Chronic Illness strained my marriage almost to the breaking point. I chose to stay; Julie took a different path when she and Steve hit the rocks.
Expiration Dates: A Short Story of Friendship and Money in Three Parts.
Featured in Rita Watson’s nationally syndicated Relationships blog. www.ritawatson.com
“You know,” I confessed over our Cobb salads, “when I was cleaning out my closet, I thought of throwing out the dress I wore to your wedding.” It was a cheap, pale green catalogue dress from my days as a freelancer, when I watched every penny while saving the down-payment that finally liberated us from our suffocating New York apartment. “That was the only time I wore it,” I said. “I was only holding onto it for sentimental reasons. I guess it’s O.K. to throw it out now.” She agreed.
There was another reason I wanted to toss faded green dress — it signified bad times and I was ready to embrace a new future.
I was enviably thin in those pictures at Julie’s wedding. I smiled, but my eyes belied deep distress. If anyone had asked me then if I thought my marriage would make it, I couldn’t have answered.
At the time Julie married, I had just found my husband out in a betrayal. He’d run up debts that nearly canceled out all the money I’d been scrupulously saving and investing for house, baby, and our future. His betrayal of trust wiped out years of dreams.
Somehow, putting that pale green dress in the bag for Good Will, gave me a new sense of purpose. I wanted to believe that I could put an end to the hurt that I experienced during those four years between Julie’s wedding and her divorce dinner.
I watched her eyes and wondered if people would see pain in my own if I chose to end my marriage rather than stick it out? My husband and I managed to get out of debt and heal the emotional wounds, but overwhelmed by the strain of working full time while battling my illness, I lost my health and any hopes for a normal life.
Perhaps learning from my example, Julie chose another route, refusing to take a financial hit for a man. Since she and Dave had moved in together six years before, she’d switched jobs several times, doubling her salary to afford the modest home they’d purchased in their third year of marriage.
Dave, on the other hand, was in the same job, earning the same money, so they could barely afford their new mortgage payments. Despite her constant encouragements, which degenerated into nagfests, Dave did not jump-start his career, see a therapist, get tested for a range of physical maladies, lift a finger around the house bought with only Julie’s money, learn to balance the checkbook, shop or cook, or get a car so Julie wouldn’t have to drive him everywhere, as if he were the teenage son she never had.
Julie tired of screaming. As she explained over our salads, she was basically a happy, peaceful, loving person. Under the current circumstances, she could no longer act kindly towards her husband. “I just see myself as an embittered old hag at 50. I want to get out while I’m still young enough to meet someone else.”
But I was worried about how she would manage. Under my fiscal guidelines, she and Dave could barely afford to run a house together. She claimed she could do it on her own, for at least a month or so. Then she’d get a roommate.
Two weeks after our divorce dinner, Dave was still in the house. He couldn’t find a place he could afford. Julie dropped hints; I offered a loan to hasten his departure. I’d lent her money before, for her down payment, and she’d paid it back in full and in a timely fashion.
“All relationships have expiration dates,” she announced philosophically at our next lunch.
“You’re getting a roommate soon, right?” I said, handing her the check.
But month after month went by, and no roommate, and no loan repayment. I knew she needed time on her own, without the additional stress of sharing her home with a stranger. But I couldn’t help noticing she had money for new clothes to cheer herself up, for entertaining her young co-workers from the city, for buying wedding gifts for people she hardly knew.
(End of Part II)