what you would call a dancer. And she, although no longer a spring chicken herself, had plenty of other venues to display her dance. The Friday night dance floor at the hotel was a stage not for their dance, but for their love for each other, their mutual awe of one another, their pride to be seen together. He was there to show off his prize, and she was there to show off hers.
The two of them had met in court by coincidence one day. One of Mr. Castle's colleagues was ill and Fred Castle filled in for him in a matter that was normally not the kind of small potatoes he would even deal with. He was Eddie's opponent in court that first day of their acquaintance. Eddie herself had, in her typical ingénue fashion, and probably also because of lack of funds to hire a lawyer, appeared pro se, her shoulders thrown back with pride and quiet indignation. Fred Castle couldn't help but insist on getting a fair deal for his colleague's client, to Eddie's teary-eyed but proud consternation. However, Fred also immediately after the hearing asked her out for coffee, then supper, and he privately settled it with her so that her rightful loss would come out of his own ample pocket.
Eddie readily accepted this. She was, after all, an artist, and it was only reasonable that she shouldn't have to deal with mundane things such as pesky debts, which from then on, whenever he became aware of them, he would elegantly settle or fix for her, unless others, like me in my law office, had already done so in the first place.
And, no, they never referred to themselves as "Freddie and Eddie," and nobody else would have dreamt of calling them that, even behind their backs. It would have been too undignified. There was nothing even mildly comical about them. Pleasant and smiling, yes; comical, no.
I envied them their perfect match. It was genuine. Eddie loved her husband, and he loved her. They had a very traditional relationship, yet they were both satisfied. I knew I could never aspire to that level of relationship, and that filled me with both yearning and regret. I would never be able to play that kind of yielding trophy role for a man. And yet, it seemed to bring so much joy, not just to Fred, but to Eddie as well. "Look, I belong to this prince," she seemed to beam out of her dark brown eyes.
Maybe if I would have found the right man, I mused at times. Maybe then this sort of thing could have happened for me as well. For I did long for a surrender to love at times, to just be able to fall gracefully into somebody's arms and then let him take care of me. Only, deep down I always knew that, for me, that kind of surrender to a man, and that kind of return surrender of admiration bordering on worship, was not in the stars. Even Maman's long-standing litany during my teen years had been, "Maybe if the right one comes along one day...," which, thinking back, seemed a strange litany to come from Maman of all people. Because Maman certainly hadn't found that kind of "right" man with Father either, though they were loyal to one another until Father's death. No, my parents were never surrendered to one another in love. Though their beginning had an element of legendary romance to it, once together, they had been more like respectful companions than lovers.
Eddie, however, had found that kind of romantic ecstasy with Fred, and Fred's admiration for her seemed to be an extra kind of spotlight on her. Invisible to the eye, it served to illuminate her with a special kind of halo that declared, "I am loved," whether she was in her black ballet skirt, teaching young kids; or whether she stood in blue jeans at the office desk in her ballet studio, laughing to be caught in something as inelegant as jeans, and proud, of course, to be showing off her no longer girl-ballerina frail, but nevertheless beautiful figure in them; or whether she danced in costly blue and green silk with her husband on weekend dates.
This precious "I am loved" can never be earned, of course, which it took me far too long in life to learn, and maybe parts of me are still not one hundred percent convinced and strive to keep on earning. But if it could be earned, then I, for one, never went about it in the most effective way. Eddie made me painfully aware of that, too, with her eyebrows raised in astonishment when I admitted that I didn't go watch Mark when he went to play softball with his buddies. What a pity, her eyebrows seemed to be saying. It would be so much better if I supported everything he did, wouldn't it? Men needed that.
And who provided this kind of support to women? I wanted to ask. But I didn't know how to ask. I also had the strong suspicion that Eddie wouldn't have understood the question.
Did Mark read the poems or essays I wrote, or did he go shopping with me? I wanted to protest. I refrained from doing so simply because I already knew that that was beside the point as far as Eddie was concerned. "But that's what women do for men, not the other way around," she would have said with irrefutable simplicity. How wise she was, and how I ached for her, knowing the pain she must be going through over Fred, whose softball games, or any other kind of games, she would have attended faithfully, each and every one, were he only still playing. I did, by the way, go to two of Mark's softball games at some point. But, coming from me, it somehow didn't have the same impact that Eddie's attendance at Fred's would have had.
Those were the things that went through my mind when I agonized over the meager note I finally produced.
We were so sorry to hear about Fred. Our thoughts and our love have been with you ever since. We feel for you.
Mark and I are now in Denver and we are teaching for a studio here. I wonder if you could send us the four hundred remaining dollars for the mirrors. I hate to bother you about it, but money is really tight for us right now, and we could really use them.
With all our love,
Mark and Lizzy
I imagined Eddie smiling as she read my little letter. written like a child's note home from summer camp, needing one thing or another. And, in truth, though not that much older than we were, Eddie did feel like a sort of mother figure to both Mark and myself.
I also imagined her thinking with a lovely smile in her misty eyes, "Oh, dear. I promised to send them their check two months ago. I forgot all about those two. My favorite students, no less."
I envisioned her pulling out her checkbook and writing out a check on the spot.
But this is not what happened.
There was an envelope in the mailbox two weeks later. I opened it with anticipation. Visions of groceries were foremost on my mind. There was no check, though. Just a brief note on a beige piece of stationery with a golden A imprinted on it. It was written by her daughter.
Dear Mark and Lizzy,
I'm writing to you on behalf of my mother. As you know, Fred passed away a while back. She can't be expected to deal with this right now. Jeannie.
It stung. I felt slapped. I felt like I had a cold skin slipping over me. Mark had been right. I shouldn't have written. I wanted to write back immediately how sorry I was to have bothered her.
But part of me was angry, too. I wanted to defend myself. It wasn't my fault that Fred had died. It wasn't my fault that she hadn't sent us a check when promised. It wasn't my fault. But nobody knew that, did they? What was I supposed to do? Call Eddie and plead for our money? Or forget about it? After all, we still had some peanut butter in the fridge and some oatmeal and rice in the otherwise empty kitchen cabinet. And on Thursdays we could get a steak dinner for $2.99 at the local country western bar. That included a baked potato and an iceberg lettuce salad.
Not having it in my heart to blame Eddie, I blamed her daughter Jeannie for the insensitivity of daring to insinuate that I was insensitive in trying to make sure Mark and I had something to eat. She was just an unfortunate youngster who had grown up as a semi-illegitimate child in a Hispanic environment that frowned upon such things. Her run-away, no, dance-away father had slowly but surely become famous elsewhere and unencumbered by family, and had never contributed a dime to her cause. Come to think of that, that sort of background should have made her sympathetic to my cause, not judgmental.
I went back into the woodlands behind the apartments and cried and cried, knowing that nobody, not even Mark, would understand what I felt. Betrayed by life, and then being reprimanded for having been betrayed. I hadn't planned for our business to fail as shabbily as it did.
Meanwhile one credit card company's collection agent kept calling twice a week.
It was always the same man.
"Mrs. Fox?" he would ask in a warm honey voice.
I had explained to him the first time that it was Ms. Fox, and, yes, I was married to Mark, but his last name was not Fox. But after that first time, since he chose to ignore my reality, I didn't bother correcting him.
"Yes, this is Lizzy Fox," I would say.
And then he would lay into me with his litany of shame. Wouldn't it be good to change my ways and be known as a person of honor? To that end, I should send some money right away. Etc., etc. I kept telling him I didn't have any money to send whatsoever. He asked, how was I paying my groceries then? And didn't I have a job? How often were they paying me? And how much? I had learned enough from my legal secretary work in the past to divulge as little of my circumstances as possible.
Mark would hug me when he overheard or I tearfully reported to him and recommended to me to just shrug it off. I wished he could have talked to the collections guy, but the collections guy didn't want to talk to Mark. In fact, the one time he got Mark on the phone and I wasn't at home, he simply indicated, honey-voice and all, that he would call back when I was back. I guess I was too anguished and squirmy a target to pass over for someone with far greater equanimity.
The funny part was, those were the days when I thought I was really cute and charming. I had more youthful arrogance than charm in retrospect. The older you get, the more any and all such arrogance vanishes, as does the unshaken belief in your own charm. But at the time, with my imaginary charm still operative, I just couldn't believe somehow that, in my case, the credit card people wouldn't see some kind of reason. After all, we had extenuating circumstances. And then again, doesn't everybody? Isn't life itself just one great big extenuating circumstance? And does money ever make allowances for extenuating circumstance?
Miraculously, Mark and I muddled through somehow without going bankrupt. At first our guaranteed salary at the dance studio was extended for another few weeks, although then we were ditched so suddenly that we had no real choice except to quit and find employment, any employment, elsewhere. But Maman sent us a Christmas present that was enough to cover a whole month's payment to the credit consolidation company that we had meanwhile joined. Even Barb sent me a check for Christmas, with the aptly "barbed" comment to use the money on myself and not to share any of it with Mark, who didn't deserve it. Barb, you see, was a belligerent feminist whose current main idea was that men deserved absolutely nothing, and who was bitterly disappointed in me, her own sister, for being in the company of one of the opposite gender in the first place. Besides, I probably gave her a bad reputation in her university environment for not having gone to college beyond a basic Bachelor of Arts, whereas she had become a tenured professor and couldn't understand that I didn't hunger for more education.
The truth was, I did hunger for knowledge, but not for more formal education. And that, as far as Barb was concerned, didn't count, even when I pointed out to her that more formal education, for which, she kept insisting, it was never too late, would only amount to more education in a patriarchal educational system. Clever of me, to be sure, but no more effective than quoting antidote Bible verses to Father when I was a teenager and he quoted the Bible to prove to me that this, that, or the other was God's word in the Bible, so that I naturally had to know a whole lot in order to be able to cite the opposite right back to him straight out of the same Bible.
Meanwhile, Mark and I had in fact quit at the dance studio where we had been working. I honorably quit three weeks before my birthday, to the consternation of the sympathetic receptionist who kept advising me to wait until after my birthday. At the studio we had a system of collecting a ten dollar contribution from everyone for everyone else's birthday present, which always was a gift certificate to a nearby mall, good for any store there, including, as I had already ascertained, the grocery store. For the duration of our near three months stay at the studio, both Mark and I had faithfully contributed. Not that we were given a choice really. True, it didn't come out of our paycheck automatically, but personal pressure from people you work with day in and day out can be a fairly strong motivator. Stronger in fact than the disembodied voice on the telephone of Mr. Credit Card Company Collection Agent. It was easier to shell out the ten dollars and eat oatmeal for dinner as well as for breakfast for a while to make up the difference.
In fact, so painfully necessary was our departure from the studio—there was personal chicanery as well as a general knowledge of unethical practices at the studio that Mark and I could no longer pretend not to see—that not only did I quit three weeks prior to my birthday, but I also ended up having to forfeit a five hundred dollar commission that I was entitled to. How was I going to enforce my entitlement? I can still remember the gleam in my gorgeous black-eyed boss's eyes as she informed me that, given the circumstances, I would not receive this money. I was shocked. Incredulous. Though I shouldn't have been surprised in the least.
The tiniest bit of consolation was that the studio owner had previously, trying to play politics, engineered to divert half of my total commission to another teacher for spurious reasons, bribery of some kind, or blandishment. In the end she probably had well-deserved conniption fits because, had she left my commission money intact and not played political games, she would have been able to keep all of it.
For a while Mark carried out newspapers in the wee hours of the night and did telemarketing in the evenings. The newspaper route lasted longer than the telemarketing, for Mark wasn't any better at selling anything over the phone than he was at selling dance lessons face to face.
I applied for a job as a dishwasher at the steakhouse two blocks down the street from us. I didn't get the job, which quite crushed me. I had wanted to prove to the universe that I didn't consider myself too good for anything. Besides, the commute would have been unbeatable. I could have just rolled out of bed, gone to work, come back home, and gone for walks or written poems or philosophical journal entries. Given our generally ugly, hectic, and precarious situation, I hadn't done any of that in years.
Instead I signed up with no less than three temporary agencies and got a variety of clerical jobs spread out all over town. Gas was still cheap then, though, and our green and yellow nearly matching cars, his and hers stick shift ancient Volkswagen beetles with only two years difference in vintage, got great mileage. The commute was typically quite long, however.
My favorite memory from those days was getting up in the morning just as Mark came in from delivering that day's papers. He would have frost on his moustache, said a very tired good morning, and then stumbled onto the futon that I had so recently vacated, while I proceeded to tiptoe out of the apartment. If it had snowed overnight, I was all prepared to brush and scrape the car, roof, windshield, side mirrors, back window. But I found that Mark had already done so before coming in tired enough to fall asleep almost the instant he hit the pillow on the futon. This happened many times. The feeling of tenderness it instilled in me never got old. I always felt I would have done anything for him in return for that sweet feeling.
Which brings me to my least favorite memory of those days. I would have done anything for Mark? We were in the mall together to buy each other's planned and agreed-upon Christmas presents, king sized pillows for our sleeping pleasure, albeit still on the carpeted floor or alternating futon space. Something caught Mark's attention, as, being a mall, it was most certainly meant to. I can't remember anymore what it was. But it captured his imagination fiercely. What I do remember is his excited face.
"Oh, you've got to get that for me," he said, face gleaming with desire. "Oh, please, you've got to get that for me."
I remember it was not something he, or we, needed, or at any rate, that's what I decided at the time. But the desire in his face, in his voice, in his words—how could I deny him, I, who had just the morning before thought I would do "anything" for him? I know whatever it was he wanted that day was totally out of budget, so much so that I could not even get it for him as a surprise for Christmas. So I hustled him out of the mall the way a mother hustles a greedy child with his hands already wrapped around a bag of checkout lane candy.
I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like the worst lover, the worst wife in the world. Here Mark really, really wanted something, said so, and I didn't get it for him. Wouldn't get it for him. Couldn't get it for him. What was the difference? The thing wasn't got. The thing itself was, in fact, conveniently erased from memory, except the situation was never erased. I understood suddenly that what I wanted in life could not be bought; and even if it could be, I couldn't afford it anyway. That time, it was too cold to go to the woodlands behind the apartments to cry.