This was when I was twenty-four. After the guy I was with and I had sex I would pretend to go to sleep. When he was asleep I’d get up and steal some of the change on his dresser. If there were several dollar bills I’d take a couple of them too. I was so broke then I took aluminum cans to the recycling center to pay my phone bill.
I was never sure where I stood with him. He told me I wasn’t like Susan, his ex-wife. She was successful, people fell all over themselves, giving her jobs, and he’d go back to her in an instant, if she’d have him.
Sometimes we had fun. He’d take me for drives to places he said he wanted me to see. Though, he explained, the actual purpose of the trip was the photographs he took. He liked it if I admired something, the flat green duck egg color in the sky before a storm, maybe, or the way a slant of light carved up a sand dune.
Then, and I wouldn’t see it coming, he’d be mean. What did I know, he asked when I offered an opinion without being asked, picking up cans at midnight?
I know enough not to trust you anymore, I said, because I’d told him how you don’t find enough cans on the street. If you’re going to make money, you have to check garbage cans.
He told me I couldn’t take a joke.
Our trip to Palouse Falls was the longest trip, a two hour drive each way, we’d taken up till then and I had hopes. He’d brought food I liked for lunch and didn’t complain when I asked to stop for the bathroom. The Falls, a cataract of water falling from burnished rocks, was unexpected, and he enjoyed my excitement.
On the trip back, he asked me about a book I’d just read, asked me what I thought. I said I loved it. Oh, he said. You know, he remembered when it first came out. Susan read it; she thought it was trite.
There was another hour before we got back to Spokane and I spent it thinking about what I’d say when I broke up with him.
But we didn’t break up because he started acting nicer, more like a boyfriend.
I kept stealing.
He caught me. I should have guessed it was a set up because that night he left the bills in a sloppy wad. Usually he separated the fives from the ones, put each in neat piles.
He took a more in sorrow than in anger approach and I got mad, told him he’d never satisfied me. True, but I’d never said. I’d put that wad of penis in my mouth and suck. Suck. Suck. He’d hold my head down in the beery, dried urine smell, as if he thought I might be getting other ideas. Suck. Suck. He’d pat my hair, distracting little pats, a child petting a dog. Tentatively, wanting to make friends. But he still wouldn’t come, more often than not, after I’d done everything he told me. Suck.
Don’t blame yourself, he’d say. “You did your best.”
No amount of money could make up for all the time I’d spent with your penis in my mouth, I told him. Sucking. Your problem, not mine, I said, citing my previous lovers, doubling the number. Threw his money onto the bed.
He pleaded with me as I dressed. “I shouldn’t have done it. I should have just asked if you needed help. I know you don’t have much.” He looked like a stork with his long thin legs and his barrel chest, sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over.
“You’re pathetic,” I said, walking to the door.
He looked up at me. He was crying. I was frightened, thinking of what he could say to me.
“I’ll be different,” he said.
We married. This was how our happiness began.
Image via Pixabay